Polyester is one of the most common synthetic fabrics. It’s used extensively in clothing, upholstery, curtains, carpets, and other home furnishings. Polyester is prized for its durability, wrinkle resistance, and shape retention. However, polyester often becomes dingy and faded over regular use and washing. This leads many people to wonder: can you use bleach to restore and brighten discolored polyester fabrics?
The short answer is yes, you can bleach polyester to remove stains, whiten the material, and revitalize fading fabrics. However, there are some important guidelines to follow when bleaching polyester. Using the wrong bleach products or techniques can actually damage polyester fibers.
This complete guide provides everything you need to know about successfully and safely bleaching polyester at home. We’ll cover:
- The benefits of bleaching polyester
- What types of polyester can and can’t be bleached
- How to bleach polyester properly
- Bleaching tricky polyester fabrics
- Bleach alternatives for polyester
- Pro tips for bleaching polyester
By the end, you’ll have a full understanding of how to successfully revitalize faded and stained polyester items using bleach.
The Benefits of Bleaching Polyester
There are several advantages to using bleach on polyester:
- Removes stains: Over time, polyester absorbs stains from dirt, oils, food, drinks, and more. Bleach helps lift and remove these stubborn stains.
- Whitens and brightens: Polyester often becomes dingy and dull after regular use and washing. Bleach restores the original vibrancy and whiteness.
- Disinfects: Bleach is a disinfectant that kills bacteria, viruses, mold, and mildew in fabric. This helps sanitize secondhand polyester.
- Prepares for re-dyeing: Bleaching strips out the original dye if you want to redo the color of faded polyester.
So whether you need to revitalize kids’ polyester clothing, liven up dingy table linens, or sanitize used upholstery, bleaching can effectively restore polyester.
What Types of Polyester Can and Can’t Be Bleached
The most common types of polyester include:
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET): This is the most widely used type of polyester. PET is durable and generally bleachable. It’s found in clothing, sheets, furniture, carpets, and more.
- Microfiber polyester: Also made from PET, microfiber polyesters are extremely fine synthetic fibers. They can be bleached but test first.
- Acetate: Acetate is a plant-based polyester that degrades easily with bleach. Do not bleach acetate.
- Triacetate: A variation of acetate, triacetate is also damaged by bleach.
- Spandex/Lycra: Spandex and Lycra contain polyester but bleach will break down the fibers.
To determine if a polyester fabric is bleachable, first check the garment tag for care instructions. The tag will indicate if bleach can be used. Also do a spot test with diluted bleach in an inconspicuous area.
Polyester blends are also common. Polyester blended with natural fibers like cotton, linen, wool, or silk will typically tolerate bleaching as long as it’s done carefully. But bleach can damage the natural fibers if left on too long.
How to Bleach Polyester Properly
Follow these steps to safely and effectively bleach washable polyester:
- Liquid chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach
- Large plastic tub or bucket
- Protective gloves
- Old clothes and apron
- Check if the item is bleachable. Examine care tags and do a spot test first.
- Pretreat set-in stains. Use a bleach pen or diluted bleach sprayed directly on stains. This helps lift them.
- Fill a tub with cool water. The polyester should move freely.
- Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup bleach to the water. For heavier discoloration use 1/2 cup. For lighter whitening use 1/4 cup.
- Submerge the polyester in the bleachy water. Agitate frequently.
- Soak for 5-10 minutes. 10 minutes should sufficiently whiten; don’t exceed 20 minutes.
- Rinse very thoroughly until no bleach smell remains.
- Wash as usual with laundry detergent and dry. Air drying helps prevent damage.
- Check for irregularities in the fabric like weak spots, holes, tears, and color change before wearing or using.
For severely dingy/stained polyester, repeat the bleaching process but don’t exceed 1/2 cup bleach per cycle.
Bleaching Tricky Polyester Fabrics
Sheer curtains, embroidered linens, and stretchy activewear require extra precautions when bleaching:
- Sheer polyester – Avoid direct bleach contact and use oxygen bleach only to preserve the delicate fabric.
- Sequined/embellished polyester – Pretreat stains carefully without getting bleach on beading, sequins, etc.
- Spandex blends – Use just 1/8 cup bleach per cycle to avoid damaging the stretchy spandex.
- Silk-polyester blends – Opt for oxygen bleach to avoid degrading the silk.
With care, even delicate and embellished polyester can be bleached safely. But always spot test first.
Bleach Alternatives for Polyester
If you don’t want to use harsh chlorine bleach on polyester, try these alternatives:
- White vinegar – The acetic acid in vinegar acts as a mild bleaching agent. Add 1/2 to 1 cup to the wash cycle.
- Lemon juice – Lemon juice contains citric acid which can naturally brighten and whiten.
- Hydrogen peroxide – A 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide can lift some discoloration without chlorine.
- Sunlight – The sun’s UV rays can help remove lighter staining on polyester fabrics.
- Color remover products – Look for bleach-free color removers made for synthetics like Poly Color Remover.
However, these non-bleach methods may not remove stains as thoroughly as chlorine bleach. But they are gentler options.
Pro Tips for Bleaching Polyester
Follow these professional tips when bleaching polyester:
- Always do a spot test on colored polyester first.
- Use the coolest water possible to preserve the fibers.
- Make sure the item moves freely in the bleach bath.
- Check frequently so you don’t over-bleach.
- Rinse in the washing machine for improved results.
- Air dry instead of machine drying to prevent heat damage.
- Use the lowest bleach concentration needed to lift stains.
- Avoid over-bleaching which can weaken fibers.
- Wear gloves, old clothes, and apron to avoid skin and eye irritation.
Common Questions About Bleaching Polyester
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about bleaching polyester:
Can you use laundry bleach on polyester?
Yes, as long as it’s specifically a bleachable polyester. Check the care tag and do a spot test first.
What ratio of bleach to water should be used?
A good starting ratio is 1/4 to 1/2 cup of bleach per gallon of cool water. Increase the bleach for heavier discoloration.
How long should polyester soak in bleach water?
5-10 minutes is usually sufficient. Don’t exceed 20 minutes max or damage may occur.
Can you put polyester in the washing machine with bleach?
Yes, you can add bleach to a normal wash cycle with detergent. Use the polyester or permanent press cycle.
Can you bleach polyester upholstery and outdoor furniture?
Upholstery and outdoor polyester can be bleached safely using the tub soaking method outlined above. This restores faded patio and pool furniture.
Can bleach ruin polyester?
Yes, bleach can damage polyester fibers if left on too long or used excessively at too high concentrations on delicate fabrics. Always follow garment care instructions.
The Takeaway on Bleaching Polyester
Bleaching is an effective way to remove stains, whiten, brighten, and sanitize polyester clothing, upholstery, linens, and carpeting.
The key is using the right concentration of bleach and proper soaking times for the polyester item. Chlorine, oxygen, and non-chlorine bleach alternatives can all work. Always spot test first and take precautions against damage.
With the procedures outlined here, you can safely revitalize faded polyester to look and feel like new again. Just remember to follow fabric care instructions and never soak polyester too long in bleach.