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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Sunscreen & Polyester

By Dr. Laundry November 16, 2011

Q:  Will bleach remove sunscreen stains from polyester?

A: I would like to break this question into two:  can you use bleach on polyester, and what’s the best way to remove a sunscreen stain.  Polyester fibers can be safely bleached, and usually colored polyester has the colorant applied before the fibers are spun so both colored and white polyester is bleachable. One thing to note:  check the care label to make sure your polyester item does not contain spandex, since this fiber shouldn’t be bleached.  In that case, you will need to use Clorox2® plus detergent. 

Regarding the stain, sunscreen has an oily component, and polyester fibers are hydrophobic (meaning water repellant), so they will naturally hold onto the oil.  Breaking up the oily component is the most effective way to remove the stain, and liquid dishwashing detergent is actually one of the best tools to get this process started.  Use it as a pre-treater: apply a little directly to the stain, wait 5 minutes, and then wash in the hottest water recommended on the item’s care label using detergent + 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach (to help remove the now less-hydrophobic stain).  Be sure to air dry the item and check for success–a wet or damp garment often hides incomplete removal of an oil based stain, so keeping it out of the dryer is important to avoid heat setting any residual stain.