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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Stains on Pillowcases: Your Questions

By Dr. Laundry August 26, 2008

Q: I get tan stains on my pillowcases, whether from hair or skin oils. The pillowcases are 100% cotton and colored. These stains do not come out in my laundering them in front-loading machines, and an oily residue seems to remain. (I live in a high-rise apartment building where a basement laundry room is used by all.) Although I use Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in my white laundry, I am reluctant to use it where it may alter the colors. Any advice, please?

A: I believe the tan stains are probably residual body soil/oils. Check the blog for a couple of earlier posts on this subject.

Some good news and some bad news:

Bad news: If you have seen this for a while, then the oils are probably pretty well set in the sheets from incomplete removal and drying (driving the oils into the fibers) and aren’t to likely to come out completely. You may try pretreating with liquid detergent (apply; run; wait 3–5 minutes) and washing in hottest water recommended on the care label.

Good news: Even though the sheets are colored, they may be bleachable. To be sure, you can do the simple Bleachability Test on the colored sheets in a hidden part of the seem (2 tsp Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden section area like inside seam/hemline; wait 1 minute and then blot with towel; no color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item). Try this and if they are bleachable, then wash in the hottest water recommended on the care label with detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. This may slowly remove some oils over time and /or give you a headstart with the new pillowcases you buy in the future.

Another tip, always wash all the bedding (sheets and pillowcases) together each time to minimize any chance of slight color fading/bleeding.