7 Common Summer Outdoor Stains and How to Treat Them

grass stains on children's clothing

Artistic Captures / Getty Images

Whether you have a green thumb and love to garden, struggle through yard work to keep the house from being overgrown or simply enjoy spending time outdoors during summer activities, you will have stains! Here are seven common outdoor stains you might find on your clothes and water sports gear and how to get rid of them.

  • 01 of 07

    Grass Stains

    Mowing lawn
    Nicky Bond / Moment / Getty Images

    If you've been working in the yard or just sitting in the grass enjoying a slice of watermelon, to remove grass stains, first pretreat the stain with an enzyme-based stain remover or heavy-duty liquid detergent (like Tide or Persil) that has enough enzymes to break apart the stains before you toss it in the washer. Work in the stain remover with your fingers or a soft bristle brush and give it time to work–at least 15 minutes.

    Launder as usual following the care instructions on the garment tag. Check the stains. If they remain, skip the dryer and soak the garment in a solution of warm water and all-fabric non-chlorine bleach for at least one hour or up to overnight. Wash again.

  • 02 of 07

    Ground-in Mud Stains

    mud stains

    JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

    Mud is just wet dirt, but it is so much harder to remove. Just that bit of water that turns dirt to mud helps to push the soil deeper into fibers. And, because soil is made of up of organic matter, mud must be treated as a protein stain.

    Begin by soaking and agitating or rubbing the stain in cold water before washing. Never use hot water to begin because it cooks the protein into the fibers, making the stain hard to remove.

    If the stain is dried or old, scrape or brush off any crusted matter, then soak in cold water using a high-quality liquid detergent and a color-safe bleach. Follow package directions for the amount to use. After pre-soaking for 30 minutes, wash in warm–not hot–water with detergent. If the stain remains, skip the high heat of the dryer and soak for an additional hour or overnight in a fresh solution of oxygen bleach, then rewash.

  • 03 of 07

    Poison Ivy Oils

    Poison Ivy
    Ed Reschke / Getty Images

    Even if you have been extra careful, the itch-causing oil in poison ivy can remain on unwashed clothing for up to two years. Fortunately, taking care of poison ivy exposed laundry is simple.

    Poison ivy, as well as poison oak and poison sumac, produces a resin called urushiol. Urushiol is found in every part of the poison ivy plant throughout the year and can remain active on dead and dried plants for up to 2 years. 


    If your clothes have been exposed to poison ivy, don't rub against other people, fabrics (like the sofa or car seats) or touch the outside of your clothing with bare skin. And, if you used gloves to pull out poison ivy plants, don't touch exposed skin or eyes with the gloves until they are washed.

    To remove urushiol and decontaminate clothing, wash with your usual laundry detergent at the highest recommended water temperature for the fabric. Do not overload the machine and allow clothes to agitate freely. The urushiol will be suspended in the water and will not transfer to unexposed clothing areas in the load.

    If you're lucky enough to have someone else help with laundry, be sure to tell them that you may have encountered poison ivy. It is best to handle the affected clothes with rubber gloves or pick them up with a clean cloth to avoid direct contact.

  • 04 of 07


    Pesticides being sprayed

    Ekaterina Fedulyeva / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Whether you're a farmer, a home gardener, exterminator or just played a game on a newly treated lawn, clothing that has been exposed to pesticides should be handled carefully.


    If full-strength chemicals or liquid concentrates have been spilled on clothing, handle only with rubber gloves to prevent absorption through the skin. These clothes should be discarded. No amount of washing will remove enough residue to make these garments safe for wearing again.

    All pesticide-exposed garments should be washed separately from the regular household laundry. First, rinse in clear water. This can be done in a bucket, under an outside hose or in the washing machine. Then, wash in the hottest water suitable for the fabric using heavy-duty detergent. Do not overload the washer–the clothes need plenty of room so that water can flush the pesticides from the fabric. When the cycle is complete, remove the clothing and run a hot water cycle through the empty washer to flush it clean. These clothes should be air-dried to avoid contaminating the dryer.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Flower Pollen Stains

    lily pollen

    Car Aurora / Lily Caiaimage / Getty Images

    Flowers are so lovely and so tempting to pick. But that yellow pollen is very tough to remove from clothes.

    First, never rub the pollen with your hand or a cloth. That will push the dye deeper into the fabric. Take the fabric outside and shake off the pollen. Or, use a piece of tape to pick up the pollen grains. The trick is to keep the pollen from penetrating the fibers.

    For washable fabrics, soak the garment in a solution of cold water and oxygen-based bleach for at least 30 minutes–longer is better, up to 8 hours. Follow the package directions as to how much product per gallon of water. If the stain is still present, repeat the process with a fresh batch of solution.

    After soaking, wash the garment as recommended on the care label. Do not dry the garment until the stain is completely removed.

    If the garment is dry clean only, point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner. If possible, tell him the type of flower that caused the stain. Lilies are usually the main culprit. If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

  • 06 of 07

    Bird Droppings

    Bird dropping on man in suit

    Fuse / Getty Images

    As you know, droppings happen. It usually occurs when you are dressed in your best clothes and late for a meeting. But, it can happen anytime when you're outside and to outdoor flags and furniture.

    If you can, remove the garment and flush the area from the back of the fabric with cold water. Do not use hot water because the protein in the droppings will "cook" to the fibers. If you can't remove your clothes, and you can stand it, let the bird droppings dry. While the droppings are wet, rubbing the area will only push the matter deeper into the fabric.

    Once it is dry, use a dull knife or spoon to scrape off the droppings. Blot with a white cloth dipped in plain water. As soon as possible, wash as usual following the care label or head to a dry cleaner because most bird droppings are highly acidic and can discolor fabric.

  • 07 of 07

    Sunscreen Stains

    aydinmutlu / E+ / Getty Images

    Most sunscreen stains can be easily removed by pretreating the stain with heavy-duty liquid detergent or with a DIY paste made with powder detergent and water. Let this sit on the fabric for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Then launder as usual. Check the stain before drying; if it remains, repeat the process.

    For those who have hard water, many sunscreens contain ingredients that when washed in hard water cause a reaction that creates dark brown stains, which are much more difficult to remove.

    The culprit ingredient is avobenzone. When avobenzone mixes with minerals found in the water in certain parts of the country, it could lead to brown, rust-like stains. The severity of the problem depends on the fiber content of your garment–synthetics hold the stain more than natural fibers–and the hardness of your water.

    Follow these instructions to remove sunscreen stains in hard water areas:

    • If the water has a high iron content, use a water softener in the washer. Be sure to wash and rinse clothing in warm water treated with a water softener.
    • Skip high heat and chlorine bleach because they can make the problem worse if there is iron in the water.
    • If the stain is still present on white or colorfast fabrics, launder with a commercial rust remover.
    • If the garment is dry clean only, point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner. If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.
Article Sources
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  1. Poison Ivy. University of Wisconsin-Madison Horticulture Division of Extension.

  2. Ginnetti, Michael, Buhnerkempe, Michael, Wilson, Morgan. The Staining of Clothing By Sunscreens: A Pilot Study. American Academy of Dermatology, 79,3,P562-564, 2018, doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2018.02.022