How to Remove Sunscreen Stains From Clothes, Carpet, and Upholstery

Remove Sunscreen Stains on Laundry

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Getting sunscreen on your clothes is common and sometimes unavoidable. Sunscreen typically leaves a slightly oily stain that can be easily removed from most fabrics. But that same stain can become a much bigger problem when you have to do laundry in 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 depends on the fiber content of the garment (synthetics stain more easily than cotton or natural fibers) and the hardness of the water.

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

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.

Sunscreen spilled onto carpet or upholstery usually can be removed with simple cleaning solutions.

Keeping Sunscreen on Your Skin

The best way to prevent stains is to let newly applied sunscreen dry completely before you dress and avoid your sleeves and necklines when reapplying sunscreen.

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

Before You Begin

Check the care label on the garment before attempting to tackle the sunscreen stain. If the item is labeled as dry clean only, it’s best to head straight to a professional cleaner. Be sure to point out and identify the stain. Alternatively, if you decide to use a home dry cleaning kit, treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

Before using any cleaning solution on carpet or upholstery, test the solution and cleaning method in an inconspicuous area to make sure the cleaning will not affect the material’s color. Consult a professional upholstery cleaner if the upholstery is silk or a vintage fabric or if you need more stain removal tips.

How to Remove Sunscreen Stains From Washable Fabrics

Project Metrics

  • Working time: 1 minute
  • Total time: 15 minutes plus washing time

What You’ll Need

Supplies

  • Prewash stain remover
  • Laundry detergent
  • Water softener (Optional)
  • Distilled water (Optional)

Tools

  • Soft-bristled brush (Optional)
  1. Pretreat the Stain

    Pretreat the stained area with a prewash stain remover or a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergentTide or Persil are rated as the best detergent brands with enough enzymes to break apart the oily component of the stain. 

  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. 

  3. Wash the Garment

    Add your normal detergent to the washer, and wash the item as usual in the hottest water recommended on the care label. If you have hard water, add water softener to the wash water or hand-wash the item in heated, warm distilled water.

  4. Remove Set-in Stains

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

Soak It Up

If you can't treat a sunscreen stain right away, remove any globs of lotion with a spoon or dull edge and sprinkle the stain with talcum powder or cornstarch. Or, if you're at the beach, use the sand! Let the powder or 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.

How to Remove Sunscreen Stains on Carpet and Upholstery

Project Metrics

  • Working time: 5 minutes
  • Total time: 2 hours

What You’ll Need

Supplies

  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • Distilled water (optional)

Tools

  • Dull knife or spoon
  • White cloths
  • Soft-bristled brush (optional)
  • Vacuum
  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 spreading. Do not use a cloth to wipe or rub away the lotion because that will only push it deeper into the carpet fibers.

  2. Mix the Cleaning Solution

    Mix a solution of one teaspoon liquid dishwashing detergent with one cup warm water. If you have hard water, use distilled water.

  3. Blot the Stain

    Dip a white cloth or soft-bristled brush in the cleaning solution and blot the stain. Use a dry white cloth to blot away the loosened sunscreen and cleaning solution.

  4. Rinse the Area

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

  5. Vacuum the Carpet

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

If a carpet or upholstery stain was not treated promptly and has turned brown, mix one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide with two tablespoons of water to treat the discoloration. Apply the solution with a cotton swab or eye dropper. Blot with a clean white cloth, moving to a clean area of the cloth as more of the stain is transferred onto the cloth. Do not use this method on dark carpets because hydrogen peroxide can cause fading.