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How to Remove Tough Sunscreen Stains on Clothes

Submit an Entry: Your Laundry Questions and Answers

By Susan

My Laundry Question

Sunscreen causing discoloration of t-shirts and bed linens:

Cotton shirts and bed linens washed in hard water have pinkish stains from sunscreen. No avobenzone in sunscreen. Bleach helps to remove stain.

Share a Little Background Info

My sunscreen does not list avobenzone as an active ingredient. Also, chlorine bleach actually helps to get rid of the stain. Therefore, something different is happening than the advice listed in your laundry tips. Any other ideas? Certainly trying a different sunscreen would be a first step as well as adding a water softener to the washer, both things I will try when we return to our cabin.

My sunscreen does contain zinc oxide. Could that be the culprit?

Lessons Learned

  • I've used Oxyclean and chlorine bleach. The chlorine bleach helped, the Oxyclean made it worse.

Fabric Content of Item (if appropriate)


Mary Marlowe Leverette, About.com Laundry & Laundry Rooms, says:

Your questions have turned me into a sunscreen detective and while I don't know that I have the perfect answer, perhaps I can add a bit more to the puzzle.

Avobenzone is also listed in sunscreen ingredients as:Butyl methoxy-dibenzoyl-methane; Parsol 1789; Eusolex 9020; Escalol 517; or BMBM

Unfortunately, several of the ingredients, including zinc oxide, can stain fabric when mixed with the minerals in hard water - especially iron or iron bacteria. Let's go over the best treatments for stain removal again:

If the item is white and cotton, you can wash immediately in hottest water recommended on the care label with detergent and 3/4 cup of chlorine bleach - especially if avobenzone is not listed as an ingredient. Check for the stain and if stain remains, repeat the steps above before drying the item.

For colored clothes and linens, wash in warmest water recommended using detergent and color-safe (oxygen-based) bleach. Check for the stains and if it remains, repeat the steps above prior to drying the item. If the stain remains, I recommend soaking in oxygen based bleach and water solution for several hours before washing.

I hope this helps you. Some folks have used a rust remover with success on difficult stains. However, it is not always safe for fabrics.

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