How to Remove Fabric Softener Stains From Clothes

How to Remove Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheet Stains

The Spruce / Ellen Lindner

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 10 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Both liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets can leave stains on freshly washed clothes. Fabric softener stains often occur due to user error, namely using too much of the product. The main ingredient in fabric softeners is commonly a silicone that binds to fabric fibers. Excessive amounts will leave deposits on the fabric—appearing as an oily stain—especially after drying the garment at high heat. If this happens, here are steps you can take at home to remove the fabric softener stains as well as prevent them from happening again.

Stain type Chemical-based 
Detergent type Regular detergent and oxygen-based bleach
Water temperature Warm

Before You Begin

When you see streaks on wet clothes, do not dry them in a clothes dryer until the stain is entirely gone. Drying the stain in a clothes dryer will make the stain harder to come out.

If you never use fabric softener or dryer sheets but still have these streaks or spots, there are a couple of other explanations. First, your washer could be spraying transmission fluid or bearing oil. You can determine whether this is happening by opening the housing of the washer and looking for a fine spray of oil; if this occurs, your washer will require a repair.

If the problem continues even with a repaired or new washer, the problem could be a reaction between your water source and the detergent you are using. Try switching to a heavy-duty detergent containing enzymes (e.g., Persil or Tide), and use the hottest water recommended for each type of fabric to remove stains and discoloration.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Soaking basin (optional)

Materials

  • Water
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Regular laundry detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach
  • Bar soap or dishwashing liquid (optional)

Instructions

materials for removing dryer sheet stains
 The Spruce / Danielle Holstein

How to Remove Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheet Stains From Clothing

  1. Wash in Vinegar Solution

    If you discover oily streaks on clothes as they come out of the washing machine, simply place the clothes back in the washer with no detergent or fabric softener, and add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the wash water. Let the clothes go through a full wash/rinse cycle, and the stains should be gone.

    Tip

    Be careful not to put undiluted vinegar directly on colored fabrics, as it contains a mild acid that can bleach color from items. Put the cup of liquid in the washer drum before you load the clothes back into the drum. Start the load right away. The water added by the washing machine will dilute the vinegar as needed.

    vinegar solution
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein
  2. Soak in Oxygen-Based Bleach

    If the fabric-softener-stained clothes already went through the dryer, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach and warm water following package directions. Submerge the stained items, and allow them to soak for at least four hours or overnight. Then, wash as usual without any detergent or fabric softener. Oxygen bleach is safe to use on both white and colored washable fabrics other than wool, silk, leather, or wooden buttons.

    soaking fabric in oxygenated bleach
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein
  3. Remove Dryer Sheet Stains

    If you see what appears to be grease stains on freshly dried clothes and suspect dryer sheet residue, rub the spots with a wet bar of soap like Fels-Naptha or Zote, or a bit of liquid dishwashing soap, and then rewash.

    using soap to remove stains before rewashing
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein

How to Prevent Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheet Stains

If you use fabric softeners and dryer sheets, then your clothes are at risk of stains. To remedy the issue follow these steps.

  1. Shake Liquid Fabric Softener and Dilute if Necessary

    Shake the bottle of liquid fabric softener well each time before using it, because the ingredients can separate. Next, dilute the fabric softener with an equal amount of warm water before adding it to the washer to help disperse the liquid. This should be done whether you use an automatic dispenser, dispensing ball, or add the fabric softener manually to the rinse cycle.

    Warning

    Never pour liquid fabric softener directly onto fabric, as this often will leave an oily stain.

    diluting fabric softener before washing
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein
  2. Clean Out Your Dispenser

    If your washing machine has an automatic fabric softener dispenser, clean it out regularly by flushing the dispenser with heated distilled white vinegar or very hot water, followed by a rinse cycle with no laundry in the washer. You will be amazed at all of the clumps of fabric softener residue that will fall out. Those clumps can easily stain your laundry if left in place.

    cleaning out the washer dispenser
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein
  3. Do Not Overload the Washer

    Avoid overloading the washer. Without room to move easily through the water and fabric softener solution, some clothes will get excessive exposure to the fabric softener, which can cause streaking or spotting.

    avoid overloading the washer
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein
  4. Use Dryer Sheets Properly

    To avoid spots on clean clothes from dryer sheets, always place the dryer sheet on the top of the freshly loaded clothes and start the dryer immediately. Again, do not overload the dryer. Do not bury the sheet in the middle of the load where it can get trapped. The spots occur when the dryer sheet stays in contact with a fabric surface for too long.

    Tips

    Dryer sheets are activated by heat and should not be used when you are using the air fluff or low heat dryer cycle.

    placing the dryer sheet on top
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein

Additional Tips for Handling Fabric Softener Stains

If you continue to find annoying fabric softener or dryer sheet stains on your freshly laundered clothing even after following all of the above steps, try switching to a new brand. It could be that the product you have been using simply does not react well with your home's water supply, your washing machine, or the laundry detergent you regularly use.

Watch Now: How to Make Your Own Dryer Sheets