Why Are There Bleach Stains on my Towels?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have been using my new front load washer for over a year now and now all of my towels are ruined. It doesn’t matter what color they are or were, they now all have large spots that look like I used chlorine bleach on them. Can you help? I have not changed detergent or softener. I have always used Gain or Tide for cold water and Downey softener.

I would like to buy new towels but don’t want to waste my money!

Bleached in Blean

Heather says:

In all honesty, I think front load washers are getting blamed for mystery bleach stains when the culprit may not even be in the laundry room. While it is certainly possible that bleach from one load is unfortunately getting into the next, there are simple steps you can take to reduce the occurrence of bleach stains from a front loading washer.

Wash your clothing from whites to darks. If you run a load of whites with chlorine bleach, make sure the next load is light colored fabrics and go ahead and fill the bleach dispensing cup with water to flush out the dispenser. The concentration of bleach should be low enough to not damage colorfast fabrics. If you want to be extra cautious, follow a white load with a load of rags or an empty load and add water to the bleach dispenser. Running an empty, hot load load is actually good for your washer and should be done occasionally.

You also can switch to using oxygen bleach instead of chlorine bleach.

Bleach and bleaching agents have been creeping into our cleaning and personal hygiene products. Do you happen to have a teen or preteen in your household? If so, I’m willing to bet that the culprit is their face wash or acne medication.

Speaking of unfair, that’s the culprit in my house. How the heck am I 33 and still dealing with this crap? If grey hair shows up before I grow out of acne, I quit.  I just quit.

If no one uses acne products, do you have whitening toothpaste? What about mouthwash? Any of these products can easily be transferred to your towels. The trouble is the stains don’t show up immediately, they often take hours before any noticeable change appears. It usually goes something like this, apply acne medication before bed, wipe your hands on the towel, which then gets thrown in the hamper. The hamper is unloaded right into the washer which then takes the blame.

Before replacing your towels make sure everyone in the home understands that these products can and do stain. Personally, I’ve given up on “pretty” towels for the foreseeable future and have just gone with functional.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.



  1. says

    “How the heck am I 33 and still dealing with this crap? If grey hair shows up before I grow out of acne, I quit. I just quit.”

    Periodically I look in the mirror at my 41 year old face with grey beard hairs and a few on my skull. I see my skin’s latest rebellion and think “SERIOUSLY FACE, WE ARE TOO OLD FOR THIS SH**”

  2. FireMom says

    Mine was acne wash. (And btw, I had my first gray at 18, so I’ve been fighting gray and acne for years now.)

  3. momadvice says

    Yup, we had the same issues and I was going insane trying to figure it out. It turned out it was my husband’s face wash the whole time. We switched it and don’t have any towel bleaching anymore!

  4. AlexisSmith says

    I opted to just give up on the words ‘pretty’ or ‘matching’ when it comes to towles an dwash cloths. I opt for ‘being happy that its clean and in reach when i need it’ If I can get them out of the washer and into the dryer without the mildew smell i’m ecstatic! The other option was all white towels to be bleached at will….hmmm.

  5. boydsivu1 says

    Not really about bleach and stains but at my age, I take off my glasses when I look in the mirror. I don’t see ANY wrinkles or blemishes.

  6. Salixisme says

    I gave up on pretty coloured towels a long time ago – white ones are far easier. And with kids, having white towels means you CAN bleach them to get rid of the stains…

    Back to the acne and grey hair… I don’t have acne, but I do have grey hair. And a white streak that I developed in my early 20’s. There is a good reason why I started bleaching my hair back then. The white streak dosn’t take dye well. But I can bleach the rest of my hair to match…

  7. Marianne says

    I saw my first pimples at around age 14, and I saw my first grey hairs at age 16. I’m 36 now. I’ve fully embraced the (quite a lot of!) grey hair I have, but the skim blemishes are worse than ever. Add to that the little black hairs around my chin, and I’ve been ready to quit for quite a long time now. I simply don’t know a solution.

  8. KatherineNgiam says

    I got my first white hair at two and didn’t develop acne until a few years ago, I’m 27 now. Right now it looks as though I’m well on my way to full blown streaks of white hair. I’ll probably be completely white by forty, my father had slate grey hair in his thirties and his father was completely white by his twenties!

    I don’t mind the white hairs, I can’t be bothered to dye it. But the acne drives me crazy, it’s ruined all of my towels! I saw the warning on the bottle but didn’t take it seriously. Since most of my family is acne free I didn’t know “might cause staining” really meant “will defiantly ruin your stuff” and I ruined my good towels and a few sleep shirts as well.

  9. KeterMagick says

    Lime scale removers also may bleach towels, and it, too, doesn’t show up immediately. Switch to white vinegar (in a squirt bottle) and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for lime removal. A quick swipe every day works wonders. :o)

  10. collymoi says

    I find using a softener with towels makes them not so absorbent. Instead, a splash of vinegar in the rinse tray gets rid of excess detergent, keeping the towels fluffy. Hair dye has been a problem bleaching my towels, tho!

  11. Reche says

    We had the same problem, and determined that it was my husband’s shaving cream that was bleaching the towels. So frustrating!

    • David says

      After reading all the suggestions above I believe Reche may have the answere to my questions. I do not use any special soap. acne med, rarely use bleach, flush and wipe washer clean when I do use bleach and I am careful to not put laundry soap direcly on my cloths. The ONLY laundry where I get the bleach spots are no my towels. What I do do is wipe the shaving cream off my face every morning. And the pattern on the towels would be consistant with the shaving cream. Thinking this is the answer and plan to check it out further. Plan to write my initials on a town with shaving cream and see what happens.

  12. Thalia says

    Thank you so much for the info. I was going crazy trying to figure out where this “bleach” stains were coming from, as I never use bleach for my laundry. Turns out it’s my acne’s fault. I can die peacefully now

  13. sunflower says

    Thanks for all the information. i just exchanged 3 brand new towels to the store blaming the product and woke up this morning and saw the same thing happening again. Now I am looking into what else could it be. I do not use bleach at any time to avoid it getting into the other loads. I have a teenager who was the last person to touch the towel. Do anyone know if epsom salts cause stains?

  14. Susan says

    Well, guess what gals, I’m 57 and still dealing with persistent acne, of course grey hair and now black hairs showing up on my chin!!! I use Retin- A and acne cream regularly, so after reading all your posts I have finally found the culprit for all my bleached looking towels as I do not use bleach every. I think from now on it’s white towels for me

  15. Cheryl says

    We have had this problem, mostly on cotton towels and on some cotton clothing (mostly khaki pants). After a lot of investigation (stopped using bleach, stopped using various bleach-related products), I have come to believe this problem is due to defects in the clothing themselves. See this website discussion at The Laundry Doctor:
    It is frustrating, because it results in a lot of money and time being wasted.

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