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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Orange Residue

By Dr. Laundry January 28, 2010

Q. I would like to ask if you may know why blotches of orange are showing up on our clothes. I use bleach on my whites only, but I’m getting orange on all our clothes, beached or not bleached. Any ideas why? Could it be the water or the old washing machine?

A. Sorry about the blotches. This is a little difficult without seeing the exact problem. Here are some potential causes and solutions:

  • Since it is on all clothes, not just specific wash loads, then likely it is a water quality issue. Some metals become dissolved in either well water or come from old metal pipes, which creates rust, a common problem which can result in reddish brown to orange spots. This can be aggravated by using liquid bleach, which can react with the metals to cause a yellow/orange color.
  • Your best chance at removal is probably using a rust remover product. Summit Instant Rust Out and Whink Rust Remover are two such products. These can usually be found in Home Depot/Lowes or hardware stores. A word of caution: ALWAYS read the label directions and pretest the products as they should only be used on whites/colorfast colors (ALWAYS check product on a hidden color area before using to be sure it won’t cause more color damage).
  • Also you might consider a good water softening/treatment system since this problem could also manifest itself in other cleaning areas. Until this is corrected, I would consider refraining from liquid bleach usage to see if the problem is not seen again. This would tend to confirm the best guess regarding the bleach.
  • A much less likely option would be that biofilm has built up inside the washer and pieces of it are breaking off and depositing on your clothes. Here I would try and hot wash with detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. Do this without any clothes to try and kill off the biofilm and rinse it away.

If the problem continues, then we need to do some more detective work.