Yellowing Fabrics, Floors and Furniture

Light-colored fabrics that have turned yellow during storage may be washed in detergent and perhaps a color-safe bleach or color brightener in the hottest water safe for the fabric. “Don’t skimp on the detergent,” says Don Aslett, author of The Cleaning Encyclopedia: Your A to Z Illustrated Guide to Cleaning Like the Pros. “A hot-water wash with extra detergent and extra agitation time will usually remove built-up oils” resulting from incomplete washings in the past.

Hanging white or light-colored garments in bright sunshine for several hours will also aid in whitening fabrics.

The same solar bleaching action also explains how walls behind picture frames become yellowed. “This is because many paint pigments become yellowed over time, but the bleaching effect of ultraviolet light keeps them white,” Aslett says. “When you cover [a] surface so the light can’t get at it, yellowing occurs.” Try rotating wall hangings to different locations if this is a problem in your home.

Vinyls used in flooring and upholstery also yellow with age, and little can be done to reverse the process.

Avoid placing rubber-backed floor mats on hard floors for long periods. The compounds used in the backing may release gases that will yellow hard floors in a hard-to-miss outline of the mat. Such yellowing is difficult to remove, and may be permanent.

Attempting removal will involve a great deal of scrubbing the discoloration with common household cleaners such as diluted bleach, 3-percent hydrogen peroxide or soapy ammonia. Try each of these cleaning solutions one at a time and rinse the area completely before trying another. Cleaning chemicals should never be mixed together — particularly bleach and ammonia, which can release toxic vapors if combined at any strength. Wear eye protection, rubber gloves and long sleeves when working with ammonia or bleach, and provide good fresh-air ventilation to the work area.

© 2006

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