How to Remove Metal Trim and Jewelry Tarnish Stains on Clothes

Button tarnish
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Many fashionable clothes now feature all types of metal embellishments from buttons to studs to brads and beads. The metal can leave stains on clothing if it tarnishes, is damaged by cleaning products, or rubs excessively on the surface of the fabric. Learn how to remove the stains.

What Causes Metal Trim and Buttons to Stain Clothes

"Gold" buttons, beading, and embellishments are usually made with plated metals or plated plastic that can react with the air, your skin, or cosmetics to change colors and corrode leaving stains on fabric. Even vintage sterling silver buttons will tarnish or oxide as they react with the air and the oils of your skin. That tarnish can be transferred to your clothing. This is particularly problematic if you decide to remove or change the buttons or trim.

What causes the problem? Make-up is the most common cause of the blackening or smudging. Cosmetics and lotions often contain chemical compounds that when come in contact with the metals corrode or rub off very tiny particles of metal which appear as black dust and smudges. Perspiration on our skin produces mild chemicals that are enough to cause corrosion of 14 karat gold much less cheaper metals.

How to Remove Metal Trim Stains from Washable Clothes

To remove the stains from a washable garment, turn the garment inside out and hold under a cold water faucet to flush the stained area. This should force the metallic particles out of the fibers; then wash as recommended on the care label.

Check the stained area after washing. If a stain remains, prepare a solution of all-fabric or oxygen bleach and cool water (brand names are: OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite). Follow product directions on how much to use per gallon of water. This is safe to use on both white and colored clothes and on all fabrics except silk, wool, and leather. Completely submerge the garment and allow the stain to soak for at least four hours or overnight. Rinse well and air dry.

This method will not correct any previous damage to the metal trim or buttons, it will only remove the stains from fabric. The metal will need to be replaced or removed from the fabric and cleaned with an appropriate type of metal cleaner and then reattached.

How to Remove Metal Trim and Jewelry Tarnish Stains from Dry Clean Only Clothes

If the garment is labeled as dry clean only, point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner.

If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

How to Remove Jewelry Tarnish Stains from Washable Clothes

With her crown jewels, The Duchess of Cambridge probably never has a jewelry tarnish problem. But, for the rest of us with jewelry that is a bit less expensive, tarnish stains on clothes from costume jewelry can be removed.

Less expensive "gold" jewelry is made with plated metals or very low karat gold that can react with the air, your skin, or cosmetics and change colors. Even sterling silver will tarnish or oxide as it reacts with skin and clothing and that tarnish can be transferred to your clothing. 

What causes the problem? Make-up chemicals are the most common cause of the blackening or smudging of jewelry that is then transferred to clothes. Perspiration on our skin produces mild chemicals that are enough to cause corrosion of even 14 karat gold. Jewelry containing copper and silver alloys, including sterling silver, corrode readily on the skin if enough perspiration or salt is present. Sterling silver is a copper-silver alloy and is somewhat soft and more likely to be abraded to black dust by relative movement between the jewelry and the skin or clothing.

To remove the stains from a washable garment, turn the garment inside out and flush the stained area with cold water then launder as usual. Check the area after washing. If a stain remains, prepare a solution of all-fabric or oxygen bleach and cool water and allow the stain to soak for several hours. Rinse well and dry. 

Be sure to clean the jewelry properly before wearing again to avoid additional stains on clothes. It is also best to apply all cosmetics and hair products and allow them to dry completely before adding jewelry to your outfit.