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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Stained Bath Towels

By Dr. Laundry August 15, 2011

Q:  When I wash my bath cloths the dark stains don’t come out, what is the problem?

A:  I wish I had a little more information—do you mean wash cloths and/or towels?  I realize you may not know what the stain is—this happens when you don’t notice a stain until later!  But for a bath towel, here are a few possibilities: blood from shaving accidents, mildew from towels sitting damp in the laundry hamper, and oil from lotions or creams are all possibilities.  It would be great if your towels are white, and the stains haven’t been “set” in a hot dryer—once stains are exposed to dryer heat they become extremely difficult to remove.  Even so, for white towels you could try a pre-soak with ¼ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach per gallon of water.  Let the towels soak for 5 minutes, then drain the soaking solution and run the towels through a hot wash cycle with detergent plus ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach.  It may be necessary to repeat the treatment if the stains are set in.

If you think the stains are oily, then you will need to pre-treat the dark area with a little liquid dishwasher detergent first—rub it in and wait 5 minutes.  Then, if the towels are white, wash in hot water with detergent plus ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach.

If your towels are colored, you can do a quick bleachability test: add 2 teaspoons Clorox® Regular-Bleach to ¼ cup water.  Apply a drop of this solution to a hidden part of the colored item (hems, cuffs, and inside seams work well).  Wait 1 minute, then blot dry.  No color change means the item can be safely bleached.  If they don’t, and the stains are mildew, it will be difficult to remove them without bleach.  Repeated washing in hot water with detergent and Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster may help you make some progress. 

Readers – do you have white or colored towels? How do you remove stains from them?