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Illustration for article titled Sunscreen Stains Are So Bad You Should Skip the Stuff Entirely (OMG but Don’t!)
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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.

As far as personal philosophies go, I’m one of those people who believe in the power of the sun and of sex to heal the mind, body, and soul. Taking in both, and often, is good for one’s physical and emotional health. However, both require some measure of protection. Mmm-hm. Fortunately for you, Sex Week has come and gone, so I’m not here to hector you about safe sex practices! And I’m actually not really even here to hector you about wearing sunscreen, other than to say that you should do it.

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What I’m really here to talk to you about is sunscreen stains, which are BEASTLY THINGS. The reason they’re so beastly is that they have A SECRET INGREDIENT that isn’t actually a secret—it’s called avobenzone—that does terrible stain-y things to clothes. So today we’re going to cover sunscreen and what you need to know about it when it comes to stain removal.


The Sunscreen Stain Thing

So I mentioned this stuff, avobenzone, right? It’s an ingredient found in most sunscreens. The problem with avobenzone is this: It reacts to iron in a way that causes orange stains. And you’re probably like, “No problem, I’ll just … avoid iron when I’m tanning?” Ahh sure that sounds like it should be so easy except there’s iron in our water supply and right. Bad news all around.

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Now then, those orange stains? Are actually the equivalent of rust stains, and there is a very specific thing to know about treating rust stains: They HATE both chlorine and oxygen bleaches, so you can’t use either of those products, nor a laundry detergent that contains oxygen bleach, to treat them. It will just make them worse. UGH I KNOW. I have help though!

Treating Sunscreen and/or Rust Stains

There’s actually a very easy way to treat rust stains—it’s got a bit of a DIY feel to it but I promise this is one of those “home remedies” that actually works, although you do not need to believe me because I can also offer you commercial rust stain removing products. Choices! We love choices here in my world.

The DIY-ish thing is to use lemon juice and salt to treat the stain, by first flushing the stain with cool water, then squeezing lemon juice directly on the wet stain. Next, lay the garment flat in a place where it can stay, undisturbed and pour salt over the lemon juice. Leave the stain treatment on the garment for a few hours up to overnight, then brush away the salt and launder as usual.

I mentioned commercial products for removing rust stains from clothes, and they are Carbona Stain Devils #9 (Rust and Perspiration) and Whink Rust Stain Remover. There you go! Both can be used as a pre-treatment for rust stains prior to regular laundering.

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Sunscreens That Don’t Contain Avobenzone

You’re probably like, “Okay but what if I just buy sunscreens without avobenzone?” Which is reasonable! The thing is, it’s hard to find sunscreens without avobenzone, though they do exist, mostly in sunscreens formulated for kids, and also avobenzone is a very good UV blocker, so it’s worth making peace with its stain-y ways tbh.

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HOWEVER! I am a giver and so I give you this roundup of sunscreens you can buy that do not contain avobenzone.

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

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