I bleach my gis. On average, I think I bleach gis (and rashguards, tshirts, athletic bras, etc) maybe once every 30-40 washes. But the last post on laundry safety got me to thinking about vinegar too, so I did a little reading, and here's my report!
After three years of occasionally bleaching my stuff, the worst effect I notice in terms of wear and tear on the material is a spot or two, about 1/2" by 1/2", on the collars of my oldest gis where the material has worn thin or shows the collar "interior" material.
Not even sure this is due to bleaching, as I see the same effects on other peoples' gis. Still definitely tough enough for long classes and rough use.
I know "they" say not to bleach but I have found every once in a while, even a freshly laundered piece of equipment will have a little smell to it... that's true of bathtowels that were left to sit on the floor instead of hung up, too. So whenever I get a whiff of "that smell," I know it's time to bleach.
I have a front loading washer, and I add bleach carefully to avoid weakening the fibers more in one spot than in another (and avoid bleach streaks on colored items)-- I start the washer with the clothing inside and let the water run till it's about to start agitating. I pause the cycle and put 1/4 c of bleach in the dispenser, then start it back up. The clothes don't sit with "straight" bleach on them for any length of time, they immediately start to slosh around in the water, and that seems to work pretty well.
I did a bad job of this with my navy Vulkan; I was in a hurry and decided to put the bleach in from the start. Now I will be dyeing my navy-with-denim-streaks gi a royal purple. So be careful about it-- if you're in doubt, put your bleach in a jug of water first and pour that in.
If you have a top-loader, fill the tub with water first, add bleach, swish around, and then add your clothing.
I described this process to, and got a little feedback from, a chemistry professor who specializes in the effects of chlorine bleach in laundry.
"We have found that bleach creates some potentially nasty by-products in fabrics. However, it is also an extremely effective and useful antimicrobial agent. If you're using it so seldom, you're probably splitting the difference quite well. Your laundering practices sound quite well considered to me.
Best of luck with your laundry!
Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Science
Marymount Manhattan College
221 E 71st St.
New York, NY 10021
I emailed her back to ask: Could you give me an idea of what the "nasty by-products" are when you use bleach in the laundry? I occasionally bleach my sheets and towels too. Is there a way to categorize how much bleach is too much or too often? I googled this and wasn't able to come up with anything truly helpful...
It's true; there's really no scientific research out there on this issue. We've actually just started assembling our results. I will have the dataset together soon, so I will keep you posted on the details!
But what about vinegar? Vinegar is commonly advocated to set the dye in new gis. So I did a little research about that first. A website for fabric designers and dyers debunks that myth:
"The problem is that you don't know what kind of dye was used when you buy a gi. A treatment that will help set acid dyes will tend to strip off fiber reactive dyes, while the carbonate that will set fiber reactive dyes won't do any good for union dyes. You must match such chemical treatments to the exact dye type that was used, for acceptable results. Furthermore, such treatments are best used at the time of dyeing, rather than much later.
Many people recommend 'setting' dye in cotton clothing [like gis] with vinegar. Vinegar is not the answer! In fact, vinegar can do nothing useful for cotton dyes. Vinegar will help set some acid dyes, but only if applied while it is gradually heated to a simmer (generally in the presence of salt), and solely in cases in which this necessary part of acid dyeing was omitted; acid dyes are used on silk, wool, or nylon, but never cotton.
There is only one type of product that you can buy that will actually set dye regardless of its type. A product called Retayne, sold by local quilter's supply shops as well as by most mail-order dye supply houses. Retayne and other commercial dye fixatives are the only real solution to commercial clothing that bleeds.
Retayne is a cationic bulking agent, which acts to seal in the dye by physical means, rather than the chemical bonds which are so dependent on the type of dye. It seems that the particles of Retayne adhere to the dye molecules, effectively making them larger, so they do not come out of the fabric as easily. Note that Retayne is washed in as a laundry additive, and thus can be used only on things that can be immersed at least once without the dye immediately floating off and ruining other parts of the same item. Retayne may be removed by washing with overly hot water, and thus treated items must be washed in cool water."
