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Everything You Need To Know About Sunscreen Stain Removal

Illustration for article titled Everything You Need To Know About Sunscreen Stain Removal
Photo: Matheus Vinicius (Unsplash)
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

I am an avid listener of your podcast and I am also a former Bostonian living in New York so I feel we are kindred spirits. I recently listened to the episode about sunscreen and I have a question. I have a navy cover-up that I wear to the beach. I got sunscreen on it that does not have a avobenzone in it — rather it is made of titanium dioxide (Think Baby is the brand). I have washed it several times using Shout stain spray, Charlie’s Soap oxygen bleach (similar to OxiClean), and Charlie’s Soap laundry detergent, but I can’t get the white smudges out of the cover up. Do you have any idea what I can do? I’ve Googled, but I haven’t found any answers.

Hello from Amtrak, former Bostonian! I’m typing this on my way up to the motherland for a quick visit and several thousand cups of Dunks iced coffee (the Dunks tastes better up there which is true and also it makes non-Bostonians CRAZY when we say that so I make sure to say it at every possible opportunity) and, just by chance, I’ll be there for the Sox home opener. Which means I’ve got summer on my mind, and with summer comes sunscreen. Also, my goodness it has been a minute since I’ve covered sunscreen stain removal because I recorded the podcast episode in question in [checks notes] 2017. We are overdue! So let’s talk sunscreen and the important things you need to know about how it operates as a stain.


The Avobenzone Conundrum

Avobenzone is an ingredient that’s very commonly found in sunscreen, by which I mean, it’s pretty tricky — though obviously not at all impossible! — to find sunscreens that don’t have it. Now here comes the problem with avobenzone: It has a reaction to the iron in our water supply that causes orange stains to develop. To further complicate matters, those orange stains are essentially rust stains, and rust stains are a funny animal.

Look, I never said it was going to be all good news.

So right, rust stains are assholes, and here’s why: They HATE both chlorine and oxygen bleaches, so you may not use either of those products, nor a laundry detergent that contains oxygen bleach. (But we’ve linked to them anyway in case you need them for other, non-avobenzone stains.)


Treating Avobenzone Sunscreen Stains

Now, I never said it was going to be all bad news either.

There are absolutely products out there that can remove rust/sunscreen stains from clothes, and here they are: Carbona Stain Devils #9 (Rust and Perspiration) is designed specifically for laundry, but a general purpose rust remover, like Whink Rust Stain Remover, can also be used to pre-treat rust-stained fabrics prior to washing.


Another way to go is to use lemon juice and salt — yup, that’s all! The process is important, though, so here’s what you’ll do: Start by flushing the stain with cool water, then squeeze lemon juice directly on the stain, lay the garment flat and pour salt over the lemon juice. Let that sit on the stain for a few hours up to overnight, then brush away the salt and launder as usual.


Treating Avobenzone-Free Sunscreen Stains

And now finally we come to the part where we address mineral-based sunscreen stains. Well, here comes more good news, for I have had a recent victory over a mineral-based stain, and I’m prettty sure the product I used will also do the trick here.

I’m gonna give it to you straight and tell you that I have NO IDEA what type of witchcraft this OxiClean Max Force Laundry Stain Remover Spray is made of (I mean…oxygen bleach, yes, but this is some next level shit, you guys), but I do know this: That stuff has taken set-in, I mean washed-and-dried-multiple-times set-in, deodorant stains out of my sports bras. It’s also The Thing for mascara stains on pillowcases, but you knew that already.


The trick, I found, to using it most effectively is to spray it fairly liberally on the stains, and rub the stained fabric against itself to work the stain remover in. Then, hold it under cool running water and keep rubbing the fabric against itself. Alternately, I’ve had luck using the product before hand-washing mineral-stained items, but weirdly less luck using it prior to machine washing, I suspect because hand washing allows for more agitation action than the machine is providing. So! That is my prescription here.

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person

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