How to Remove Acne Medicine Stains From Clothes and Carpet

Woman Applying Moisturizer
Sydney Shaffer / Getty Images

There is nothing good to say about acne and the problems it can cause from a very young age through the golden years. One good thing is that scientific advances have created medicines and treatments that make this skin problem easier to treat.

Acne medicines have powerful ingredients to fight bacteria. Unfortunately, those same ingredients can ruin towels, carpet fibers, and clothes. Many over-the-counter products and prescription medications have ingredients that will permanently bleach and discolor fabrics.

Over-the-counter acne creams often contain Benzoyl peroxide. When it combines with moisture it becomes hydrogen peroxide which will bleach fabrics. Prescription cream or ointment acne medications may contain Azelaic acid (also known as Heptanedicarboxylic acid or Lepargylic acid) which will also cause bleaching or discoloration of fabrics.


To prevent stains from acne medication:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after applying the medicine. This will prevent the accidental transfer to fabric.
  • Allow the medication to dry completely before dressing or getting into bed.
  • Do not toss towels or washcloths that might have acne medication residue on them into the clothes hamper. They can stain other clothes.
  • While using acne medication, switch to white towels and sheets that will not readily show any effects of bleaching.
Stain type Chemical, dye
Detergent type Heavy-duty or stain remover
Water temperature Cold to warm
Cycle type Varies depending on the type of fabric

Project Metrics

Working Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 8-10 hours

Before You Begin

If the acne medication lands on a dry clean only fabric, use a dull-edged knife to remove any solids. Immediately flood the stained area with plain, cool water by blotting with a white cloth dipped in water. After wetting the fabric, use a dry white towel to blot away the moisture.

As quickly as possible, take the item to a professional cleaner. Be sure to point out and identify the stain. Do not allow the stain to remain on the fabric for a long time and do not carry the stained item around in a hot car for several days. Remember, bleaching is permanent.

What You'll Need


  • Heavy-duty detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Distilled white vinegar


  • Dull knife, spoon or credit card
  • Washing machine, large sink or basin
  • Soft-bristled brush


  1. Remove Any Solids

    If any of the over-the-counter or prescription acne creams come in contact with any white or colored washable fabric, use a dull knife or spoon to lift any solid matter from the surface. Don't rub because that only pushes the medicine deeper into the fibers. 

  2. Flush Away Stains

    As quickly as possible, hold the fabric under a faucet running with a full force stream of cold water. Flush from the wrong side with the fabric directly under the faucet so that the water will help push the medicine out of the fibers.

  3. Wash As Usual

    Immediately wash the fabric as recommended on the care label. Once bleaching begins on the fabric, it cannot be reversed.

  4. Treat Tough Stains

    At times, the Benzoyl peroxide and other ingredients combine with fabric dyes to leave an orange or rust-colored stain. These stains may also become permanent if not treated promptly.

    To remove the discoloration, fill a sink or large plastic tub with cool water and oxygen-based bleach (brand names are OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener or OXO Brite) following the product directions. Completely submerge the entire garment or towel and allow it to soak for at least four hours; overnight is better. This cleaning process is safe to use on all white and colored washable clothes except for silk, wool or anything trimmed with leather.

  5. Check the Stained Area

    Check the stain, if it is gone, wash the item as usual. If the stain remains, mix a fresh oxygen bleach/water solution and repeat the steps. It may take several treatments to remove the stain.

How to Remove Acne Medicine Stains From Carpet and Upholstery

The biggest issue with acne medication stains on a carpet is the bleaching action, especially on dark colored carpets. It is very important to act as quickly as possible. The same steps used for carpet can be used to clean upholstery, but try not to overwet the fabric. Excess moisture can cause problems with the cushion fillings. If the fabric is silk or vintage, treat as a dry clean only fabric and consult an upholstery cleaning professional.

  1. Remove Cream Solids

    Use a dull knife, spoon or spatula to lift any cream or ointment solids directly up out of the fibers. Do not wipe with a cloth because that will push the ointment deeper into the fibers. If the medication is a liquid, blot up as much moisture as possible with a paper towel.

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Mix a solution of one teaspoon dishwashing liquid and one-fourth cup distilled white vinegar with one cup of very warm water.

  3. Treat the Stain

    Dip a soft-bristled brush into the solution and apply it liberally to the stained area. Work in the solution and allow it to work on the stain for at least five minutes. Blot away the solution with a dry, white paper towel or cloth.

  4. Rinse, Dry, and Vacuum the Area

    Flood the area with plain water and then blot dry. It is important to do this rinsing step because the soap can attract additional soil. Allow the area to air dry away from direct heat or sunlight. Vacuum to lift the carpet pile.

  5. Treat Older Stains

    If the stains are older and have bleached the color from the carpet, there is nothing that can be done to correct the problem.

    If the stain is on a light-colored carpet, mix a solution of oxygen bleach and warm water following product directions. Apply to the carpet and let it sit for several hours. Repeat if the stain seems to be getting lighter. Unfortunately, some old, set-in acne medicine stains cannot be removed.