How to Whiten Sheets

It wasn’t until we were just about ready to list my sister’s house that how to whiten sheets even came onto our radar. Up until then, we stored our yellowed cotton sheets and duvet cover away, thinking they’d never see the ‘white’ of day again. But an impending open house and zero staging budget have a way of getting us to spring into action!

Professionally staging a house is very expensive, so we’re foregoing that cost in this buyers market. Instead, we gathered everything we had to lend to my sister for staging house pictures and showings. Now, only time will tell how the actual sale goes. However, at the very least, whitening the sheets was a resounding success (although not at first as you’ll read ahead)!

Keep in mind as you read the following tutorial that we’re using a white duvet cover in this  example and it is 100% cotton.

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How to Whiten Sheets

White sheets will naturally yellow over time due to sweat and body oils. In all honesty, we didn’t know where to start with how to get yellowed sheets white again. Because not only are our sheets yellow and dingy, but also have additional stains as you see below. So we did what anyone else would do and googled it, beginning with the least ‘harsh’ method; baking soda and vinegar.

White duvet shows yellow staining

But what to believe?  We found a post from a well known site that we thought would have reliable results. Trouble is, the writer wasn’t very detail oriented and missed important steps in her post. For instance, did she add soap to the washing machine (which, by the way, you should)? How much vinegar do you add? What about water temperature? No one really knows for sure because not only did she skip some details, but didn’t respond to questions! So how exactly is one to duplicate her results? It turns out, you don’t!

As we gathered more info and put baking soda and vinegar to the test ourselves, we did NOT get the sparkling white sheets that site boasted. No surprise there.

However, who is to say that this isn’t a two-step process? We ended up washing our white duvet cover a second time. This time with bleach. And it came out perfectly white!

So I’m going to share both steps on our journey to whiter whites. Quite honestly, that’s because we don’t know if just jumping to bleach first would’ve worked as well as doing both methods (for many, bleach alone did not work). So, if you’ve tried any of these methods alone or in combination with any success, let us know!

Warning: do not pre-treat stains with any another product first! Mixing chemicals is just asking for trouble.

How to Whiten Yellowed Sheets

method 1 – Baking Soda and Vinegar

We used warm water and a cool rinse for this first attempt.

Note that it’s important to keep the vinegar and baking soda separate! First, add ½ cup of baking soda with your laundry detergent at the beginning of the wash cycle. If you have a fabric softener dispenser, add white vinegar to the line.

Vinegar sitting on washing machine with hands separating sheet for how to whiten sheets

Our washing machine is so old that we don’t actually have a fabric softener dispenser. So we have to time the wash cycle to add the vinegar later. In our case, we add 1 cup of vinegar right after when the tub empties and fills again for the rinse cycle.

Can you see below how yellow the left side is compared to the right side of the duvet cover (and even the white washing machine itself)? The top half tends to yellow most from direct contact to sweat and oils showing a noticeable difference!

After adding vinegar and letting the cycle finish, the duvet cover was exactly the same. Still yellow, sigh!


When baking soda and vinegar didn’t work, we didn’t give up there. Even though the label on our duvet cover clearly warns not to bleach, we put it back into the laundry machine again with bleach. Often times, a manufacturer will put a restrictive care label on their product even if it’s not warranted. Despite that, if you are bleaching cotton, it should be fine. But that’s something you have to decide for yourself.

What I was more nervous about was the temperature of the water. We read that hot water works best with bleach and I’ve always been hesitant to use hot water on cotton. However, what did I have to lose? So I threw caution to the wind and used hot water with a warm water rinse this time.

method two – bleach

Dilute 2/3 cup of bleach into 1 quart of hot water (again add soap). Don’t overcrowd; again we evenly spread only the one duvet cover around the drum.

After running it through a normal cycle, our duvet cover came out consistently white throughout and here is the result! Happily, we were able to use it for the listing pictures.

The white duvet on a bed styled with pillows

Now, I have to tell you that staging a house costs thousands of dollars. And houses in our area are not selling fast; many are sitting upwards of 45 days. Since staging rents on a monthly basis, it can add up fast. So why spend money on staging when you can use what you already have for free? My hope is that as long as the house is spotlessly clean and presentable, it will do just as well on the market as houses that have professional staging.

By the way, that’s the Kayla Pillow front and centre on the bed :).

The final duvet on a bed with pillows shows the success we had in how to whiten sheets

If you’re interested in more tips on keeping white its whitest, check out this DIY couch cover post. Or browse some of the cleaning challenges we’ve tackled over the years.

Getting a house ready for market is all about the attention to detail. We’ll have more tips and tricks in future posts as time allows :). So subscribe for upcoming DIYs if you haven’t already.

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We’d love for you to share what has worked for you to get your yellowed whites white again. Leave us a comment!

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8 thoughts on “How to Whiten Sheets

  1. I’m all about the baking soda and vinegar trick. Love that and I agree about staging. I actually staged a house in our neighborhood for a friend. We used a lot of what she had and only purchased a few items to tie it all together since the house was vacant.

    • That’s so nice of you to help Kim! It’s so ironic that I really don’t like to use professional staging services. At one point, when I was younger, I really wanted to learn staging and open my own company lol!

  2. With all our fur babies who love a good cuddle we avoid white sheets and covers, but the hubby does like his white cotton t-shirts that all need a good re-whitening. I’ll give your bleach tip a try. Tx Sara

    • My sister is the same – her dog is black, so this bedding will only go on when there’s an open house lol!

    • Please let me know if it works for you. I always find these things a bit hit and miss!

  3. Hi, I have an old washer as well so about how long timing wise do you wait to put in the vinegar? Eager to try today!

    • So sorry for the delayed response; I’ve been sick and away from blogging until now. We put the vinegar in with the rinse cycle.

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