How Does Your Water Affect Your Laundry?

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have well water and found out that using bleach in the wash will turn my cloths brownish. And yes they have become dingy and not as bright.  What can I use, if anything, to make them white again or keep this from happening again to newer cloths I get? And also am I supposed to use the borax and my laundry detergent together when washing or just the borax or is it the borax and the soda ash?
Please help!
Worried Washer
The first thing to do is to find out exactly what you are dealing with. As a well owner, it is important to have your water tested every year for bacteria. Having your well water tested for metals and minerals is often a separate tests. Here in South Carolina these tests are handled by DHEC, the Department of Health and Environmental Control. This map, provided by the CDC, links to the appropriate department for each state. In South Carolina it’s $20 to have your water tested for bacteria and they do not list the price for mineral and metal testing.
You can also order a water testing kit from Amazon (if you click the link in a newsletter, it’ll redirect to this post, it’ll point to the right product once you’re on
When you wash clothing in water with iron, using chlorine bleach causes the iron to rust and deposits on your clothing. Even if you didn’t use bleach, you’d still have yellowish staings forming. It’s also rust, just in smaller amounts.
Once heat, from your dryer has set the iron stains, they can be difficult, if not impossible to remove from your lighter clothing. If the clothing has not been through the dryer, you have options. The second link is also useful for removing rust stains from the toilet.
Your next step is to prevent the rust stains from occurring. There are several methods to remove the iron from your water, the one you choose will be determined by how much iron is in your water and your budget, of course. You can remove the iron before it reaches your machine, you’ll need to research the kind of water softener you buy carefully and it may be worth talking to a professional before investing. Why does it matter? Water softeners use negatively charged beads to attract the calcium and magnesium that makes water hard, these beads are also exceptionally good at attracting the iron in water. The problem occurs when the machine backwashes to get rid of the removed particles. The problem is that if there is a lot of iron in the water the backwash may not be enough to remove the iron, creating a sludge that clogs the resin bed or the machine.
If your iron issues aren’t severe, you might be able to use a water conditioner in the laundry itself. You’ll know more after you test.
Best of luck!
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Hard Water and Iron in the Laundry
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2 thoughts on “How Does Your Water Affect Your Laundry?”

  1. White vinegar is the way to prevent whites from yellowing during laundering in high iron well water. It must be added to all cycles (wash and rinse). Cheap fix for laundry until a whole house water treatment system is in place.

    • It will help, but it’s going to also depend on how much iron in the water. That’s where the water testing will come in handy. It’ll help them to know whether it can be a treat as you go situation or if it requires more of an investment. Handling the iron at the source will also help save a lot of headaches with iron build up and stains in pipes and other fixtures (sinks, tubs, toilets)


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