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How Can I Remove Rust Stains from my Clothes?

Rubbing a lemon on clothes can help remove rust stains.
Washing clothes in hot water with detergent should help remove rust stains from clothing.
Sunlight can be used in conjunction with lemon juice to remove rust stains.
Be sure the stain is completely gone before putting the clothing in the dryer.
White vinegar is a rust remover.
Cotton balls are helpful when cleaning.
Mixing table salt with lemon juice can help remove rust stains.
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  • Originally Written By: Deborah Ng
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2014
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Promptly washing rust stains in hot water with regular laundry detergent is often the best and usually also the easiest way to remove them, particularly if they are fresh. Really tough stains or those that have had a lot of time to penetrate the fabric sometimes require a more aggressive approach, though. A lot of people have success simply rubbing the affected area with lemon juice, then washing it as usual; soaking the stained garment in a broth made from boiled rhubarb is another favorite home remedy. Still other people swear by cream of tartar as a chemical-free solution. If none of these work, you may need to purchase a special rust removing cleanser or take your clothes to a professional dry cleaner.

Prompt Laundering

It’s usually a good idea to try to get as much of the stain off as you can when you first notice it by blotting the area with warm water and a bit of mild soap as needed. Experts usually recommend using a gentle touch; you want to remove the stain, not rub it in. Once you’ve scraped off all that you can, put the garment in the washing machine with the warmest water the fabric will handle. You can use your regular detergent so long as it is bleach-free. Adding bleach can actually cause morediscoloration, and in some cases can permanently damage your clothes by fixing the rust into the fabric.

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Laundering usually works best for stains that are relatively fresh. Once the rust has penetrated the material and had time to sit, simple soap and water may not do the trick. If you pull your clothes out of the machine and the stains are still visible, it’s time to try something else. You may need to bring on the heavy-duty chemical stain removers at some point, but a lot of blemishes will come out with milder methods, provided you have the time and patience to try them.

Lemon Juice Treatment

From a chemical perspective, rust happens when the iron particles in metal come into contact with oxygen, creating iron oxides that have a characteristic red-brown color. One of the best ways to break down these compounds is to apply a mild acid; most acids digest or dissolve metallic compounds, which in the case of rust stains means that the stain can actually be “eaten” or lifted out of the fabric, almost from the inside out. Lemon juice is an ideal acid for this purpose that most people have or can get relatively easily, and it is concentrated enough to get good results in many cases. Distilled white vinegar can also make a good substitute.

Simply saturating the garment in the juice or vinegar will sometimes work, though you’re likely to get better results by first mixing the liquid with a bit of table salt to form something of a paste. The salt helps the acid bind to the stain and holds it in place, allowing it to do its work on the metal particles. How long to let things sit depends in part on the severity of the stain and the delicacy of the fabric you’re working with, but you’ll likely need at least fifteen minutes and up to an hour or more.

When it looks like the stain is breaking free, blot the area with cool water and gently wash the salt mixture off. You’ll want to be careful not to scrub the mixture into the fabric since this can make things worse; setting the garment under running water or using a clean wet cloth to slowly pat away the paste is usually best.

Harnessing the Sunlight

Natural sunlight also has bleaching and sanitizing properties that can be a good compliment to lemon juice treatment. Once you’ve gotten as much of the rust out as you can, try setting the fabric in a sunny window or on a clothes line to let the sun’s UV rays penetrate the material. Many people find that any remaining rust simply flakes off once the clothes are dry.

Boiled Rhubarb

Another “green,” or non-chemical, option is to soak your stained clothes in a broth made from boiled rhubarb. This method tends to be most popular on clothes that have extensive stains, or stains over large areas that would be burdensome to address individually. The basic idea here is to boil several stalks of rhubarb in a large pot of water for about half an hour. Rhubarb, like lemon, is high in natural acid, though the acid compounds are stored in its stalks and tend to activate when cooked.

Take the stalks out of the pot once half an hour is up and turn the heat off, then wait for the water to cool slightly; you’re looking for about room temperature. Put the stained clothes in and allow them to soak until the stains are removed, or are at least loose enough to remove with a soft cloth or brush. Exactly how long you need to let things soak usually depends on the clothes, but you should be careful not to leave things for too long, particularly if your broth is on the stronger side. Rhubarb juice is sometimes used to dye clothes, and the last thing you want is a shirt that is stain free but in a different color. Most experts recommend soaking for no more than an hour, though closer to 15 minutes is usually enough.

Cream of Tartar

If you have cream of tartar in your spice cabinet, mixing it with a bit of hydrogen peroxide might also help. Cream of tartar, which is known chemically as potassium hydrogen tartarate, is a binding agent that can help lift rust out of most types of fabric and upholstery, and can sometimes even take rust off of metal pieces like furniture or appliances. Dab the mixture onto the stain with a cotton ball or soft cloth, then allow it to sit for about an hour before rinsing with cold water and laundering as usual.

