If finding a homemade bleach alternative that WORKS feels a little like hunting for a mythical laundry unicorn, I think you'll like this simple but effective recipe. It brightens clothes without harsh chemicals, and you only need a few ingredients to make it.
4 cups hot water (plus additional room temperature water)
1 cup washing soda
1-2 cups 3% hydrogen peroxide (or 1 cup Pure Sodium Percarbonate, which is powdered hydrogen peroxide bonded with washing soda)
10 drops lemon essential oil
3-5 gallon bucket or washing machine
Instructions Soak-In-The-Washing-Machine Method
If you have a washer that has a "Drain & Spin" setting you can select, I recommend soaking your clothes in this solution, then draining the water and washing your load as usual.
To do that, add a small load of clothes to the washing machine and choose cool/room temperature water and the "small" setting for your load size.
While the machine is filling, add the lemon essential oil to the washing soda and stir thoroughly until the drops are well distributed. If you're using powdered sodium percarbonate instead of liquid hydrogen peroxide, add it in as well. Add the washing soda mixture to hot water and stir until it is completely dissolved.
Once dissolved, add the mixture immediately to the basin. If you're using liquid hydrogen peroxide instead of sodium percarbonate, now is the time to add it to the basin as well.
Allow the mixture to soak before draining the liquid and washing as usual – I find that overnight is best. If needed, I repeat the process – old, set-in stains sometimes need more time to loosen up.
Add the lemon essential oil to washing soda and stir thoroughly until the drops are well distributed. Add the washing soda mixture and sodium percarbonate (if using) to hot water and stir until the washing soda is completely dissolved. If you're using liquid hydrogen peroxide, measure out 1-2 cups in a separate container.
Pour the hot washing soda mixture into a large bucket (3-5 gallons), then add 14 cups of room temperature water. If you added sodium percarbonate to your washing soda mixture your hydrogen peroxide is already mixed in. If you didn't, now is the time to add 1-2 cups of liquid hydrogen peroxide.
Place laundry in the bucket and add additional water until the clothes are covered – I usually end up adding about 14 cups. Soak overnight, then wash as normal. If needed, I repeat the process – old, set-in stains sometimes need more time to loosen up.
Notes Storage: Because minerals found in water will accelerate the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide, I recommend making up batches as needed so that the hydrogen peroxide is as strong as possible.
Update: Two Non-Toxic Store-Bought Options
When life gets busy and you don’t want to DIY, you don’t have to settle for the toxic stuff. Molly’s Suds Oxygen Whitener and Eco-Me Natural Laundry Whitener Brightener are both very similar to my recipe below.