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Removing Stains from White Clothes

By Dr. Laundry August 10, 2016

Q: I had put my summer clothes away last year. I put them in a clean tote and lined the tote with clear plastic. Sealed it. Opened the bag this summer and found some yellow stains on a few of my white shirts and white pants. Any advice on what I can to to get rid of them? A: This is a great question.  Yellow stains that appear after an item has been stored for a period of time are often residual oil.  You don’t see these stains when you put the item away; they develop over time.  Fortunately you probably can get them out.  Start with dry fabric—that is, don’t rinse the stains first—and apply a little liquid dishwashing detergent (the kind you use for hand washing dishes) directly to each stain and thoroughly massage it in.  Wait 5 minutes, and then rinse the stains in a little warm water.  Now if there are still visible stains, pretreat again before machine washing.  What you use depends on the fiber type and color of the item.

For white, bleachable items (like cotton, polyester, and poly/cotton blends—always avoid bleaching wool, silk, mohair, leather and spandex!), first pretreat the stains with Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel.  Apply a little of the gel directly to the stain and gently rub it in using the soft scrubber tip.  Wash the item immediately in the hottest water recommended on the garment care label using detergent and ½ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach. Let the item(s) air dry and then check for success.

If a stained item has color, or if the item has any spandex (check the care label!) then first pretreat with Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster.  Apply a little Clorox2® liquid directly to the stain and gently rub it in.  Wait 5-10 minutes, and then wash in the hottest water recommended on the item’s care label using detergent and more Clorox2®.

The residual oil scenario makes the most sense if the stains appeared only on the front of the shirts and pants where you might have had a food stain.  Often these stains seem to come out with washing but the oil gets left behind.  I hope this information is useful—let me know if you have any other questions, and thanks for writing!

–Dr. Laundry