Laundry Disasters and How to Help Clothes Recover

Solutions for the Worst Laundry Mistakes

Woven basket with fabrics hanging over with purple stain next to laundry detergent bottle

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Everyone makes laundry mistakes. Sometimes the solution is simple, but some mistakes are hard to fix. Fortunately, there is hope for even the toughest laundry errors.

Shrunken Sweaters

It may seem hopeless, but there is a tiny glimmer of a chance that you can still wear that sweater. It’s worth a try to attempt to reshape a wet sweater to its original size. Add 2-3 tablespoonfuls of hair conditioner to a bucket of room temperature water. Put the sweater in the bucket to soak for about 5 minutes. Lay the sweater on a clean dry towel and slowly and gently try to stretch the fibers and reshape the garment before allowing it to dry on the towel.

Dried Stains

Once a stain has been dried it’s very hard to remove, but it is possible. If you've already used a stain remover, try using it again. More than likely you’ll need to soak the stain or use a more aggressive stain remover. On white clothes, try using lemon juice and placing the garment in the sun. Both the lemon juice and the sun will work as bleaching agents. Be sure to rinse the clothing thoroughly before rewashing.

Dingy Whites

White fabrics can become yellowed or grayed and dingy. For gray and dingy whites try the triple soak. Soak the whites first in a solution of a bucketful of water and 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap. Next, rinse out the whites and soak in a solution of 2 tablespoons of ammonia and a bucketful of water. Next, rinse out the whites, and soak in a bucket of warm water and 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Rinse thoroughly and dry. This soaking method will leave your whites bright and clean.

Dingy white shirt crumpled over marbled surface

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Pink Whites

A red sock in the washer with your whites can leave you seeing rose-colored laundry. To try to fix this problem you’ll need Rit Color Remover. This product works wonders on white laundry that had dye transfer on it. The Rit Color Remover can also be effective at removing dye on some colored or patterned backgrounds, although you run the risk of having the original color or pattern of the garment damaged.

Crayons in the Dryer

Crayons in the dryer result in streaks of colored wax melted around the drum. To get rid of it, start with scraping off as much of the wax as you can. Use a stiff item like an old credit card which does a good job of scraping within scratching up the dryer itself.

Depending on how tough the wax is to remove, you might need to use a blow dryer to melt and remove the wax. Hold the dryer six inches away from the drum. It will heat up the wax, allowing you to wipe it away. Next, you’ll need some WD-40. Spray it on a cloth and wipe at the waxed areas until the wax is gone. For your final step, use a mild detergent like dish soap or an all-purpose cleaner and warm water to do a final wipe-down of the drum.

Crayons being taken out of dryer machine

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Stickers Washed and Dried

Sometimes a “Good Job” sticker gets left on clothes as they go through the laundry cycle. A sticker that has been washed and dried will become very difficult to remove. Use an ice cube to freeze the stained area, and try to scrape away as much of the sticker as possible with a spoon. Apply baby or cooking oil to the sticker area and try to scrape away more of the stain as it loosens. Rinse the area thoroughly with a little dish soap and warm water before applying a stain remover gel and rewashing.

Mildew Smells or Stains

Did you forget about the clothes in the washer and now they have a sour smell? If the clothes smell but aren’t stained by pinpoint sized dots of mildew, you may simply be able to rewash them with a helping of bleach for whites, or color-safe bleach for colors. If you do have mildew stains, washing with chlorine bleach will remove the stains from white clothing. For colored clothing use a mixture of color-safe oxygen bleach (1 teaspoon), and hydrogen peroxide (1 cup) to sponge the stained areas before rinsing thoroughly and rewashing. The clothes may also benefit from soaking in a borax solution.

A Pen Explodes

If a pen found its way into your laundry it can wreak a lot of havoc before it’s found. Whether you realize there are ink stains after clothes are washed, or after they are dried, the steps are the same.

The first solution to try is rubbing alcohol.

  • Place the clothing on top of a clean white towel. Be sure to test in a hidden spot before applying rubbing alcohol to the permanent ink stain.
  • Blot rubbing alcohol onto the stain. The towel underneath will become wet and discolored from the ink. Be sure to move the garment to a clean dry section of the towel as this happens.
  • Continue until no more ink can be removed.
  • Be sure you rinse the stained area completely free of rubbing alcohol.

Another option is to try using nail polish remover.

  • Blot in the same way as you did with the rubbing alcohol, moving the stained area to a clean dry section of a towel as the ink stain is removed.
  • Rinse thoroughly.
  • This method will work much more effectively if the clothes haven’t been dried, but it can still work on set-in stains, it will just take a lot of hoping and patience.
Black ball point pens in back pocket of denim pants and on marbled surface

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Washed Tissues

If a tissue has been inadvertently washed, leaving shreds of tissue all over your clothing, the easiest solution is to pick out the biggest clumps you can see before putting the clothing in the dryer. The smaller clumps will get caught in the lint filter where you can remove them after the drying cycle. The more clumps you can remove before the clothing goes into the dryer, the better. Once the clothing is dry, shake out the garments to remove any loose pieces.