Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trivia - The Elusive Whites

Above is a nice ad by Tide on Independence Day. Think about it. Almost all detergent ads have a picture of gleaming white garments. In small print, they do mention that coloured clothes retain their colours. But there is always the image of white vs off white.

It is unfortunate that almost all schools have white in their prescribed uniform for the children, and keeping them looking new is no joke. Then of course the white socks, the white handkerchiefs, bed linen, the white formal shirts, the new white kurta…..

While the detergent industry makes money beaming ads at how their product scores over the rest, the truth is the fault most times, is in the fabric itself. 

Some facts I found interesting in this article.  India is the third largest producer of cotton in the world. Yet, it is expensive to make 'white' Indian cotton. The fibres are contaminated because of our poor harvesting techniques. And millions of dollars are spent combing out dirt from the cotton every year. It requires a high dose of chemical treatment and faces risk of damage at the same time. The fabric thus produced turns drab and dingy after a few washes, the fibre too fragile to bleach and its brightness too quick to fade.

While we ( or maybe it was just me) thought that only Coke keeps their ‘composition’ under wraps,I was surprised that the chemistry that imparts the strength and whiteness of a fabric in the textile industry is a closely guarded secret!

While all fabrics of different colours have their problems, white is most difficult to stabilize. And a lot of research and technology goes into their making. If you have wondered why the white shirt is more expensive than most other clothing, it is becase the mills in India depend on American and Egyptian cotton to manufacture the pristine white for their brands. On the international standard for whiteness, our cotton ranks 145, American and Egyptian fabric 155 and 160 respectively. The gap may not seem large, but visually the difference is huge and the whiteness in their fabrics remain longer.

While we still go and choose the colour of our toothbrush with a lot of thought and care ( who ever buys a plain white toothbrush?), we do overlook brighter colours and still go in for the white in our wardrobe. Rave and rant when it gets dull with wash.  Blame the dhobi, blame the detergent, blame the brand, blame the hard water. 

Therefore, if you ever receive a mail from your cousin in the US who is on his way to India, asking you what you want, don't hesitate, it makes sense to ask for a white shirt!


  1. Very Informative Post. Now I know what to ask my US friends as gifts. :)

    I am thankful to God the kids uniform here has no white in it whatsoever. I have a problem with the navy blue socks though. They fade so damn fast.

  2. Really ! Thats some interesting take ! The next time, there is a less 'white' shirt from the wash, i am not going to lose my shirt over that !


  3. Very interesting and informative. Did not know this many info about white. Thanks.

  4. Wow, didn't know that it took so much to make a white shirt! Well, I haven't wore a white shirt in ages! Now, not going to waste my money on a shirt which I'll definitely lose! :)

  5. very informative post,now I know why white shirts abroad look so good:)

  6. Great post, and I wish I knew this earlier....

    I wish the teachers at my childrens school knew this , like 10-14 years ago. The children had to wear white trouser/skirts and shirts with would you believe, white canvas shoes. And travel to school in the raging monsoon slush in Mumbai. I had raised the point in a school meeting, and so had some folks who thought laundering these things was neverending and expensive.

    I see the children in whites even today. And that they cannot play any outdoor games then is immaterial. School rules rule. And only dhobis and Hindustan lever benefits, I suppose.

  7. Elusive whites indeed! I so dread tuesdays, the day my daughter has to wear whites to school. I tried detergents, whiteners, bleach, liquid blue....and it looks anything but white.

    Informative post...thanks. Now I know I'm not the only one :) I wonder why they have white uniforms at all! Is it a laundry test for parents?

    PS: Couldn't open that link in your post, for some reason!

  8. Jyothi - lucky you! no white uniforms?
    Kavi - :-)
    SG:- I found the article very interesting. Always wondered why I had to pay more for white than a coloured kurta. Now I know!
    Girish - no white? Surprising.
    Samvedna - I always thought our hard water was to blame.
    UK - So true, and all schools reopen in June, just when monsoon sets in and the white lasts hardly a month!
    RGB-Laundry test indeed. Even to date, the kids tell me they did not have enough white shirts during their schooling days.
    And for some strange reason the link does not open. I reset it. Type in - livemint quest for sparkling white - it will lead you to the article.

  9. That is a sweet little message in the end. :) I never thought the quality of the fabric matters too.

  10. Well, in school I wore navy blue & white shirts!! Imagine the same routine for 12 years!! It made me swear off whites and light blues!

  11. Radha,tell me how the politicians' shirts and dhoties are so spotless white although they give their clothes to the same launderer.I asked him.He said ' you bring yr clothes once in two/three months to me while they send every day without washing at home'
    You hv given lot of statistics abt our cotton.Agreed that I go for coloured shirts,tell me what do i do for my dhoti and banyans.I buy new sets every three months.

    Thanks for your comments in my blog

  12. I love whites ... Then somewhere I read - if you love white you might be retarded... I disagree and still love white.

    ~ NRIGirl

  13. What an informative post! and i liked the Tide ad too!

    You know, I always thought that it must be a simple process to bleach cloth white. From your post it appears that there are many factors and much expense involved!

  14. My P.T. uniform was white turned off white after a couple of months...
    I always blamed the detergents, but now I know the real culprit!!

  15. So much effort behind white! Well, who would have guessed! Glad you could compile all these information. Thanks!

  16. That was really good. I had never thought about it till you brought it up.For that matter,do we think about any thing that is going on around us?

    I remember very well that the banyans we used to buy when I was young,were made of Egyptian cotton.They had a fine texture and excellent whiteness.The white dhotis I have, changes color in no time.They become brighter when I use a bleach,like Clorox .But then, after few washes, they become like fishnets,with holes all over.
    Excellent post.

  17. Indrani.Manju - If it gets to being a post here, it generally means it is something new for me too! Manju, I too thought it needed only the bleach
    Girish - Understandable. But ultimately, one can never get rid of the whites in the wardrobe
    KP - Politicians laundry bill - taxpayers money I guess.
    NRIgirl - retarded? Whoever said that is!
    Arti - yes it happens to all, yet the prescribed PT uniform will not be changed.
    Dr A - Bleach does harm the clothes in the long run.. fishnets as you put it.

  18. Very interesting facts on fabrics. All schools have white color has the primary color in uniform and it is expected to maintained well. It is test for parents.

  19. I do love a good white blouse, wear quite a bit of white actually year round. Alas, I have accepted dinginess as a fact of my life, smiles. I never knew about the standards of whiteness, that is fascinating to me. I have a friend from Colombia who remarked about the lack of true whiteness in his bedsheets. He said at home the women used to dry their clothes on the fields, letting the sun bleach them. My grandmother used to do the same :) Nice memories, not very practical.


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