Mysterious Orange Stains?

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by

Have you ever taken a shirt out of the washer and found it covered with mysterious orange stains? If this has happened to you, you were probably completely stupefied by the incident. What could have caused such a catastrophic laundry mishap? Could it have been the detergent you used? Could it have been dye from a different garment? Did an orange marker somehow make its way into your washer? Although all of these are great theories, there is one likely culprit that you would never suspect. It comes in either a lotion or spray and you’ve been lathering it on since skin cancer became a well-known health threat. I’m talking about sunscreen; great for your skin, terrible for your clothes.

In all fairness to sunscreen, there is another compound needed to make these stains come about. The other agent responsible is iron minerals commonly found in hard water.

Here’s how it happens: Sunscreen applied to your skin rubs off onto your clothing. Avobenzone, an ingredient in sunscreen, oxidizes the iron minerals found in the water. The reaction between the avobenzone and iron cause a colored stain (rust) on your garment.

Now that you’ve identified the culprit, it’s time to look at different solutions. Since your skin is by far more valuable than your clothing, eliminating the sunscreen is not an option, and buying brand new clothes all the time is not an option either. Instead swap out your current sunscreen for one that is avobenzone-free. Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic both offer avobenzone-free lotions. If you don’t want to use a different sunscreen, you can take preventative measures like waiting for the sunscreen to completely dry before putting on your clothes.

To remove these stains when laundering, follow these steps:

  1. Depending on the saturation of the orange stain, you may or may not need the soak the garment in an
    enzyme-breaking solution of water and oxygen cleaner for 12 hours. If the stain is light, applying an over the counter stain treatment and letting it sit for 5 minutes should do the trick. On white clothing, you can use bleach as long as the care instructions do not specifically prohibit bleach.
  2. Wash the item on the hottest setting tolerated by the fabric.
  3. When the wash is done, check to see if the stain has been lifted. If it’s still present, repeat the previous steps. DO NOT PUT IT IN THE DRYER! Heat from the dryer will cause the stain to set in.