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 well water or municipal water system is high in mineral content, 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. 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.
Sunscreen spilled onto carpet or upholstery usually can be removed with a topical treatment of a household cleaning solution.
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.
|Detergent type||Heavy-duty liquid detergent|
|Water temperature||Warm to hot, depending on water hardness and fabric type|
Before You Begin
Check the garment’s care label 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
- Working time: 1 minute
- Total time: 15 minutes plus washing time
What You’ll Need
- Prewash stain remover
- Laundry detergent
- Water softener (Optional)
- Distilled water (Optional)
- Soft-bristled brush (Optional)
Apply a Pretreament
Pretreat the stained area with a prewash stain remover or a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent. Tide or Persil are rated as the best detergent brands with enough enzymes to break apart the oily component of the stain.
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.
Wash the Garment
Add your normal detergent to the washer, and wash the item as usual in the hottest water recommended on the garment’s care label. If you have hard water, add water softener to the wash water or hand-wash the item in distilled water; use warm water, not hot.
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
- Working time: 5 minutes
- Total time: 2 hours
What You’ll Need
- Liquid dish soap
- Distilled water (Optional)
- Dull knife or spoon
- White cloths
Lift the Sunscreen
Use a dull knife or spoon to lift the sunscreen away from the carpet 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.
Mix the Cleaning Solution
Mix a solution of one teaspoon liquid dish soap with one cup warm water. If you have hard water, use distilled water.
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.
Rinse the Area
Rinse the area thoroughly with a clean cloth dipped in plain water. If you do not rinse, the soap residue can attract dirt. Be careful not to over-wet upholstery because it can cause mildew problems in cushions.
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 1 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.