How to Get Rust Stains Out of Clothes: Best Ways

Dealing with rust stains in your laundry can be unexpectedly challenging. The usual methods for removing stains might not work on rust, leading to frustration when your typical tricks fall short.

You don’t always have to resort to commercial rust removers for stubborn stains. Many times, a few simple do-it-yourself ingredients and a smart approach can do the trick. The most straightforward solutions often turn out to be the most effective. If unsightly brown and orange marks are ruining your clothes and causing you distress, here’s everything you need to know about removing rust stains.

Have you noticed an unusual stain on your clothes that looks like rust?

Rust stains are not common, and they don’t always appear like typical stains. Spills like grass on jeans, blood on shoes, or spaghetti sauce on carpets are accidents we might expect, but rust can randomly transfer onto clothing when we come into contact with a corroded surface. Ironically, rust stains can also occur while we’re in the process of cleaning our clothes.

Rust can originate from various sources in the water supply or washing machine, impacting your laundry in different ways. Sediment may accumulate in plumbing, or the washer could deteriorate and develop rust. If you use well water, high iron levels beyond the EPA’s National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations may expose your washable fabrics to frequent rust stains.

Regardless of the cause, finding an orange-brown mark on your clothes after washing suggests a potential underlying issue that requires attention. It also means you should be cautious about how you go about cleaning the stains.

How to Avoid Making Rust Stains Worse

If you discover rust stains on your clothes after washing, resist the urge to toss them in the dryer right away. Just like with most stains, subjecting rust to dry heat in the dryer can set it permanently, making the situation worse.

Equally important is steering clear of chlorine bleach. Experience has shown that bleach is not the most effective or safest solution for handling most stains. Many people have found that using bleach actually sets rust stains, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Two Effective Techniques for Removing Stubborn Rust Stains

When it comes to tackling rust stains, acids are generally the go-to solution. Luckily, you can find many acidic substances in everyday household items. People have successfully removed rust stains from clothes using a mixture of cream of tartar and baking soda in water. Even potatoes, with their high oxalic acid content, can serve as an effective rust cleaner for various materials.

You likely have suitable options in your kitchen right now, and for simplicity and effectiveness, we recommend three classic DIY solutions: lemon juice, distilled white vinegar, and table salt.

1. Lemon Juice and Salt

Getting rid of rust stains is often as simple as using lemon juice, table salt, and a bit of time. Sprinkle salt onto the stained fabric, then squeeze fresh-cut lemon juice over the salt until the stain is well-saturated. Let it dry in the sun, to lift most of the rust stain should lift. Rinse with cold water and follow the care tag instructions for laundering.

You can also try using lemon juice alone, as the salt primarily helps facilitate the reaction that loosens the rust. After washing, always check the fabric before tossing it in the dryer or allow it to air dry to avoid setting the stain permanently.

2. Distilled White Vinegar and Salt

White vinegar is a versatile foundation for many safe and effective DIY cleaning methods. It excels in tackling stubborn rust stains. Sprinkle table salt to the stained area of the fabric, then saturate it with white vinegar, and lastly let it dry in the sun. Wash in cold water, and make sure the stain is gone before proceeding to dry the garment.

3. Removing Tough Rust Stains with a Store-Bought Solution

Investing in a commercial rust stain remover can be a game-changer if rust stains are a recurring issue in your home. When lemon juice and vinegar fall short, chemical rust removers offer a reliable solution.

Keep in mind that these products, while effective, come with some safety considerations due to their use of aggressive chemicals. Popular options for clothing and various surfaces include:

  1. Iron OUT Spray Gel Rust Remover:
    • Safe for colorfast fabric
    • Septic safe
    • 69% of customers give five-star ratings (as of May 7, 2023)
  2. Whink Rust Remover:
    • Safe for colorfast fabric
    • Septic safe
    • 82% of customers give five-star ratings (as of May 7, 2023)

While these cleaners can effectively remove rust stains, be aware that they contain potent chemicals. To ensure your safety, use rubber gloves and protective gear. Take a moment to spot-test the cleaner on an inside seam to avoid any potential discoloration of your garment.

Dealing with Dried Rust Stains

Dried rust stains pose a greater challenge, but a mixture of lemon juice and salt can often produce excellent results. After loosening the stain, your washing machine can handle any lingering discoloration.

For fabrics that can’t be washed, you might need to repeat the application of lemon juice or vinegar until the stain disappears completely.

Vinegar’s Role in Rust Stain Removal

Distilled white vinegar, much like lemon juice, contains a weak acid that reacts with oxidized rust stains, forming a soluble salt and water. While generally safe for clothing, vinegar can induce rust and corrosion in metal and mineral materials.

However, it remains one of the simplest and least risky methods for refreshing surfaces in your home. After cleaning rust stains, be sure to thoroughly rinse away any remaining vinegar to prevent damage to metal or stone.

Dawn Dish Liquid and Rust Stains

Dawn dish liquid is a go-to for many stain-removal hacks, including light and fresh rust stains. While it can be effective, especially for general stains, it might not be the optimal choice for tackling rust.

Before reaching for the dish liquid, consider trying vinegar or fresh-squeezed lemon juice with salt for a more targeted approach to rust stain removal.

Can WD-40 Remove Rust Stains from Clothes?

WD-40, known for its versatility with 2,000 household uses, may not be the best choice for rust stains on clothing.

While it works wonders on various surfaces, using it on clothes can potentially result in oil stains. For tackling rust on your garments, it’s safer and more advisable to stick with vinegar or lemon juice. Save the WD-40 for tasks like dealing with rusty hinges and bolts.

The Best Rust Remover for Clothing

For colorfast or white clothing, a commercial cleaner like Whink stands out as the top rust-removal choice. Before turning to more potent solutions, try treating stains with lemon or white vinegar and salt.

If you find yourself needing a stronger cleaner, meticulously follow the instructions provided. Always conduct a spot test in a hidden area, and take proper precautions to avoid accidental skin contact or inhalation.

Effective Solutions for Rust Stains on Clothes

Our top recommendation for removing rust stains from clothing is one of the gentlest yet effective household cleaners—lemon juice. It’s not only affordable but also a true miracle worker when dealing with tough stains. Boost the chemical reaction by incorporating hot water and salt to maximize your chances of swiftly refreshing the fabric.

While commercial rust removers like Whink are highly effective, they come with additional costs and potentially toxic ingredients. While these products shouldn’t be your first choice, they can be a worthwhile investment when you’ve exhausted other options to rescue your favorite clothing from stubborn rust stains.

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