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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing stains from slush and road salt

By Dr. Laundry December 19, 2012

During the winter I walk through that messy mixture of slush, mud, salt and road sand that leaves your clothes covered with splash spots. I just cannot get the stains out of my beige and khaki pants, no matter what stain treating products I use or how much I bleach them. What is there that I can use to get the stains out?

Since I haven’t had to deal with this problem in California, I’ll give you some suggestions to try based on similar problems:

It would seem that the removal difficulty should be tied to the type of fiber/color and composition of the slush. My guess is that all the salt should wash out and any remaining problem is probably due to the dirt, mud, and sand. These generally are small, fine particles that can “seep” into porous fibers like cotton and when dried become very difficult to extract. Synthetic fibers like polyester tend to be easier to clean since they are round and don’t have open spaces for the particles to get trapped. The lighter the garment color, the more obvious any remaining soil/stain becomes.

So a couple of things you may want to try;


  • After exposure and before they dry out, try a presoak using a good powder detergent (add 1/3 cup to a couple of gallons of warm water—and make sure to get all the powder dissolved before adding the clothes. Soak the items for 30 minutes to 1 hour, then wash in the warmest water recommended on the care label). Powder detergents have ingredients called builders that are useful in softening water and can help “pull” small particles out of the fibers, thus keeping them suspended so they don’t redeposit back onto the clothes. You might also make a paste of the powder and water and rub it into the soiled spot(s) before soaking. Always check a hidden area like cuff or seam with the paste before using to insure it won’t damage the color (apply paste; let sit 2-3 minutes; rinse and look for any change in appearance).

  • If the items have dried, try re-wetting them with cool water before they are washed. You might try using a soft bristle brush to work in some liquid detergent into the spots before washing. Again the warmer the wash water the better the overall cleaning/removal.

  • Consider using the appropriate bleach along with the detergent. I would need to find out if these items can safely be bleached. I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tspn Clorox® Regular-Bleach in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden area like an inside seam, hemline or cuff; wait 1 minute and then blot with towel); no color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item. Any color change could also show you the amount of change in color that likely will occur if you proceed with the liquid bleach usage. Wash immediately in hot water using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach (or ½ cup Concentrated Clorox® Regular-Bleach). Check before drying to insure complete removal. It might require multiple treatments to get the desired result.


If you can’t bleach the items, then try washing in the hottest water recommended on the care labels using detergent and an oxygen bleach like our Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster. Finally, always check for success before drying. Especially in this case, it might require multiple treatments to get the desired result. Also, a simple procedure and homemade antidote often rids vehicle carpeting of road-salt stains:

  1. Brush away snow and slush. Vacuum remaining residue.

  2. If stains remain, remove with a carefully applied saltwater solution: 1 cup of table salt to 1 quart of water.

  3. Use a soft bristle brush or cloth to work the salt solution into the stained area. Brush outward from the stain’s center to avoid leaving a ring in the carpeting.

  4. With stain removed, shampoo the stain area and adjacent carpeting.