How to Remove Rust Stains From Clothes and Carpet

How to Remove Rust Stains

Image Source/ Getty Images

Rust stains are some of the most difficult stains to remove from fabrics. It takes time and patience and, unfortunately, removal is sometimes impossible. But there are several things you can try, including basic household items like salt, lemon, and cream of tartar.

One thing that's tricky about rust-colored stains is that they're not always caused by rust. Caramelized sugar and benzoyl peroxide (acne medicine) stains also can look like rust. When in doubt, do a bit of investigating before treating the stains.

Rust stains cannot be removed by normal laundering and using chlorine bleach will make them permanent. If the stain remains after initial treatment, repeat the same steps or try a different solvent or cleaner. Do not put the rust-stained clothing in the dryer because high heat will set the stain. 

Warning

Do not use chlorine bleach on any stain that looks like rust. If it really is a rust stain, the bleach will set the stain for good. If it isn't rust, there are plenty of other—less damaging—solutions and detergents that will remove the stain.

Stain Type Mineral-based
Detergent Type Heavy-duty laundry detergent and stain remover
Wash Temperature Varies

How to Remove Rust Stains From Clothes

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes to several hours plus washing time

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Table salt
  • Lemon juice
  • Cream of tartar (Optional)
  • Baking soda (Optional)
  • Hydrogen peroxide (Optional)
  • Commercial stain remover (Optional)

Tools:

  • Cloth (Optional)
  1. Try Salt and Lemon Juice

    For a non-toxic treatment, go natural. Lemon juice and salt will often give great results. Sprinkle salt on the rust stain, squeeze fresh lemon juice onto the salt, and then spread the garment in the sun to dry. The ultraviolet rays of the sun will help speed the reaction. You should have no problems with white or ecru-colored fabrics. But for darker colored fabrics that may not be colorfast, test the lemon juice first on a seam or inconspicuous spot to see if fading or bleaching occurs. 

  2. Substitute a Stain-Removing Paste

    As an alternative to salt and lemon, you can make a paste by combining one teaspoon of cream of tartar, one teaspoon baking soda, and a few drops of hydrogen peroxide. Apply the paste to the stain and allow it to work for 30 minutes before rinsing the fabric thoroughly.

  3. Apply Rust Remover

    Remove stubborn rust stains from white and colorfast fabrics with a commercial rust remover. Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully; many removers are extremely toxic and can burn skin and damage appliance finishes. Typically, you apply the remover, let it sit for a few seconds (sometimes you rub the area with a cloth), and then you rinse it thoroughly.

    Always Read the Label

    Commercial rust removers found in grocery stores and online are effective and safe for most colorfast fabrics. Most are made with oxalic or hydrofluoric acid. Read the product label to make sure it is safe to use on clothing.

  4. Wash as Usual

Wash the garment as usual, with a heavy-duty laundry detergent and the water temperature recommended on the care label. After washing, check carefully for any trace of the stain before drying the garment in the dryer. Alternatively, you can air-dry the fabric and check again for traces of the stain. Air-drying won't set the stain as a hot dryer likely will.

How to Remove Rust Stains From Carpet and Upholstery

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 2.5 hours

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Liquid dishwashing soap
  • Ammonia
  • Table salt (Optional)
  • Lemon juice (Optional)

Tools:

  • Butter knife
  • Vacuum
  • Bowl (Optional)
  • White cloths
  1. Remove the Loose Rust

    Use a butter knife to scrape away and loosen any visible rust from the carpet or fabric fibers. Then, use a good vacuum to remove the loose particles.

  2. Apply a Homemade Cleaner

    In a small bowl, mix two tablespoons of dishwashing liquid and one tablespoon of household ammonia with two cups of warm water. Dip a clean white cloth into the solution and saturate the stained area (use less liquid on upholstery). Let the solution sit for at least five minutes, then blot with another clean cloth. Move to a clean area of the cloth as the rust stain is transferred to it. Blot with a cloth dipped in plain water to rinse away the soapy residue. Let the carpet or upholstery dry.

  3. Try Another Homemade Cleaner

    If any rust stain remains, make a thick paste of table salt and lemon juice (about 1/4 cup of table salt and one teaspoon of lemon juice). Apply the paste to the stain and let the mixture sit for at least two hours or until it is dry.

  4. Vacuum the Area

Vacuum the treated area to remove the salt and lift carpet or fabric fibers.

Don't Over-Wet Upholstery

Take care not to oversaturate upholstery fabric because excess moisture in the cushion or padding can cause problems.

remove rust stains from clothing
Illustration: Alison Czinkota. © The Spruce, 2018

If rust stains are a recurring problem, you'll have to track down the source of the rust to prevent the stains from happening again. Rust stains from corroded metal furniture, locks, walls, or cars are easy to track down. But rust stains can also seem to appear frequently on laundry for no reason. This could be coming from a few different sources:

  • A water source loaded with iron bacteria causes ugly discoloration and stains on kitchen and bathroom fixtures, dishes, and laundry.
  • Rusty water heaters, pipes, or water storage containers usually cause sporadic rust stains.
  • A chip in the enamel of a clothes washer tub or dryer drum can expose the metal behind the enamel, and the metal rusts in the wet environment.

If the problem comes from iron bacteria, there are ways to treat the water. Rusty pipes and water heaters should be replaced as soon as possible; a rusty water heater is a flood waiting to happen. For chipped enamel in a washer or dryer, repair the affected area with appliance repair paint.