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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Spots on Dress Shirts

By Dr. Laundry July 6, 2010

Q. My sons’ and husband’s dress shirts are coming out of the washer/dryer with brownish smudges on the tip of one lapel. Sometimes the same mark is elsewhere on the shirt. Do you know why this is happening? Do you know how to get it out?

A. A little more description would have been helpful. It would help to know the appearance of the smudges (e.g., like stains or surface grease), does it wash out in the next wash, is it permanent mark and what is the pattern (every time or every other time I wash), etc.

Here are some ideas on what might be causing the problem:


  • If it is an older washer, the seal might be leaking a small amount of grease/oil. Usually this is seen on more than a single area. It would require replacing the pump/seal. Try pretreating with liquid dishwasher (Dawn) or laundry detergent (apply; rub in; wait ~5 minutes), then wash in warmest water recommended on care label.

  • If it’s a new He washer, it might be biofilm that builds up in the washer (it generates an off-odor also) that can “break” loose and deposit. Usually rewashing in warm/hot water will remove it. For this situation, make sure you are doing at least 1 white load a week using detergent and Clorox® Regular-Bleach to kill the biofilm or run the liquid bleach through the Cleanout cycle.

  • It could be a case of dye transfer from a darker item being washed in the same load. Usually this is more wide-spread. Removal will depend on whether the items can be bleached with Clorox® Regular-Bleach; you could also use our Clorox® Bleach Pen on the area before washing.