I’ve been an anxious sweater since high school. Over the years, I have learned to deal with it by addressing the anxiety in therapy and remembering that everyone gets embarrassing pit stains from time to time. But while I’m okay with perspiration as a concept these days, I’m still annoyed when my crisp white tees and button-down shirts start to look yellow and dingy. I could just bleach all my white laundry, but I’ve been making an effort to reduce the amount of chemicals I pour down the drain. So for about a year, I have been casually looking for an ecofriendly bleach alternative — basically hoping that a miracle product would present itself to me. And then one did.
About a month ago, I was standing in a very slow line at the Park Slope Food Coop, aimlessly reading the names of every tincture and tonic, when my gaze stopped on this little tub of organic bleach complex from the German company Sonett. The word bleach in the name put me off at first, but I was reassured when I read that the powder formula is 100 percent biodegradable, made from organic and wild-growing plants without any petrochemicals, and is even hypoallergenic. Like a lot of other cleaning products, it uses oxygen (released when the powder is dissolved in water) to break down stains, so it’s especially effective at getting rid of oxidizable stains like fruit, wine, coffee, tea, grass, and blood. It’s also gentle on fabrics, okay to use with a septic system, and color-safe, whereas chlorine bleach is not. But how would it stack up against my dingy white T-shirts, the yellowing collar of a gray hooded sweatshirt, and a pile of formerly bright white towels?
Since I’ve never once regretted a Coop purchase, I figured this was a safe enough bet and dropped it in my cart. When I got home, I read the instructions and set about soaking a beloved but sweat-stained Jesse Kamm white button-down and a few T-shirts that had seen better days. The hotter the water you use, the faster Sonett will work. But if you don’t want to wash your clothes in really hot water, you can soak them overnight. Because I’m impatient, I filled a plastic laundry tub with scalding-hot water, dissolved a heaping scoop of Sonett, and added my shirts. In total, I think I left them in the water for about three hours — I have since reduced the time to about a half-hour and seen similar results. During that time, I came back to check on them like a contestant on The Great British Bake Off nervously watching their bread rise and stirred them up a bit to make sure every inch of fabric was evenly treated.
I’m not proud of how dirty my shirts were, but I did take great satisfaction in the dark grayish-yellow color of the water that came out of that tub. But the real proof of how well Sonett works came after everything had dried. You know when your glasses are dirty but you don’t realize it? Then you clean them and it’s like the sun came out from behind a cloud? Looking at the shirts after that first cleaning was like that: They were brighter, newer-looking, and the yellowish haze around the collars and armpits was gone.
I have since added Sonett to the washing machine as a booster to brighten sheets, towels, and other light-colored garments, and it works just as well. But mostly I use it to soak things or to pretreat small stains. Despite doing this with my bare hands, my skin doesn’t feel dry afterward. The package says you can also use Sonett in the dishwasher, but I don’t have one, so I haven’t tried that yet. I do look forward to testing it out on stained coffee cups, though. Most of all, Sonett makes me excited to wear and buy more white clothing without worrying that I’ll ruin everything with sweat or other embarrassing stains.
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