How to Remove Water Stains

How to Remove Water Stains From Fabric and Upholstery

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 5 mins - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-$10

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.

Stain type Mineral-based
Detergent type Heavy-duty 
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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine or sink
  • White towel
  • White microfiber cloth
  • Spoon
  • Iron
  • Clothes steamer
  • Hairdryer
  • Ironing board or pad
  • Spray bottle
  • Small bowl


  • Distilled water
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Laundry detergent


Materials and tools to remove water stain from fabric

The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

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.

  1. 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.

    Water-stained garment turned inside out on prepared ironing area

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  2. Heat Iron

    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.

    Blue and white iron turned on next to water-stained fabric

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  3. 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.

    Microfiber cloth dampening water-stained garment

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  4. 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.

    Iron passing over dampened water-stained garment with steam setting off

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  5. 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.

    Stainless steel spoon rubbed against front of water-stained garment

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor


You may notice water stains on shoes and clothing after trudging through inclement, winter weather. These stains are most often caused by residue left by salt or other minerals used to treat slippery sidewalks and can also be removed easily.

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.

  1. 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.

    Distilled white vinegar and water mixed in glass bowl for cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  2. 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.

    Microfiber cloth dipped in cleaning solution and dampening stained area on chair fabric

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  3. 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.

    Stack of paper towels absorbing moisture with book on top

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  4. 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.

    Black hairdryer drying out chair fabric after removing water stain

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

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.