General Question

juwhite1's avatar

Why does the water in my washing machine turn a light reddish brown color when I add bleach?

Asked by juwhite1 (2971 points ) June 28th, 2009

I have a well. There is no iron in our water, and the water is never this color without the presence of bleach.

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12 Answers

Dog's avatar

I just went and experimented in my home and could not duplicate your results.

So I cannot experiment and I am left to guess.
My best guess would be that either:

A: The bleach is reacting with the laundry soap to create the color

B: That a bit of the dye in the clothes are leaching to color the water

or
C: The well water has a mineral that reacts to the bleach.

I will be curious to see if anyone has an answer.

filmfann's avatar

There is a metal part inside your washing machine that has severly rusted. The bleach erodes it, and you are seeing rusty water.

Harp's avatar

Chlorine bleach is a strong oxidant and will oxidize any exposed steel inside your washing machine. It could simply be a spot on the tub where the enamel has been chipped, for instance.

juwhite1's avatar

I add the bleach first, before clothes and detergent, so that isn’t the reaction. I think that the possibility of a mineral in my well water or rust in my machine are worth investigation. The machine isn’t all that old, so in a way, I hope that’s not the answer, but it would likely be much cheaper to fix / replace than additional water treatment! Good ideas!

La_chica_gomela's avatar

That happens when I add bleach sometimes too. I don’t know why. I’ll be following.

cwilbur's avatar

If you put some tap water in a container and add bleach, do you still see the orange color?

This will isolate whether it has to do with your washer or whether it has to do with your water supply.

juwhite1's avatar

@cwilbur – Ran your experiment, with no odd coloration. Took apart the bleach dispenser in my washer… don’t see any rust on the parts I got taken apart, but can’t get to all of it without pulling the tub out of the washer, which I’m just not willing to do. I believe @filmfann came up with the correct answer.

Dog's avatar

Is it possible that the pipes bringing the water into your washing machine are corroded and rusting inside? As the water passes through the pipes it collects the particles of iron that then react with the bleach.

To test- take a water sample from the hose before it hits the washing machine and add bleach.

juwhite1's avatar

@Dog – Now that is entirely possible! Good thinking! I checked, and they are even rusty on the outside. Guess I know what I’ll be doing next weekend!

Linz's avatar

Did the test added gain laundry soap,water,bleach in paper cup an it turned reddish brown for a second but turned back to original color but it didn’t turn back in the washing machine so Im not sure about it I don’t want my whites discolored

vlbridges's avatar

I too have this problem. Although a few of you may actually have an issue with rusty pipes or some weird mineral content in your water, I don’t believe this is the reason. My machine is less than one year old and is a “green” washing machine. (If you have an old washing machine, keep it, repair it, don’t let it go!) My new machine is so “green” in fact, that in spite of having a selection for hot water, the machine will not allow only hot water to fill the tub! I am forced to turn off the cold water each time I wash whites and want only HOT water. Back to the rusty water problem…I tried using my favorite powder detergent when we first got the new washer…the powder would never dissolve completely and remained on the clothes! So…I switched to liquid detergent…first Kirkland Ultra something-or-other and now Gain. When I add bleach to these detergents the water immediately turns a rusty brown. The rusty color does go away and I haven’t found that it affects my whites in any way…just annoying and initially distressing. My best guess is that there is some chemical reaction taking place between the new “green” liquid detergents and the bleach. Big Brother apparently doesn’t want us to use bleach…I’d like to know how he expects us to get our whites white without it! :-)

Obsidian's avatar

Directly mixing Clorox or any Regular-Bleach and Liquid Tide basically is a complex chemical reaction. The sodium hypochlorite active in Clorox Regular-Bleach is a powerful oxidant and is looking for anything in the wash water, to react with. One ingredient in Liquid Tide that is available is the fluorescent whitening agents, also known as brighteners. The reaction between the Clorox and the Tide changes the chemical structure of this complex dye and creates what I call the “red flash.” The color observed is dependent on the type and amount of brightener present in the detergent. (So most likely the lower quality products will have a less intense/noticeable color.) As you observed, the color created by the reaction does NOT deposit on the clothes and after the bleach has done its usual great job, the clothes are still “nice and white”.

Ways to avoid this happening:
• Use your bleach dispenser – it delays the addition of the bleach so the detergent brighteners have a chance to deposit on the fabrics.
• Do the 5-minute delayed addition (mix ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach in a quart of water, then pour into the washer 5 minutes after agitation begins). Again, this allows the detergent ingredients to begin working and the brighteners to deposit themselves on the fabric. Once it is on the fabric, the bleach does not react with it.

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