Self-tanner lotions, wipe on tanning cloths, and spray-on tans from a can or salon can make you look sun-kissed and healthy. But they don't look so great on your clothes, towels, and sheets.
Remove Self-Tanner Stains from Washable Clothes And Fabrics
The entire purpose of self-tanners is to "stain" your skin so you look darker. Most contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a color additive, that colors your skin. That same additive can stain, sometimes permanently, your clothes or any fabric it touches when in a wet form.
Self-tanning formulas are a combination stain of dye and oil. Start by removing the oily portion first and then tackle the dye stain. Take your time and the stain usually comes out with some effort.
It is important to treat the stained fabric as soon as possible. The longer the tanner remains on the fabric, the more difficult it is to remove. Even if you suspect that some of the tanner has gotten on fabric, begin treatment immediately. Don't wait for the color to appear.
For washable fabrics, first, flush stains as quickly as possible with cold water. Hold the fabric with the wrong side directly under a faucet with a running stream of cold water. This will force the self-tanner out of the fabric instead of pushing it deeper into the fibers by rubbing.
Mix a solution of liquid dishwashing detergent (this will help remove the oily component) and warm water and sponge the stain working from the outside of the stain to the inside. Rinse well with cold water. Immediately wash as usual in cold or warm water using a heavy-duty detergent (Tide or Persil are rated as the best brands) that contains stain-lifting enzymes. Check the stained area before placing the fabric in a dryer. If the stain remains, move to the next steps to remove the dye.
If the stain is older or remains after the first treatment, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (brand names are: OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product per gallon of water. Completely submerge the garment and allow it to soak for at least eight hours. Check the stain. If it is gone, wash as usual. If it remains, mix a fresh solution and repeat. It may take several soakings to remove the stain but it should come out.
If the stain remains and the garment is light-colored, you can use hydrogen peroxide to help remove the dye. Place the hydrogen peroxide (3 percent solution) on a cotton swab and dab it on the stain. If you are not sure if the garment is colorfast, test the hydrogen peroxide on an interior seam. If there is any transfer of color, do not use. Rinse with cold water after treating with hydrogen peroxide.
Finally, if the stain remains, try rubbing pure vegetable glycerin into the stain. The glycerin can help break down the stain. Then, repeat the dish detergent and peroxide steps.
Do not place the garment in a dryer or hang in the sun until all stains are removed. High heat can permanently set self-tanner stains.
Self-Tanner Stains and Dry Clean Only Clothes
If the garment is labeled as dry clean only, head to the dry cleaners as quickly as possible and point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner. There is no safe way to remove the stains yourself.
Remove Self-Tanner Stains on Carpet and Upholstery
Start by removing as much of the tanner as possible. Use a dull knife, spoon, or the edge of a credit card to lift any lotion solids directly up from the fibers. Don't rub or attempt to wipe away the lotion. That will only push the product deeper into the fabric fibers.
Mix a solution of one teaspoon of liquid dish detergent with two cups of warm water. Dip a soft bristle brush in the solution and work it into the carpet. Start at the outside edge of the stain and move toward the center to keep it from spreading. Keep blotting with white paper towels as the tanner is transferred out of the carpet.
Be sure to rinse the area because the soapy solution can attract additional soil. "Rinse" by dipping a clean sponge or cloth in cool water and blot the stained area well. Use white paper towels to absorb all the moisture. Allow the area to air dry away from direct heat and sunlight.
If any colored stain remains, blot the stain with a solution of one tablespoon hydrogen peroxide mixed with one tablespoon water. This should only be used on a light-colored carpet because it can bleach darker dyes. If the carpet is brightly colored, use an oxygen bleach/water solution instead. (Oxygen bleach cannot be used on wool carpet.)
The same cleaning steps and solutions can be used for upholstery. Take extra care not to overwet the fabric because excessive moisture in cushions can cause problems. If the upholstery is silk or vintage, consult a professional upholstery cleaner especially if you need more stain removal tips.
Draelos, Zoe D. Self-Tanning Lotions. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, vol. 3, no. 5, 2002, pp. 317–318., doi:10.2165/00128071-200203050-00003