Keeping My Whites White

All we're missing here is a set of white polo wraps...
Let's face it, dressage riders are dumb. Why else would be be obsessed with covering both ourselves and our filthy horses in white clothes and wandering out to ride in rings that sometimes look like this...
That is one sloppy show ring ... 
A while back, a few of you asked how I manage to keep my white show clothes bright and stain free. So, I thought I'd throw together this quick little tutorial showing how I keep my white white clothes bright. What is great about this method is how it works equally well on white sheets (yes, I have white sheets and bedding with two active dogs that sleep with me ... yes, they stay white), show clothes, and on saddle pads and polo wraps. This washing method is pretty darn hypoallergenic, too, meaning you can feel comfortable using it on saddle pads on delicate-skinned people and horses! No real harsh chemicals needed (bleach is optional!).

So as show season is kicking up and I know you all either have or will have some white show gear looking stained and gross, let's get started!

How To: Keep Whites White

Step 1: Gather your soiled, stained, and sadly dingy white gear. Divide into two categories, human wear and horse wear (unless you like hair and sand all up in the crevasses of your breeches. I, do not.). Follow the same method for both batches of gear.
Here are my somewhat gross breeches from last weekend. These actually stayed relatively clean, this time. Note the staining from my tall boots, some dark spots from my saddle, and a couple of slobber and grass spots on the thighs. All normal.
Step 2: Gather your tools.

The main washing ingredients. Bleach is optional, but good to have around in case.
Stain remover. I had Resolve on hand but I'll talk more about other stain removing options.
1.  1/2 to 1 cup Washing Soda (this is NOT baking soda). You can find this in the laundry aisle of most stores. It's super cheap. Pick some up today, especially if you have hard water. Add a 1/2 cup to every wash. Be amazed. For this method, you'll want to use a 1/2 cup for smaller loads and 1 cup for large loads.
2. Your favorite laundry detergent. You want to use less of this than you think you do, for every load of laundry you do. This stuff is hard to rinse out, an you honestly don't need a lot. I usually use half of the amount recommended by the bottle, and everything comes out clean and nice.
3. Bleach. Optional, but you may find this necessary if all other stain removing options fail. It's good to have it on hand, just in case.
4. A good enzymatic stain remover. This could be Resolve, as pictured, or OxiClean, or another enzyme stain remover. The enzyme in the name is important. For serious. Nothing else will remove organic stains and prevent sweat staining. 

Step 3. Treat any stains, discoloration, or sweat spots (read: PREVENT pit stains in your shirts, y'all) with your enzymatic stain remover. Follow the instructions for your particular remover. If you don't want to use a stain remover, I'd suggest at a minimum spraying any areas that sweat has dried into your clothes, like your underarms (you know you have this issue!) with vinegar. That'll prevent pit stains, which will yellow if you have to use bleach.

Step 4: Fill your washer with HOT, HOT, HOT water. Make this water as hot as you possibly can. If your washer doesn't get hot enough (I'm talking scalding, don't let your children or pets near it, type hot water), boil some water on the stove and use that and your bathtub or sink for the next two steps.
I may have broken the temperature regulator on my hot water heater. Wash your hands at your own risk...
Step 5: Add in the washing soda and detergent, stirring until fully dissolved and mixed in. 

Step 6: Add your clothes to the scaldingly hot water mixture. Be sure to soak them thoroughly, and mix well. If you are using your washer for this soaking step (and haven't had to resort to boiling water and adding it to your sink/bathtub), you might let the agitator run for a minute to make sure everything is well mixed up. Let your clothes soak for at least 30 minutes and up to a few hours. 

Step 7: Run clothes through regular washing cycle. If you used your washer to soak, you're in luck because all you'll have to do is just start the cycle and let it run. If you used your sink/bathtub, drain the water and take the clothes and add to your washer, you shouldn't need to add any additional washing soda or detergent as that will already be in your clothes. Make sure to run your cycle on hot, with a cold rinse cycle. 

Step 8: Remove clothes from washer after cycle and carefully inspect for staining and discoloration. 99% of the time, this method will remove all the stains and return your clothes to a bright white. If you find any discoloration, don't dry your clothes and move on to the below methods for further stain removal. If everything looks good, go ahead and dry (You should probably be hang-drying your breeches. Please tell me you don't put those things in the dryer ...). If you're worried that all that hot water may have shrunk your clothes, stretch them gently at this point while damp. That should relax the fibers back to the normal size.

My breeches after a good hot soak and a wash. Back to white! (Sorry about the crappy photo)
Other Stain Removing/Problem Solving Techniques
In tough cases, I have had to resort to some further stain removing techniques. Here are a few, plus a tip for getting dingy older whites brilliant white again.

Technique 1: Use Bleach
This technique looks a lot like my normal washing technique, only I toss in a cap or two (depending on the size of the laundry load) of bleach. This will remove almost every stain ever, but will turn organic stains yellow (organic stains: blood, sweat, tears ... you know, all that stuff you get on you at every horse show). It's not my favorite technique, and can be tough on some people/horses with sensitive skin, but it is cheap and easy.

Technique 2: OxiClean
Here, you basically want to soak your clothes in a high concentrate of OxiClean and hot water. Alternatively, you can spot treat by creating a paste with OxiClean and leaving it on to soak in before washing. OxiClean is really friendly for organic stains, and can even remove some set organic stains. It's also great for removing red wine spills (ask me how I know ...). This is my go-to tough stain treatment.

Technique 3: Dawn Dish Soap
This is great if you've managed to get something oily on your clothes. Say, you spilled a whole tub of tack conditioner on your knee (no ... I've never done that ...). Dawn dish soap is the best for cutting grease and lifting oil stains. You'll want hot water and a lot of elbow grease. This sort of stain is best pre-treated in your sink before washing with the regular method.

Technique 4: The Sun
This is not only the cheapest stain remover on the block, but a really effective one. Put clothes (already washed with the above method) out in direct sunlight on a bright and sunny day. The sun will fade stains easily as the garment dries. I use this for saddle pads and fleece polo wraps I don't want to bleach.

Whitening Tip: Bluing
Ever used bluing? This stuff is a miracle. I've used it to keep my sheets a brilliant white, and to brighten up favorite white shirts and pants for years. It's basically a blue dye, so you do want to be careful and follow all the instructions carefully, or you'll end up with blue saddle pads and breeches. Not so great. Maybe practice with your shirts before you try this stuff on your good breeches. I think Dover sells it, though it's easily sourced in local stores. It is totally worth having on hand.

Anyone else out there have great tips for preserving your show clothes? I'd love to hear them! Bonus? Anyone else try to keep white sheets white while sharing a bed with your pets?


  1. Oxi Clean is my lord and savior of white clothes.

    1. Seriously. The day I watched it magically remove a whole glass of tragically spilled red wine out of my bright white pants was a turning point in my life.

      I may have a cleaning problem.

  2. Whoa. This is great news! I've used OxiClean (love it!) but not with less detergent and the washing soda.

    1. Washing soda is pretty good stuff! I use it for almost every load of laundry I do, and it really helps get my filthy clothes deep clean. It sort of acts as a water softener, too, which makes it even more awesome if you have super hard water, like me.

      You can also use it as a paste to remove really deep dirt (like, say, you fall off in a really gross arena...)

  3. I feel like I should favorite this post stuff never gets as white as I want it!

  4. Super tips! Will be picking up a box of the washing soda next shopping trip.

  5. Great information! I usually deal with this problem by just not owning white, but sometimes it's inevitable.

    1. Haha, truth! I wear white all the time (a hold over from an old office dress code of black and white clothing only), so I get pretty practiced at this.


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