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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Gray Spots on Whites

By Dr. Laundry July 14, 2009

Q. I have been having a problem with gray spots on my whites and light colors for years and cannot figure out the cause. I have changed washers, had my water checked, have different pipes installed, and always separate colors from whites, but I still get gray spots. They almost look like redeposited dirt. I thought it could be a hair product, but the spots are not always in the same area. They are all over. The spots are not on the clothes until after I wash them, and then I cannot remove the stains. I have tried using bleach and color catcher sheets and that has not worked either. Have you ever heard of this problem?

A. This a tough one without seeing the specific items. I admire all the legwork and changes that you’ve tried. All were potential problems and eliminating them is definitely a plus for you. Also, you have good laundry practices with the sorting, etc.

I agree that it has to be something that is being redeposited. So a couple of thoughts:

  • If you are using a powdered detergent, it may not be completely dissolved. Try starting the load with hot water when the powder is added; swirl the agitator to encourage the powder to dissolve; then switch to the final wash temperature before adding the clothes.
  • If you have greasy/oily clothes and underuse detergent, the removed soils are not suspended in the wash water but can attach to the washer and then can be redispersed.

If you are using fabric softener, it can also react with carried over detergent forming a paste-like substance that can deposit on clothes. This can be removed by treating with bar soap (wet, rub in) and then rewashing.