How to Get Self-Tanner Stains Out of Clothing

How to Remove Self-Tanner Stains From Clothes

The Spruce / Madelyn Goodnight

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 9 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10 to 20

Self-tanner lotions, wipe-on tanning cloths, or spray-on tans from a salon can make you look sun-kissed and healthy. But they don't look so great on your clothes, towels, and sheets. The 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.

The good news is that there are some steps you can take at home to remove self-tanning stains, and it's time to learn how to do just that.

 Stain type  Dye and oil
 Detergent type  Heavy-duty
 Water temperature  Cold to warm
 Cycle type  Varies depending on the type of fabric

Before You Begin

A few quick tips before you begin:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you suspect that any self-tanner plopped anywhere besides on your skin, tackle it immediately, as the longer it sits, the harder it will be to remove. Don't wait for the color to appear.
  • Never rub or scrub as that will push it deeper into the fibers of the material, and do not put a self-tanner-stained piece of clothing in the dryer until there is no stain; otherwise, the heat can permanently set that tanning blob.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Dull knife, spoon, or credit card
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • White paper towels
  • White cloth


  • 1 bottle liquid dishwashing detergent
  • 1 bottle heavy-duty detergent with stain-lifting enzymes
  • 1 container oxygen-based bleach


Materials needed to remove self-tanner stains from clothing

The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Remove Self-Tanner Stains From Washable Clothes And Fabrics

  1. Flush the Stain

    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.

    Flushing the stained garment under cold water

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Treat the Stain

    • 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 that contains stain-lifting enzymes.
    Treating the stained area with a detergent solution

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Check the Stain Area

    Check the stained area before placing the fabric in a dryer. If the stain remains, move to the next steps to remove the dye.


    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.

    Checking the stained area

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  4. Mix a Soaking Solution

    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.
    • Submerge the garment completely 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.
    Mixing an oxygen bleach solution

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  5. Launder the Garment

    Wash the garment in the washing machine on cold, and see if the stain remains. Hopefully, you got it all out!

Additional Tips for Handling a Self-Tanner Stain

Don't despair as there are some other treatments you can try on some clothing and carpets if the stains are proving to be resistant to coming out. Try these steps.

  • 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.