How to Remove Metal and Jewelry Tarnish Stains on Clothes

How to Remove Metal Trim and Jewelry Tarnish Stains

The Spruce / Joules Garcia

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to 10

Many fashionable clothes now feature all types of metal embellishments, from buttons to studs to brads and beads. And, what about those unique pieces of jewelry that go so well with your outfits? Well, the metal from these items can leave stains on clothing if it tarnishes, is damaged by cleaning products, or rubs excessively on the surface of the fabric. Thankfully it takes only a few simple steps and products to remove the stains caused by metal trim and jewelry tarnish.

What Causes Metal and Jewelry Tarnish Stains?

"Gold" buttons, beading, and embellishments are usually made with plated metals or plated plastic and less expensive "gold" jewelry is made with plated metals or very low karat gold; these types of metals can react with the air, your skin, or cosmetics to change colors and corrode, leaving stains on the fabric. Even sterling silver will tarnish or oxidize as it reacts 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. If you have wooden buttons that have been dyed, that dye may transfer and stain fabrics.

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 they 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 cheap metals. 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. These issues all create metal and jewelry tarnish stains.

 Stain type  Tarnish
 Detergent type  Heavy-duty
 Water temperature  Cool
 Cycle type  Varies depending on the 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 the garment 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. Older or dried stains will be harder to remove, so know that you might need to repeat the cleaning process several times before the stain disappears.

If a garment is labeled as dry cleaning recommended and you decide to use a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink
  • Large basin


  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach


How to Remove Metal and Jewelry Tarnish Stains on Washable Clothes

With her crown jewels and staff to tend them, The Princess of Wales probably never has had 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 a concern. These steps walk you through how to remove those jewelry tarnish stains.

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

  1. Flush the Stained Area

    Turn the garment inside out, and hold it 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.

    White jeans turned inside out with metal trim stain under running sink

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  2. Check the Stained Area

    Check the stained area after washing. If the stain remains, do not dry the clothing, and move to the next step.

    Rose gold metal trim near white jean belt loop

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  3. Mix a Soaking Solution

    Prepare a solution of all-fabric or oxygen-based 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. Completely submerge the garment and allow the stain to soak for at least four hours or overnight. If the stain is gone, rinse well and air dry the clothing. If the stain remains, repeat the oxygen bleach step.

    If the stain is gone, launder as usual.


    This method is safe to use on white and colored clothes and all fabrics except silk, wool, and leather.

    White jeans soaking in cool water with oxygen based bleach in glass container

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Additional Tips on Handling Jewelry Tarnish Stains

  • Be sure to clean the jewelry properly before wearing it again to avoid additional stains on clothes.
  • Apply all cosmetics and hair products and allow them to dry completely before adding jewelry to your outfit.

When to Call a Professional

If a garment is labeled as dry clean only, take it to a dry cleaner and point out and identify the stain stain to help your cleaner choose the proper treatment. Vintage clothing and fabrics with fragile embellishments should be handled by a professional cleaner.