How To Remove Sunscreen Stains From Clothes

Dear Home-EC 101;
I have a weird question for you.

A few times lately, I’ve pulled whites out of my washer with yellow stains. Not on the neck or underarms like you might expect, but looking more like I washed a highlighter with everything. Streaks on hems or sleeves, where there were no stains before the wash.

I’m wondering if this is due to some kind of grease. My man works in a greasy environment and while I run towels or sheets between our clothes to make sure no diesel remnants touch my work clothes, I’ve ruined quite a few things lately.

Any help or advice? I would really appreciate it.
Signed,
Yellowed in Yuma

yellow spots on clothes

Heather says:

Mystery stains aren’t fun. To try to help pin down the culprit I contacted this reader and it seems as though the likely culprit for the random yellow stains is sunscreen. Sunblock when it first splashes or smears onto clothing usually  isn’t noticeable, but once it comes into contact with minerals in water, some of the ingredients in the sunscreen may undergo an oxidizing reaction (like rusting) and leave behind a yellow stain.  This is more likely to occur in areas with hard water -as hard water contains significantly more minerals than soft.

Treating sunblock stains is somewhat hit or miss. Lemon juice and sunlight are typically the most effective strategy for dealing with sunscreen stains. Spray the stain with lemon juice and allow to react with the stain for several hours, preferably assisted by a bright, sunny day.  Be aware that acids may weaken fibers. Since the clothing is already compromised by the stain, I wouldn’t worry THAT much.

Important! Do not try to use chlorine bleach on stains caused by oxidizing reactions, chlorine bleach is an oxidizing agent and will only make these types of stains worse. The same goes for oxygen bleach which is also an oxidizing agent.

how to remove stains from clothes

Click the picture for more tips!

Alternatives to lemon juice include CLR (Calcium Lime Rust remover) and vinegar and you should be aware that it may take several treatments to be effective. Rinse thoroughly between treatment attempts.

Sometimes the appearance of yellowish stains on clothing is a sign that a washing machine is about to fail.

Bleached spots on clothing can be caused by a variety of healthcare products.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com



8 Comments

  1. Sarcy on August 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I had something similar happen recently. When I went to wash my husband’s work clothes, I found them all decorated with orange stains. We tried to think of any new soaps or deodorants we might’ve used, and I noticed we’d just opened a new bottle of our SPF facial moisturizer. I checked its ingredients against the old bottle’s and found something new called “avobenzone.” We had been using the same moisturizer for years but apparently they suddenly changed the formula. So I looked up avobenzone and found that it binds with iron. We have relatively hard well water, so yeah, rusty clothes!  I got The Works tub and shower cleaner (I think it smells nice, unlike CLR) and treated the stains with it–sprayed it right on the stains and rinsed them in the bathtub. Some stains faded as soon as the spray hit them, but overall I did have to repeat the spray/rinse a few times. Then I washed the clothes as usual–all the stains were gone–and went out and bought a new brand of avobenzone-free moisturizer (and sunscreen, for that matter).  No stains since.

  2. Sarcy on August 2, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I had something similar happen recently. When I went to wash my husband’s work clothes, I found them all decorated with orange stains. We tried to think of any new soaps or deodorants we might’ve used, and I noticed we’d just opened a new bottle of our SPF facial moisturizer. I checked its ingredients against the old bottle’s and found something new called I had something similar happen recently. When I went to wash my husband’s work clothes, I found them all decorated with orange stains. We tried to think of any new soaps or deodorants we might’ve used, and I noticed we’d just opened a new bottle of our SPF facial moisturizer. I checked it’s ingredients against the old bottle’s and found something new called “avobenzone.”. We had been using the same moisturizer for years but apparently they suddenly changed the formula. So I looked up avobenzone and found that it binds with iron. We have relatively hard well water. I got The Works tub and shower cleaner (I think it smells nice, unlike CLR) and treated the stains with it–sprayed it right on the stains and rinsed them in the bathtub. Some stains faded as soon as the spray hit them, but overall I did have to repeat the spray/rinse a few times. Then I washed the clothes as usual and went out and bought a new brand of avobenzone-free moisturizer.

  3. sarcy%thekilempire.com on August 2, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    I had something similar happen recently. When I went to wash my husband’s work clothes, I found them all decorated with orange stains. We tried to think of any new soaps or deodorants we might’ve used, and I noticed we’d just opened a new bottle of our SPF facial moisturizer. I checked it’s ingredients against the old bottle’s and found something new called “avobenzone.”. We had been using the same moisturizer for years but apparently they suddenly changed the formula. So I looked up avobenzone and found that it binds with iron. We have relatively hard well water. I got The Works tub and shower cleaner (I think it smells nice, unlike CLR) and treated the stains with it–sprayed it right on the stains and rinsed them in the bathtub. Some stains faded as soon as the spray hit them, but overall I did have to repeat the spray/rinse a few times. Then I washed the clothes as usual and went out and bought a new brand of avobenzone-free moisturizer.

  4. stark23x on August 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    This explains why my white baselayers for cycling are always going yellow. Between the mineral content I sweat into them and the sunscreen, I’m surprised they aren’t sunflower yellow! Looks like some lemon and some sunlight are in their futures….

  5. bookchick on August 2, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Would a color catcher work in this case? I’ve never used one but my mom swears by them. Personally I stick to the toss it all in and hope for the best theory of laundry sorting. 🙂

  6. HeatherSolos on August 1, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    @KeterMagick Wow that is wild. I’ll have to be better about washing new items separately. Then again, most things I pick up for myself (with exceptions for bras and underwear, naturally) come from thrift stores. Oh and jeans, I finally have a cut and style of jeans I like and just wait for them to go on sale. Dear Levi’s please don’t stop making them. Love, me. 😉

  7. KeterMagick on August 1, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    I had a wild color issue happen in my machine the other day. I had purchased a new light yellow dress recently and this was its first time being washed. I washed it with mostly older clothes that were darker and known to be colorfast in case the new dress bled any color, it wouldn’t harm the darker clothes. The dress was polycotton and most of the clothes it was being washed with were synthetics. When I took the clothes out of the washer, all looked fine until I pulled out a relatively new cotton knit tunic. It had been a solid deep periwinkle blue, and now it looked tie-dyed, where some spots had lightened to baby blue and others had concentrated and darkened to nearly navy. Fortunately, the tie-dyed look was evenly distributed and actually made this garment even more interesting. Then I pulled out some newer cotton bras, which had been a dark athletic gray in color. The fabric was fine, but the straps had bleached to a bright yellow…they are weird looking but who cares, nobody’s going to see them. The rest of the load was untouched. It seems that the new dress had a lot of <i>dye mordant</i> left in the fabric and it reacted with the still-active dyes in the newer items!

  8. notasupermom on August 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Very interesting. You have explained some mystery stains for me.

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