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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Following My Own Advice

By Dr. Laundry February 29, 2012

How would you handle a major home remodel that not only demolishes the kitchen, but the laundry room as well?  Staring at the open wall studs that revealed the disconnected pipes that a few weeks ago were attached to my neighbor’s clothes washer I couldn’t help but ask that question.  Turns out their contractor will bring in a clothes washer once every two weeks to help them get caught up on their laundry—a great idea, except how many families can go two weeks without doing at least one load of laundry?  So last weekend I extended my neighbor Julie an offer:  if you can’t make it that long, just bring your laundry over to my house and use my washer.  I was thrilled when she accepted—after all these are the wonderful neighbors who let me use their oven to bake my kids’ birthday cakes during our kitchen remodel!

An hour later Julie came by with two loads, and one mystery stain challenge.  If you’ve read the list of 30 things about me you may remember that I like experimenting on my friends’ laundry, and the mystery stain was just too good to pass up.  Here are the details—a light blue polyester/nylon blend overshirt with small splotches of stain on the front.  Could be from food, but it also had a mildewed look, and Julie also remembered wearing the shirt while she worked outside so it could also be rust. Hmmmmmm…

Starting with a simple pre-treat, the shirt was washed with Julie’s favorite detergent but the stain did not change in appearance at all (so not a food stain), and of course the shirt did not go into the dryer.  Next, since Julie was pretty sure it may have been rust, I first tested a little rust remover on a hidden part of the shirt to be sure it wouldn’t damage the shirt, and then gave it a try—but it also had no effect on the stain.  Which brought me back to the possibility of mold; depending on how long the shirt had been sitting to be washed, that could be it—and would come out if I could only bleach the shirt!  Since the shirt was a polyester/nylon blend, there was actually a very good chance it would be colorfast to bleach, and the bleachability test confirmed this very quickly!  Sure enough, soaking the shirt for 5 minutes in a solution of ¼ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach per gallon of water did lighten the stain.  Repeating the treatment another 4 times was necessary before the stain (yes, it was mold/mildew) was all the way gone.  It’s hard not to give in to the temptation to use a super strong bleach solution and see if that will speed things up, but that can damage fabric, and it was good I followed my own advice:


  • Always let an item air dry while you are trying to get a stain out.

  • Use the bleachability test to determine if a colored item can be safely bleached.

  • Repeating a treatment several times may be necessary to get a stain that’s been sitting awhile all the way out.

  • Never apply full strength bleach to any fabric, ever.


And the happy ending?  Julie’s thrilled her new shirt will be worn more than once, and I think it might be time to remodel my laundry room!