Huh, so there you go. You can quit marinating your new gis in vinegar!
What about using vinegar to kill bacteria and germs? Lizinha mentioned this on that last raucous post about laundry. I looked at the link she provided, but it didn't say anything about killing bugs-- though it did recommend vinegar for defeating perspiration stains and odor. Next, I hit up wikipedia:
"Vinegar is an acidic liquid produced from the fermentation of ethanol in a process that yields its key ingredient, acetic acid (ethanoic acid). It also may come in a diluted form. The pH of table vinegar ranges from 2.4 to 3.4 (higher if diluted). The acetic acid concentration typically ranges from 4% to 8% by volume for table vinegar and up to 18% for pickling vinegar. Natural vinegars also contain small amounts of tartaric acid, citric acid, and other acids. . . .
Vinegar has been used to fight infections since Hippocrates, who lived between 460-377 BC, prescribed it for curing persistent coughs. As a result, vinegar is popularly believed to be effective against infections.
Nonetheless, many sources caution against using vinegar as an antimicrobial agent, even full strength.
While vinegar has some antibacterial properties, they are too weak or inconsistent for it to be used effectively as a disinfectant. William A. Rutala, Susan L. Barbee, Newman C. Aguiar, Mark D. Sobsey, David J. Weber, (2000). "Antimicrobial Activity of Home Disinfectants and Natural Products Against Potential Human Pathogens". Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology (The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America) 21 (1): 33–38."
Here's an article on the pros and cons of using bleach vs. vinegar in a kitchen/food-safety context. The upshot-- studies that find vinegar kills germs are generally vague in terms of how much of the germs are killed and how much are left behind.
Another article suggested using "a few drops" of a natural oil such as tea tree oil in your laundry. They say, "Many essential oils are naturally antibacterial, including peppermint, tea tree oil, oregano, lemon, thyme, and eucalyptus. Essential oils are not safe to consume or to apply undiluted to the skin, but they can be added to household cleaning solutions, soap, and loads of laundry. It is important to obtain high grade essential oils, with only a few drops being needed in a cleaning solution. Consumers should also be aware that essential oils do not kill 100% of bacteria, although many are very effective. Tea tree oil also kills fungus, and can be used on mold and mildew in places like the bathroom."
I find it hard to believe that "a few drops" in your washer would be sufficient and since a tiny bottle of tea tree oil costs about $5-6, I think that would get old quick. Though I think a lemon/tea tree-scented gi would be lovely! That article also pointed out that vinegar in the laundry will remove soap residue and leave your clothing fluffy. Didn't say squat about germs.
All in all, a little bleach every once in a while goes a long way towards killing the bad stuff in your gi, and has the side effect of making it smell summer-y fresh (if you like a faint scent of swimming pool when you get really hot and sweaty.) Vinegar neither sets the dye on your gi nor effectively kills the germs, unless you spray it full-strength onto the fabric and let it sit. But it is less chemical-y that way, which is good for the environment.
One thing vinegar is REALLY good for-- salad dressing!
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar, optional*
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup olive oil
Assortment of salad ingredients, such as cherry tomatoes, chopped carrots, sliced red onion, chopped celery, diced cucumbers, walnuts
Blue cheese, for garnish
If using a good quality balsamic vinegar you should not need the sugar, but if using a lesser quality you might want the sugar to round out the dressing.
Beat the vinegar in a bowl with the optional sugar, garlic, salt and pepper until sugar and salt dissolves. Then beat in the oil by droplets, whisking constantly. (Or place all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake to combine.) Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Toss a few tablespoons of the dressing with the salad mix and desired salad ingredients, top with blue cheese and serve immediately.
If not using dressing right away, cover and refrigerate, whisking or shaking again before use.