How to Remove Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheet Stains From Clothes

Dryer Sheet in Dryer
Photo by MML

Both commercial liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets can leave stains on freshly washed clothes. The stains can happen because of user error (yes, you caused the problem) or simply because of the nature of the products.

Learn how to avoid the stains and how to remove them if they happen.

Why Do Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets Leave Stains On Clothes?

Most commercial fabric softeners and dryer sheets work by leaving a lubricating coating on fabrics to make them feel softer next to our skin and to our touch.

The main product ingredient is often a silicone that binds to the fibers. Excessive amounts of the coating will leave deposits on your clothes, especially after drying at high heat, that appear as grease or oil stains on the fabric. If there is excess liquid fabric softener, the spots will sometimes appear as blue or another color streak.

How Do I Prevent Fabric Softener And Dryer Sheet Stains On Clothes?

The key to preventing stains from liquid fabric softener is to shake the bottle well each time before using because the ingredients can separate. Next, dilute it with an equal amount of warm water before adding 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. NEVER pour fabric softener directly onto fabric.

If your washing machine has an automatic fabric softener dispenser, clean it out regularly by flushing with heated distilled white vinegar or very hot water followed by a rinse cycle with no laundry in the washer.

You'll be amazed at all of the clumps of fabric softener residue that will fall out. It's those clumps that stain your laundry!

It is also key to avoid overloading the washer. Without room to move easily through the water and fabric softener solution, some clothes will get excessive exposure and cause streaks or spotting.

To avoid the 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. Don't overload the dryer and don't 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. Dryer sheets are activated by heat and should not be used when you are using the air fluff or low heat dryer cycle.

How To Remove Fabric Softener And Dryer Sheet Stains On Clothes

If you discover blue streaks on freshly washed clothes, DO NOT place the clothes in a hot dryer. The heat will make the stains much more difficult to remove. Simply place the clothes back in the washer with no detergent or fabric softener but add one cup of distilled white vinegar. Let the clothes go through a full wash/rinse cycle and the stains should be gone.

If you have already dried the fabric softener stained clothes, mix a solution of an oxygen-based bleach (brand names are: OxiCleanTide OxiNellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) and warm water.

Submerge the stained items and all them to soak for at least two hours or overnight and then wash without detergent or fabric softener as usual. Oxygen bleach is safe to use on both white and colored fabrics.

For those "grease" stains caused by dryer sheets that appear on freshly dried clothes, rub the spots with a wet bar of soap or a bit of liquid dish washing soap and then rewash. Don't use laundry detergent because it will not cut through the residue. 

Have Similar Stains On Clean Clothes But Don't Use Fabric Softener Or Dryer Sheets?

If you never use fabric softener or dryer sheets but still have these streaks or spots, there are a couple of other explanations. One, your washer could be spraying transmission fluid or bearing oil. You can determine if this is the cause by opening the housing of the washer and looking for a fine spray of oil. Then, of course, get the problem repaired.

If the problem continues even with a new washer, the problem could be a reaction between water and the detergent you are using. Try switching to a heavy duty detergent like Wisk or Tide and use the hottest water recommended for each type of fabric.