Phosphoric Acid and Commercial Rust Removers

If none of these home remedies work, or if you’d prefer to use something a bit stronger, your best bet may be to look for a commercial rust removing solution. One of the most popular choices is a phosphoric acid compound that can be rubbed into the stain; it often comes as a gel or thick liquid, and is frequently sold under the name “Naval Jelly.” It is often marketed for more industrial purposes like taking rust off of machinery, but many people find that it is also quite effective for clothing. You just have to be careful not to leave it on too long; in most cases it’s best to gently rub the gel into the stain, then wash it right away to prevent any discoloration.

All-purpose laundry stain removers may also do the trick, but it’s important to carefully read the manufacturers’ instructions before treating your fabric. Anything that contains bleach, for instance, should not be used on rust stains since bleach compounds can sometimes make them permanent.

Professional Solutions

If nothing seems to be working, your best bet may be to take your stained clothes to a dry cleaner. In most cases it’s better to give up after a few tries rather than risk setting the stain, and professionals usually have more advanced tools that can do a better job on really stubborn marks. It’s really important to point out the stains when you drop things off, though; if the dry cleaner doesn’t notice and cleans your clothes normally, there’s a chance the rust marks could get worse.

A Word of Caution on Heat and Dryers

With the exception of leaving stained clothes in the sun to dry, you should be really cautious about exposing your garments to heat. Only put things in the dryer if you’re really certain that all of the rust has come out since heat often “sets” stains, making them even harder if not impossible to remove.

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Discuss this Article

apowell
Post 42

Adriana, it depends on the brands of cloth you are using. Some brands, like Bum Genius, recommend some bleach once a month. Although many brands don't recommend these methods, you should not worry about doing it sparingly unless you are worried about voiding your warranty.

I would not recommend ever using vinegar unless you are desperate though because it can dissolve the laminate on the PUL and compromise the elastic. You may run the same risk with bleach, but it is not as corrosive as the vinegar is. Lemon should not be corrosive on PUL or elastic and certainly not on OBV.

Try the lemon and sunning and if that still does not work, I would call customer service for your CDs and see what they recommend before trying bleach or vinegar. Rust stains usually don't compromise the diaper's function, so you might just have to live with the ones that are already there and focus on preventative measures.

powerone
Post 39

Spray the inside of your washing machine tub with power One, it will remove the rust. The tiny holes in your washing machine tub is where the rust is building up and then going on your clothes after the spinning. I used to have that problem but I don't anymore. You can use power one to remove rust stain on your clothes from previous wash.

anon176119
Post 38

a) What's the best way to keep washer rust spots from staining clothes.

b) my cloth diaper manufacturer indicates not to use vinegar, bleach etc. Will the lemon be equally as corrosive to organic bamboo rayon/viscous?

trying to maintain the life of the product as much as possible. Any thoughts? --Adriana

anon175066
Post 37

K2r stain remover spray for clothes of dry cleanable and washable fabrics upholstery and carpets. Purchased from Woolworths and coles in Australia.

I have a pair of slacks (Marni Pants) Viscous and Silk blend and off white/ cream. they were full of mildew and rust stains that had been there for at least three months (storage in a wet garage) I soaked them in bleach = water for three days and it didn't do anything. I then used a full container of citric acid and sunlight did nothing and then used this K2r stain remover and before my eyes it is vanishing. Amazing stuff.

I am not a sales rep or anything to do with this company. I am just the average house mum who has tried everything to remove rust from coat hangers and mildew from my Marni Pants. And it works, this stuff.

anon169660
Post 35

For rust stains I use a laundry stain remover called My Clean Shirt. This stuff is awesome. It gets rust and all of the other typical laundry stains out. just look up My Clean Shirt.

anon163639
Post 34

I have spent a ton of money over the years on bunk stain removers. The only one that has really worked, is "My Clean Shirt". This stuff gets all of the stain out.

They even give you this thing that they call the "Stain Matrix" that tells you how to treat different stains.

anon139195
Post 32

I have ruined many clothes from sunscreen staining. i had one particular sunscreen that even stained my bedspread just by sitting on it after applying! Fed up (and not willing to risk cancer just so i can wear white!) i decided to do a bit of research to see if, first of all there was a sunscreen out there that would not stain.

It seems that Avobenzone is indeed a culprit but beware, as per info online, Avobenzone goes by other names, here in Australia it is most often listed as Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane (whew!). Write these words down when shopping for sunscreen as the active ingredients should always be listed, if they're included I'd say avoid them.

With this in mind I bought a Hamilton's Sensitive Skin 30+, the active ingredients are Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide only (these sunscreens are often referred to as 'natural' or 'sensitive' sunscreens) but i have noticed some also have a form of Avobenzone in them in a smaller dose so be very careful. I will update to let you know if this will stop the staining.

Secondly, info online also says that Avobenzone "binds iron and can cause staining of clothes washed in iron rich water" which may explain why i can't see sunscreen stains until I've washed them, and it also makes sense because my water is so hard in the bathroom and laundry due to rusty pipes that can't drink out out it!

