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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Yellow Stains from Washing

By Dr. Laundry February 4, 2010

Q. I’ve used Clorox bleach to clean my white t-shirts, but I’ve noticed yellow stains after washing them. I do my laundry at a neighborhood laundry that has front-loading machines. I dilute the bleach with a gallon of water and add it after the water has gone into the machine for the wash cycle but still get the yellow spots. Is there any way to remove them? I don’t think non-chlorine bleach is as effective on white t-shirts.


A. It’s a little difficult to be sure what the likely cause is without seeing the “yellow stains”. Here are some potential causes/solutions for you to consider:


  • Usually, I would suspect that full-strength liquid bleach may have been poured/spilled directly on the item. Since you diluted it in a gallon of water, the yellow spots/splotches should not be from the liquid bleach. Not quite sure how you got a gallon in the washer after the front loader had filled.

  • Sometimes stains, especially colored greasy/oily ones, are decolorized by liquid bleach but not all the greasy part is removed, and this can leave yellow spots. Try pre-treating with a liquid detergent (apply, rub in, wait 3-5 minutes, then wash in hot water with detergent and liquid bleach).

  • Have the spots developed before as well as after you changed your bleach addition? This may be sign of either metal contamination from the pipes or incoming water source. If the liquid bleach has reacted with some metals, it causes yellow/brown spots. Your best chance at removal is probably using a rust remover product. Summit Instant Rust Out and Whink Rust Remover are 2 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 use to be sure it won’t cause more color damage).

  • Another possibility is that the person using the machine before you left behind some type of residue that the t-shirts picked up. This would be possible if the white load was the first load you washed. Or, front loader washers are known to keep a small amount of residual water at the end of the rinse cycle. This can become a breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria and mildew/mold. Using liquid bleach is a great way to control this problem, but you might have been unlucky and broken off some of the residue that stuck to your clothes. This seems unlikely as I haven’t seen too many of these cases that are yellowish, and the bleach should have helped remove it from the shirts.


Finally, at home you might try a quick soak (1/2 to 1 hour) for one of the shirts in an oxygen bleach like our Clorox2® Stain Fighter and Color Booster to see if you can help replace the fabric brighteners that the liquid bleach likely destroyed. Rinse and air-dry to see if it has any effect before doing a large number of items.