How to Remove Water Stains From Fabric

Man cleaning water stain on brown couch with green spray bottle and yellow cloth

CameronAynSmith/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr, 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

How can something as simple as water leave a stain on fabrics? Turns out, water isn't always simple. The natural minerals and the chemicals added to purify water in municipal systems can leave residue in fibers that causes the stains. And even if the water is extremely pure, some fibers just don't react well to moisture and leaving them slightly discolored and looking water-spotted.

Removing water stains is usually simple and takes only a few household products. But if you have a vintage upholstered piece of furniture or antique textile that has been damaged by water, it is best to consult a restoration expert before attempting to clean it yourself. They will know the best way to protect your heirloom.

You may notice stains on shoes and clothing after trudging through inclement winter weather. Those are most often caused by residue left by salt or other minerals used to treat slippery sidewalks and can also be removed easily. For clothing or shoes that have been damaged by contaminated floodwaters, additional cleaning steps to remove stains, as well as disinfection, will be necessary.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine or sink
  • White terry cloth bath towel
  • White microfiber cloth
  • Stainless steel spoon
  • Iron
  • Clothes steamer
  • Hairdryer
  • Ironing board or ironing pad
  • Spray bottle
  • Small bowl


  • Distilled water
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Laundry detergent


How to Remove Water Stains From Washable Clothes

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 hand wash a single item using distilled water and a bit of detergent. Or, you can use the following steps to remove a water stain.

  1. Prepare the Ironing Area and Stained Item

    Cover an ironing board or ironing pad with a plush white terry cloth towel. Turn the water-stained garment inside out. Place the stained area on the terry cloth towel.

  2. Heat Iron

    Set the iron to the proper temperature setting for the type of fabric. Turn off the steam setting. Allow several minutes for the iron to reach the proper temperature.

  3. Dampen the Stained Area

    Dip a white microfiber cloth in distilled water and wring until damp but not dripping. Thoroughly wet the water-stained area of the garment. Move the dampened area of the garment to a dry portion of the towel.

  4. Iron the Garment

    With the steam setting on the iron off, iron the dampened area until it is completely dry. Repeat the dampening and ironing steps if needed.

  5. Get Rid of Remaining Traces

    If slight staining remains, turn the garment to the right side. Spread it flat and rub the stained area with the back of a stainless steel spoon.

How to Remove Water Marks From Upholstery

Since upholstery cannot be removed, the techniques are different for removing water marks. The most crucial element is drying the area properly to prevent mold and mildew growth in the padding.

  1. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    In a bowl or spray bottle, mix a solution of 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar and two cups of distilled water.

  2. Dampen the Stained Area

    Use a white microfiber cloth that will not leave lint or trace dyes on the upholstery. Dip the cloth in the cleaning solution and wring until damp and not dripping. Press the cloth on the stained upholstery area 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 dampening the fabric.


    You can also use a clothes steamer filled with distilled water and distilled white vinegar to dampen the water. stain. Hold the steamer far enough away so sputtering water will not hit the upholstery.

  3. Absorb the Moisture

    Fold a stack of paper towels or white microfiber towels to absorb the moisture. Place the towels over the dampened area and weigh them down with a heavy book, vase, or weight. Check the towels frequently and change as they become wet. Remove the weight when no more moisture is being transferred.

  4. Dry the Upholstery

    To speed drying especially in humid areas, use a hairdryer set on low or cool air. Hold the dryer at least two inches above the damp area and use it until the fabric is completely dry to the touch.