How to Remove Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheet Stains From Clothes

Man pouring fabric softener to laundry

 

Christian Horz / Getty Images

Both liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets can leave stains on freshly washed clothes. The stains can happen because of your own error or simply because of the chemical ingredients and nature of the products.

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets work by leaving a lubricating coating on fabric fibers to make them feel softer next to your skin. 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. It appears as grease or oily stains on the fabric. If there is excess liquid fabric softener, the spots will sometimes appear as blue streaks. If this happens, there are a few things you can do at home to get rid of the stains.

Stain type Oil-based 
Detergent type Regular detergent and Oxygen-based bleach
Water temperature Warm

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour to 8 hours (depending on the severity of the stains)

Before You Begin

Do not dry the clothes 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 if this is happening by opening the housing of the washer and looking for a fine spray of oil; if this occurs, your dryer will require repair.

If the problem continues even with a 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 like Persil or Tide and use the hottest water recommended for each type of fabric to remove stains and discoloration.

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Soaking basin (optional)

How to Remove Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheet Stains From Clothing

  1. Wash in Vinegar Solution

    If you discover blue streaks on clothes that come out of the washing machine, simply place the clothes back in the washer with no detergent or fabric softener and add one 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.

    The Vinegar Solution

    Be careful to not 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.

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

How to Prevent Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheet Stains

If you use fabric softeners, then your clothes are at risk of stains. To remedy the issue:

  1. Shake Liquid Fabric Softner and Dilute if Necessary

    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.

  2. Clean Out Your Dispenser

    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 will be amazed at all of the clumps of fabric softener residue that will fall out. Those clumps are what stain your laundry.

  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 or dryer sheet, which can cause streaking or spotting.

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

In case the greasy stains were caused by dryer sheets that appear on freshly dried clothes, rub the spots with a wet bar of soap like Fels-Naptha or bath soap, or a bit of liquid dishwashing soap, and then rewash. Do not use laundry detergent because it will not cut through the residue. Wash as usual after removing the stains.