Sustainable Fashion

How to Clean White Socks (Without Harsh Chemicals)

Learn how to return your socks to pristine whiteness without resorting to harsh chemicals

How To Clean White Socks Featured

There’s nothing better than a crisp, brand-new pair of white socks. But it seems like after just one use, they go from bright white to a dingy beige (and nobody wants beige socks). A regular wash isn’t enough to get them back to their brightest. So what are you supposed to do–throw them out every time they get dirty? No!

For both the planet and your wallet’s sake, there are multiple sustainable ways to get your socks back to bright white. You can clean white socks by soaking, boiling, scrubbing, or washing in cleaning agents like baking soda, oxygen bleach, lemon juice or vinegar, all of which can help return white socks to their former glory without the use of harmful chemicals. 

Woman wearing dirty white socks that are desperately in need of a clean!
White socks seem to pick up every piece of dirt they come in contact with!

To learn more about how to clean white socks and how to prevent them from getting so dirty in the first place, read below! Keep your dirty socks out of landfills and in your sock drawer where they belong. 

What to Use to Clean White Socks 

While your first thought might be to use chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide to whiten socks, it’s better for the environment and the fibers of your socks to use gentler, less toxic cleaners. 

1. Baking Soda

Baking soda is a miracle worker in the world of eco-friendly cleaning. You can use it in a variety of ways:

  • Soak your dirty white socks in warm water and baking soda for a few hours 
  • Add it to your washing machine before the wash cycle
  • Sprinkle your wet dirty socks with baking soda and scrub softly

2. Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach will remove dirt stains and get them to a fresh white again in no time. Plus, oxygen bleach is more eco-friendly and less irritating than chlorine bleach. Add it to your load of laundry (white clothes only!) or let your dirty socks soak in it for a few hours beforehand. 

3. Lemon Juice

The citric acid in lemon juice is non-toxic, antibacterial, and antiseptic! So not only will your white socks look fresher than ever, they’ll actually be cleaner than ever! Soak or wash socks in fresh lemon juice for fresh, white socks that also smell good. 

4. White Vinegar

White vinegar has acetic acid, which is a strong acid capable of getting stained white socks back to snow white. Whiten socks by soaking them for half an hour, or wash them in a mixture of white vinegar and laundry soap. 

5. Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent is an obvious part of washing white socks, but there are a few ways to use it to maximize its cleaning ability outside of the washing machine. Whiten socks with laundry detergent by:

  • Soaking them in a mixture of laundry soap and warm water 
  • Scrubbing wet socks with a brush dipped in laundry soap
  • Mixing regular laundry detergent with baking soda into a paste spread on top of stains

4 Expert Tips For Washing White Socks

Getting white socks clean isn’t always a simple cleaning procedure. Rather than just throwing them into the wash with your regular detergent, use the following methods to get the cleanest socks ever! 

1. Soak Them Before Washing

Giving your white socks time to soak in warm water allows a lot of the dirt to dissolve before you even pop them into the washing machine. You can soak them in water alone. Or for even more effective cleaning, add a small amount of laundry detergent or baking soda to the warm water. 

You can soak dirty socks for as little as 30 minutes or up to overnight in a plastic bag. Avoid leaving them wet for longer than that because mildew can start to grow in as little as 24 hours

2. Boil Your Socks Before Washing

For an even more powerful pre-wash clean, boil your dirty socks for about 15-20 minutes. For both whitening and deodorising, add half a cup of lemon juice or white vinegar to the pot. Once they’ve boiled for your desired amount of time, let them cool, and then add them to the laundry machine. 

This works very well on sport socks because boiling helps remove the oily sweat residue. On the other hand, wool socks should never be boiled. They need a more gentle washing process. 

3. Scrub, Scrub, Scrub

If your socks have dirt stains from mud or other caked-in substances, you’ll want to scrub them with a soft bristle brush to loosen them up. To avoid damaging the fibers, it’s best to gently scrub in small circles with a soft brush in a tub of warm soapy water. If the water gets too dirty, refresh it with clean water until it runs clean. Then, throw your socks into the laundry as normal. 

If you still notice stubborn stains after scrubbing, cover the stains in a paste made of baking soda and detergent for a few hours before washing. 

4. Wash White Socks Separately

While it may be tempting to throw all of your laundry in together, wash white garments separately. And depending on how dirty your white socks are, it may be best to avoid mixing your dirty white socks with your white clothing so the dirt doesn’t transfer in the wash. 

How to Prevent Your Socks From Getting So Dirty

Instead of having to remove stains every time you wash socks, learn how to keep them looking and feeling fresh!

1. Never Wear a Pair for More Than One Day

Trust me, I know how tempting it is to throw on yesterday’s socks again when you’re rushing out of the door. But the longer you wear them without washing, the more stubborn the stains and dirt are going to be. 

2. Keep Your Shoes Clean

If your socks are always getting dirty no matter what you do, check your shoes! Your insoles can get pretty nasty if dust, rocks, and dirt are slipping inside while walking. Clean your insoles with gentle soap and let them air dry in direct sunlight before putting them back into your shoes. 

3. Clean Your Floors

If you notice a pair of socks are dirty after a day spent inside, it’s time to get out the mop! Keep your socks white by regularly using eco-friendly disinfecting products on your floors, especially if you have kids or pets that tend to bring outside dirt inside. 

Megan Lemon

Megan Lemon

Megan is a sustainability writer based in Fiji, where she lives with her partner in the house they built themselves. In her free time, she free dives, spear fishes, and takes long walks on the dirt roads.