When water with exceptionally high calcium and magnesium content (hard water) comes into contact with fabric, it can create unsightly, surprisingly stubborn, brown stains. While occasionally pesky, the natural minerals added into a community water supply by municipal systems are very valuable and provide essential minerals to purify water and provide additional nutrients.
However, when the mineral content is too high, the water becomes hard and can cause staining. Occasionally, mineral-free water can cause stains on delicate fabrics, leaving them discolored and water-spotted. Removing water stains is simple and can be done at home using products you likely already have in your cupboard. Removal methods vary slightly according to the fabric of the stained item, as well as stains on carpet and upholstery. Remember never to machine-dry an item with an unresolved stain, as the heat can set the mark and make it permanent.
|Water temperature||Cold to hot|
|Cycle type||Varies depending on 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. Do not rub immediately. That will only push the stain deeper into the fabric fibers and make the stain harder to remove. Check the care label on garments and test any detergent or cleaning solution in an inconspicuous area first to ensure that it does not discolor the fabric. While most cleaning methods are gentle enough for a diverse range of fabrics, knowing an item's specific care needs will help you choose the best stain removal option.
Equipment / Tools
- Washing machine or sink
- White towel
- White microfiber cloth
- Clothes steamer
- Ironing board or pad
- Spray bottle
- Small bowl
- Distilled water
- Distilled white vinegar
- Laundry detergent
How to Remove Water Stains From Washable Clothes
Water stains can be removed relatively easily from washable clothing. Act as quickly as possible; if a stain sits for too long, then the chances of completely removing the stain are greatly reduced. Fortunately, there are simple at-home steps you can take to eliminate the stain before it permanently sets.
Prepare the Ironing Area and Stained Item
Cover an ironing board or pad with a plush white towel. Turn the water-stained garment inside-out and place the stained area on the towel.
Set the iron to the highest temperature setting as advised by the care label on the fabric. Turn off the steam setting and allow the iron several minutes to reach the proper temperature.
Dampen the Stained Area
Dip a white microfiber cloth in distilled water and wring it out until damp but not dripping. Thoroughly wet the stained area of the garment and continue to blot with a dry section of the cloth.
Iron the Garment
Iron the dampened area with the steam turned off until it is completely dry. Repeat the dampening and ironing steps as needed.
Get Rid of Remaining Traces
Turn the garment right-side-out if staining remains. Spread it flat and rub the stained area with the back of a stainless steel spoon.
How to Remove Water Stains From Upholstery
Removing water stains from upholstery requires slightly different practices than removing them from clothing. The most crucial element is thoroughly drying the cleaned area to prevent mold and mildew from developing inside cushions.
Mix a Cleaning Solution
Mix a solution of 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar and two cups of distilled water in a bowl or spray bottle.
Dampen the Stained Area
Dip a white microfiber cloth in the cleaning solution and wring until damp but not dripping. Press the microfiber cloth onto the stained area of the upholstery to thoroughly dampen the fabric. Do not scrub or rub the area excessively to prevent damage. For large areas, a spray bottle may be easier to use for wetting the fabric.
Absorb the Moisture
Press a stack of paper towels or a white microfiber cloth into the stain to absorb the moisture. Place the towels over the dampened area and weigh them down with a heavy object such as a book (chose a hardcover without a paper jacket). Check the towels frequently and change them as they become wet. Remove the weight when no more moisture is being transferred.
Dry the Upholstery
Use a hairdryer on low or cool air to speed the drying process, especially in high humidity. Hold the dryer at least two inches above the damp area and apply air until the fabric is completely dry to the touch.
When to Call a Professional
If your water-stained clothing or upholstery is vintage or silk, consult a professional cleaner or restoration expert rather than attempting to clean it yourself. Improper cleaning could permanently damage your item. A specialized cleaner will know how best to protect your upholstery.
Additional Tips for Handling Water Stains
In addition to the methods mentioned above, you can use a clothes steamer filled with distilled water and white vinegar to dampen the water stain before treatment. Be careful to hold the steamer far enough away so that sputtering water doesn't splash your item. Simply rewashing the water-spotted clothes or linens with your regular laundry detergent on a normal cycle will often remove the water stains. You can also repeatedly hand wash a single item using distilled water and a bit of detergent.
Repeat your preferred cleaning method as many times as necessary until the stain is removed. While it's highly likely that you'll be able to remove water stains at home, you can visit a professional for more specialized guidance if the stain doesn't budge.
For clothing or shoes that have been damaged by contaminated floodwaters, additional cleaning steps to remove stains, as well as disinfection, will be necessary.