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

Remove Sunscreen Stains on Laundry

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Everyone should know the benefits of using sunscreen and apply it each time when headed outside. But what if you find sunscreen stains on your clothing or upholstery? Sunscreen tends to create dark brown stains on fabrics if not removed immediately. Learn what causes the stains and how to get them out.

Why Sunscreen Stains Fabric

For most people, the worst problem caused by sunscreen on fabrics is a slightly oily stain which can be easily removed. Even an easy to remove stain can be prevented by allowing the sunscreen to dry completely before you dress and by avoiding sleeves and necklines when reapplying.

However, for anyone who has to do laundry in hard water, most sunscreens contain products that react with hard water to create dark brown stains which are much more difficult to remove.

The culprit ingredient is avobenzone. When avobenzone mixes with the minerals found in hard water, it produces the brown, rust-like stains. The severity of the problem depends on the fiber content of your garment (synthetics stain more easily than cotton or natural fibers) and the hardness level of your water.

If your well water or municipal water system is high in mineral content, read the ingredient labels on sunscreen and avoid those with avobenzone.

Remove Sunscreen Stains from Washable Fabrics

To properly remove a sunscreen stain if the mineral content of your water is not an issue, pretreat the 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. Work the stain remover into the sunscreen stain with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush and let it work on the stain for at least fifteen minutes. Wash as usual in the hottest water recommended on the garment care label.

In a Rush and Can't Wash Clothes Right Away?

If you are in a rush and can't treat sunscreen stains 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 fifteen minutes before you brush it away. This will help absorb the oil until you can wash the garment properly.

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. If the stain remains, repeat the stain removal steps.

If your water has a high mineral content, use a water softener in your washer or hand wash with distilled water to clean the sunscreen stained item. Use warm water in your washer and avoid excessively hot water temperatures and chlorine bleach if you have hard water which can make the problem worse. If the stain is still present after washing, launder with a commercial rust remover. Commercial rust removers are only safe to use on white or colorfast fabrics.

Sunscreen Stains and Dry Clean Only Fabrics

If the garment is labeled as dry clean only, it is best to head straight to a professional cleaner. Be sure to point out and identify the stain.

If you decide to use a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

Sunscreen Stains on Carpet and Upholstery

If you are applying sunscreen and a blob falls on the carpet, act promptly. Use a dull knife or spoon to lift the sunscreen away from the fibers. Do not use a cloth to wipe or rub away the lotion because that will only push it deeper into the carpet fibers.

Mix a solution of one teaspoon liquid dishwashing detergent with one cup warm water. Again, if you have hard water and do not use a water softener system, use bottled distilled water. 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.

Take the time to rinse the area with a clean cloth dipped in plain water. If you do not rinse, the soap residue can actually attract more soil. Allow the carpet to air dry away from direct heat or sunlight and then vacuum to lift carpet fibers.

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

The same cleaning solutions and methods recommended for carpet can be used for upholstery. Be sure to avoid over-wetting the fabric because it can cause mildew problems in the cushions.

Consult a professional upholstery cleaner if the upholstery is silk or a vintage fabric or if you need more stain removal tips.