How to Get Rid of Oily Sunscreen Stains on Clothes and Towels

How to Get Rid of Oily Sunscreen Stains on Clothes and Towels

The best part of summer? Sun.
The worst part of summer? Sunscreen.

(Well, okay, maybe sunburns take the cake.)

In any case, I think we can all collectively agree that applying sunscreen is messy, unenjoyable business. The best quality stuff – the mineral kind – is thick and viscous; difficult to rub in. Spray sunscreen is convenient but delivers a stream that’s both freezing cold and ticklish. (Not to mention, the cannister is difficult, if not impossible, to recycle.) And when the application is finished, unless you wait for it to completely dry, inevitably, sunscreen begins to transfer to other fabrics. Onto the clothes you wear to the pool or beach, onto cars seats, and then onto the towel your lay out on or dry off with.

What does sunscreen do to fabrics?

Not only can sunscreen leave behind an oily residue on clothes, but over time, it can discolour the necks of shirts and other light-coloured textiles. What gives? Most sunscreen on the market includes an ingredient called avobenzone. When this chemical reacts with hard water, it can discolour clothing, resulting in a tawny brown or rust-coloured stain. The severity of the blemish can worsen with time and vary depending on the hardness of your water and fabric type. Unfortunately for your swimsuit, synthetic materials are harder to treat than natural fabrics.

Here’s everything you need to know to combat sunscreen stains and discolouration this summer or on your next vacation.

What you’ll need to remove sunscreen stains:

How to remove oily sunscreen stains from clothes in 7 easy steps

Step 1: Check the fabric type by inspecting the garment care label. Dry clean only items should be taken to a professional.

Step 2: (Optional) Scrape up excess sunscreen. If you’ve spilled a dollop of goopy sunscreen, use a dull tool like a card in your wallet to lift the excess away. Take special care not to rub or scrape; this will only serve to drive the sunscreen deeper into the fibres. If you like, you can cover the stain site with baking soda or cornstarch to draw out and absorb some of the sunscreen from the fibres. When you’re ready, shake it off to discard.

Step 3: Blot with water.

Step 4: Pre-treat the stain with an effective laundry detergent.

How to create a concentrated stain remover with Tru Earth laundry detergent eco-strips: First, tear a strip into small pieces and place in a shallow bowl. Add one tablespoon (15ml) of tap-hot water to begin dissolving it. Stir with a spoon to form a paste, adding small volumes of water as needed. Smear the concentrate atop the stain, gently pressing the mixture into it to allow the surfactant to get to work, releasing the residues from the fabric. Allow it to sit for 30 to 60 minutes and then rinse.

Step 5: Wash the item on its typical wash setting using a Tru Earth laundry detergent eco-strip.

Step 6: Hang-dry. Do not resume machine-drying until you are finished stain treating. The dryer will only serve to permanently “set” the stain.

Step 7: Inspect the stain site. Return to step four if needed.

Tips for preventing sunscreen stains on clothes

  • Where and when possible, apply sunscreen in the buff and wait at least five or 10 minutes before getting dressed.
  • Wash clothing and towels promptly when returning from a beach or pool outing.
  • Choose a sunscreen that does not contain avobenzone.

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