I have just bought a packet of Rit Rust Remover (for clothes) which i bought off e-bay (but may be available in supermarkets), which i will use in the next few days and let you know if it's worked. Other blogs have indicated rust removers have worked really well, fingers crossed!

anon97894
Post 25

Go to an auto parts store and purchase Naval Jelly Rust Dissolver. Have washing machine full of water and ready to go.

Rub into stain, it will dissolve in a few short seconds, but the jelly is pink so you must rinse under sink immediately and put in washer or you'll have a new problem.

This stuff works instantly, so don't let it sit on. Rub it into the stain until the stain is gone then go!

anon96907
Post 24

The acid in the lemon juice, combined with the sunlight is a naturally powerful way to rid clothing of stains, not just rust.

This might sound odd but this method can also be used to bleach one's hair blonde. Be careful, as this might be permanent.

anon94491
Post 23

I kept getting rust stains on my white shirts from the holes in my washing machine. The only product that worked was Whink Rust Stain Remover. All you do is squirt the stain and it disappears right away. I highly recommend it!

anon90853
Post 20

You can also get Power one at canadian Tire in Ottawa and surrounding area. if you cannot find it, ask a manager.

anon88527
Post 18

I would like to purchase Power one, but where do I get it? I'm in the UK.

powerone
Post 17

You can get Power One at some Canadian Tire in Ottawa and surrounding area.

As for Australia, unfortunately it's not there yet however you can purchase online. Please do tell everyone how great it is because I know you will love it and I know the owner!

anon63044
Post 16

I used to be able to buy Power One at Canadian Tire in Ottawa but i have not been able to find it in a while. I can't find a website about PowerOne. Any help here?

anon56403
Post 15

Where are you able to purchase Power One to remove rust stains?

anon46320
Post 12

I had a terrible issue with the rust stains from sunscreen. Laundering only brought them out. Light bleach water helpd to removed them from the whites. We found it to be directly related to *spray* sunscreens - non brand specific. The bottle sunscreens do not stain our clothes.

anon41947
Post 11

Could I put lemon juice in my washing machine if my water contains rust to keep the rust from staining my clothes?

anon41427
Post 10

Can I get these products in New Zealand?

anon39620
Post 9

What is Power One and where can I get it?

anon38430
Post 8

where can you purchase this powerone at?

anon37267
Post 7

Thank goodness I finally found the answer to the mystery of why my husband's shirts have had terrible rust stains only around the the outer edge of his sleeveless shirts. We ride a motorcycle and I insist on the sunscreen. I thought there must be a connection. I have a tattoo on one arm and I always spray suncreen on it to protect the color and I have the stain on that one side only. Ackk!! Have you even seen the prices on harley shirts.. they are awsome but expensive..I appreciate the info..Thanks

anon36581
Post 6

Regarding stains from sunscreen: I have contacted a manufacturer about this after getting rusty stains on my clothes and they said Avobenzone (Parsol 1789) can react with your water to cause the stains but they should come out with normal laundering (mine did for the most part). Most sunscreens now contain a warning on the label that they may stain some materials, but who can say if this reason is true or correct.

anon34726
Post 5

I had three small rust stains on a white linen blouse. The blouse was part of a matching set, so I was willing to try anything to remove the stains. I tried many products, (bleach, named stain removers, etc.) figured I had nothing to lose with the lemon juice. I just rubbed the stains with a wedge of lemon, getting a few drops on the stain, put the blouse in the sun for about 20 minutes and presto. No more stains!

anon29590
Post 4

Can you please tell me what "Power One" is and if it is available in Australia?

anon25459
Post 3

As far as the sunscreen goes, I am not aware of how it could have left rust stains. Sunscreen does not contain any iron containing compounds, which leads me to believe your sunscreen might have been contaminated from piping used at the manufacturing plant. Other possibilities are unknown.

As far as the lemon juice and sunlight; lemon juice contains citric acid, and plenty of it. Acids are used to digest, or dissolve, metals. The citric acid will therefore dissolve the iron deposited on your shirt and in a sense detach it. If the shirt is washed in a timely manner the iron will not be able to redeposit itself. The sun is used as a catalyst to speed up the reaction, as heat is normally used.

Some suggest adding salt. I am guessing this is to soak up the acid as it dissolves the iron, but not positive.

Enjoy the simplicities of chemistry!

powerone
Post 2

Power One: Will remove rust on clothes/fabric.

It will not damage clothes, will removing stain even if it's 20 years old. Simply put Power One directly on fabric and throw it in the wash. If it's just a tiny spot on a sweater for example, just put the sweater on...I removed rust stains from my white duvet cover with no damage.

anon3234
Post 1

why did sunscreen make rust stains on my shirts? and

why did lemon juice and sunlight get rid of the rust stains when detergent did not? please answer me!!!

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