How to Remove Rust Stains from Clothes and Carpet

Rusty toy car
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Rust stains are some of the most difficult stains to remove from clothes. It takes time and patience and, unfortunately, sometimes it is impossible. But give these these tips a good try before giving up!

How to Remove Rust Stains from Washable Clothes

Commercial rust removers found in grocery stores and online are effective and safe for most fabrics. The important ingredient in these removers is an acid - usually oxalic or hydrofluoric acid.

The remover ingredients combine with the iron and loosen it from the fabric, then hold it in suspension in the wash water. The compounds are poisonous if ingested, extremely toxic and can burn skin and damage appliance finishes. Use them carefully according to the manufacturers' directions, and rinse the clothes thoroughly. Any acid remaining in the fibers deteriorates fabrics so add a second rinse.

Lemon juice and salt are readily available, much less toxic and will often give great results. Sprinkle salt on the stain, squeeze lemon juice onto the salt and spread the garment in the sun to dry. This works best on a colorfast garments. Test on a seam or inconspicuous spot to see if fading or bleaching occurs. You should have no problems with white or ecru fabrics.

A paste can also be made from cream of tartar, baking soda and a few drops of hydrogen peroxide.

Apply the paste to the stain and allow to work for 30 minutes before rinsing away. Wash the fabric as usual.

Rust stains cannot be removed by normal laundering. If after treating, the stains remain repeat the steps. Do not put the clothing in the dryer because high heat will set the stains. Using chlorine bleach will make them permanent.

How to Remove Rust Stains from Dry Clean Only Clothes

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. But, be aware that home dry cleaning will not remove a true rust stain.

What Causes Rust Stains on Clothes?

You already know that rust stains on laundry are frustrating and hard to remove. It is often important to track down the source of the problem and prevent the stains from occurring again.

Rust stains can happen when we sit on a rusty chair or brush against some corroded metal on locks, walls or cars. But they can also seem to appear from no where on laundry.

Rust stains can appear on laundry from two sources:

  • A water source loaded with iron bacteria causing ugly discoloration and stains on kitchen, bathroom and laundry fixtures and equipment, as well as on dishes and laundered items.
  • Rusty water heaters, pipes or water storage containers - staining is more sporadic and occurs only occasionally.

To learn how to treat water to remove iron, read Rusty Water and Laundry Problems.

Is it Really a Rust Stain?

Some rust-colored stains are not caused by rust.

Caramelized sugar and benzoyl peroxide (acne medicine) stains look like rust. Do a bit of investigating before treating the stains.

How to Remove Rust Stains from Carpet

Rust stains usually appear on carpet when metal furniture legs or decorative items get damp and stain carpets. Immediately remove the rusting item from the carpet and do not put it back until all of the rust on the item is removed and the carpeted area is completely dry.

Use a dull knife to scrape away any visible rust to loosen it from carpet fibers. Next use a good vacuum to remove the loose rust particles.

In a small bowl, mix two tablespoons of dishwashing soap and one tablespoon of household ammonia in two cups of warm water. Dip a clean white cloth into the solution and saturate the rust stained area. Let this sit for at least five minutes.

Blot with a clean dry white rag. Move to a clean area of the rag as the rust stain is transferred from the carpet.

If any rust stain remains, make a thick paste of table salt and lemon juice (about 1/4 cup table salt and one teaspoon lemon juice). Apply the paste to the stain and let the mixture sit on the stain for at least two hours. Blot away with a damp, white towel.

Allow the carpet to air dry. Vacuum to lift carpet fibers. Repeat the steps if necessary.

How to Remove Rust Stains from Upholstery

If some rust is transferred to upholstery, use the same cleaning solutions and techniques recommended for carpet. Take care not to over-saturate the fabric because excess moisture in the cushion or filling can cause problems.

If the upholstery is vintage or silk, consult a professional upholstery cleaning company.

For more stain removal tips: Stain Removal A to Z