How to Remove Sunscreen Stains

How to Remove Sunscreen Stains

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 10 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-10

Using sunscreen is so important that getting sunscreen on your clothes or upholstery is worth the stains it can cause. Sunscreen typically leaves a slightly oily stain that can be easily removed from most fabrics, but the stain can become more stubborn the longer it is left untreated, or if you are washing with hard water.

Most sunscreens contain a chemical called avobenzone which reacts with hard water and creates dark brown or rust-like stains that can be difficult to remove. The severity of the problem typically depends on the fiber content of the garment and the hardness of the water. Synthetics stain more easily than cotton or natural fibers. After treating a sunscreen stain on clothing, be sure to check the stained area before tossing the item in the dryer. High heat can set the stain and make it much more difficult to remove.


Click Play to Learn How to (Almost) Immediately Remove Sunscreen Stains From Clothes

Stain type Oil-based
Detergent type Heavy-duty liquid
Water temperature Warm to hot, depending on water hardness and fabric type
Cycle type Varies depending on the type of fabric

Before You Begin

As with any stain, the sooner the fresh stain can be treated, the better the chances of success for removal. Check the care label on the garment before addressing the sunscreen stain. Test any detergent or cleaning solution in an inconspicuous area first to ensure that it does not discolor the fabric.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

For Removing Sunscreen Stains From Washable Fabrics

  • Soft-bristled brush (optional)

For Removing Sunscreen Stains From Carpet and Upholstery

  • Dull knife or spoon
  • White cloths
  • Soft-bristled brush (optional)
  • Vacuum


For Removing Sunscreen Stains From Washable Fabrics

  • Pre-wash stain remover
  • Laundry detergent
  • Water softener (optional)
  • Distilled water (optional)

For Removing Sunscreen Stains From Carpet and Upholstery

  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • Distilled water (optional)


How to Remove Sunscreen Stains From Washable Fabrics

Resist the urge to rub the spot immediately. That will only push the stain deeper into the fabric fibers and make the stain harder to remove. .

materials needed for removing sunscreen stains

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  1. Pretreat the Stain

    Treat the stained area with a pre-wash stain remover or a dab of heavy-duty liquid detergent. Tide and Persil are rated as the best detergent brands with adequate enzymes to break apart the oil component of the stain. 

    pretreating a sunscreen stain with detergent
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  2. Scrub the Stain

    Work the stain remover or detergent into the sunscreen stain with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush, then let it sit for at least 15 minutes. 

    working detergent in with a soft brush
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
  3. Wash the Garment

    Add heavy-duty detergent to your washing machine and wash the item with the hottest water permitted on the care label. If your home has hard water, add a water softener to the wash or hand-wash the item with warm distilled water.

    affected garment being added to the washer
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 


If a fabric stain is still present after washing, launder it with a commercial rust remover. Commercial rust removers are safe to use only on white or colorfast fabrics.

How to Remove Sunscreen Stains on Carpet and Upholstery

Removing sunscreen stains on carpet and upholstery is most effective immediately after the sunscreen makes contact with the fabric. Before using any cleaning solution on carpet or upholstery, test the solution and cleaning method on an inconspicuous area to ensure the cleaning will not affect the material's color.

materials for removing sunscreen from upholstery
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
  1. Lift the Sunscreen

    Use a dull knife or spoon to lift the sunscreen away from the carpet or upholstery fibers. Do this as soon as possible to prevent the lotion from seeping into the fabric. Do not use a cloth to wipe or rub away the sunscreen, as it will only push the sunscreen deeper into the carpet fibers.

    lifting the stain with a dull knife
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  2. Mix the Cleaning Solution

    Mix a solution of one teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent with one cup of warm water. If your water is hard, use distilled water instead.

    Mixing a cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  3. Blot the Stain

    Dip a white cloth or soft-bristled brush in the cleaning solution and blot the stain. 

    working detergent into the stain with a soft brush
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
  4. Rinse the Area

    Rinse the area thoroughly with a clean cloth dipped in water. The soapy residue will attract dirt if you do not rinse the affected area. Be careful not to over-wet upholstery because it can cause mildew in cushions.

    blotting the area with warm water
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  5. Vacuum the Carpet or Upholstery

    Allow the carpet or upholstery to air-dry (preferably out of direct sunlight), then vacuum to lift the lotion and soften the fibers.

    vacuuming any stain remnants
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
  6. Use Hydrogen Peroxide

    If the carpet or upholstery stain was not treated promptly and has turned brown, mix one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide with 2 tablespoons of water to treat the discoloration. Apply the solution with a cotton swab or dropper, and blot with a clean cloth. Do not use this method on dark carpets as hydrogen peroxide can cause fading.

When to Call a Professional

If the garment is labeled dry clean only, take it to your dry cleaner as soon as possible. Point out and identify the stain to help your professional cleaner choose the proper treatment. The same applies to a stain that damages silk or vintage upholstery; you need to contact a professional cleaner, or else you are likely to do more damage if you try to remove the stain yourself.

Additional Tips for Handling Sunscreen Stains

In addition to applying cleaning solutions manually, you can use a small handheld extractor on carpet and upholstery to remove sunscreen stains. If you can't treat a sunscreen stain immediately, remove any globs of lotion with a spoon or dull edge, sprinkle the stain with talcum powder or cornstarch, and let it sit until you can more thoroughly address the stain. Or, if you get sunscreen on your clothing while at the beach, apply sand to the stain. Let the sand sit on the stain for at least 15 minutes before you brush it away. This will help absorb the oil until you can wash the garment properly.

If your water has a high mineral content, use a water softener in your washing machine, or hand-wash with distilled water. Avoid chlorine bleach, which can make the stain worse. Read the ingredient labels on sunscreen and avoid those with avobenzone.