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How to remove detergent stains from clothes: This is the no-fail way

Follow these tips to save your clothes

We all have our preferred laundry soap, often because it has a scent we adore. It can feel like a betrayal, though, when your favorite laundry detergent stains your clothing. After all, laundry soap is meant to get out stains, not leave them behind, right?

While there are a few reasons your detergent could be leaving behind those pesky stains, the good news is that you can get them out with the right method. Here’s how to remove detergent stains from clothes so they smell and look great.




1 hour

What You Need

  • Vinegar

  • Rubbing alcohol

  • Bar soap

  • Warm water

  • Pluggable sink

Woman putting dirty clothes for wash in machine.

Why do my clothes get stains after washing?

It’s easy to blame a certain brand for those unsightly soap spots, but the culprit of detergent stains isn’t necessarily the specific laundry soap you’re using. The most basic reason your detergent is leaving stains is that it’s not dissolving properly in the water. One or more of the following factors could be at play.

You have hard water

High mineral deposits in the water prevent detergent from dissolving properly. This is because the detergent particles bond with the mineral particles in the water and stick to your clothes. Test your water to see if it’s on the hard side and get a water softener if needed.

Too much detergent was used

Remember the science experiment in school where salt was added to water a little bit at a time in order to find the salt’s solubility measurement? Eventually, the salt would stop dissolving and accumulate at the bottom of the glass, right? It’s a similar situation with laundry detergent, especially powdered detergent.

Using too much could mean that the soap won’t dissolve completely in the water and the excess will end up accumulating on your clothes. Make sure you’re always using the recommended amount of laundry soap.

Powdered detergent doesn’t dissolve as well

This is particularly true in cold water. If you’ve been seeing laundry stains after using powdered laundry detergent, try using warm water instead or switch to a liquid detergent.

Female hands washing fabric under faucet

Does vinegar remove detergent stains?

Even if you soften your water and adjust your detergent practices, you’ve still got to address the stains the initial issue left behind. Using vinegar is a great method for removing detergent stains because it’s non-toxic and its acidic makeup will combat the soap left behind and lift it. Here's how to remove stains with vinegar.

Step 1: Check the garment’s care tag to be sure it can handle both warm water and vinegar without becoming damaged.

Step 2: Make sure the sink is cleaned and sanitized.

Step 3: Plug the sink, and add 1 cup of vinegar to 1 quart of warm water.

Step 4: Soak the stained garment in the mixture for a moment to get it completely wet.

Step 5: Rub the stained area thoroughly to lift the stain.

Step 6: If the stain remains, let the garment soak in the mixture for up to an hour and then try rubbing the stain again.

Step 7: Run the garment through another cycle in the washing machine.

clothing on clothesline next to white chair and wicker basket

Remove detergent stains from clothes with rubbing alcohol

If you don’t have any vinegar on hand or you don’t want to resort to using it just yet, there are a couple of other methods you can try, including rubbing alcohol.

Step 1: Check the garment’s care tag to be sure it can handle both warm water and rubbing alcohol without becoming damaged.

Step 2: Soak the garment in warm water, and rub the stain a bit to loosen it.

Step 3: Wring out the fabric, and pour rubbing alcohol on the stain generously.

Step 4: Let the alcohol sit on the stain for up to 15 minutes.

Step 5: Rinse the garment and wring it out before confirming that the stain has lifted.

Step 6: Run the garment through another cycle in the washing machine.

Use regular bar soap to lift detergent stains

If you don’t want to use smelly methods like vinegar or rubbing alcohol, try using bar soap.

Step 1: Fill a clean, sanitized sink with cold water, and soak the garment until it’s completely wet.

Step 2: Rub a bar of soap against the detergent stain for a few moments until the area is layered with soap.

Step 3: Use your fingers to work the soap into the stain.

Step 4: Rinse the area thoroughly before checking the stain and repeating as necessary.

Step 5: Rinse the material completely, and run the garment through another cycle in the washing machine.

Your laundry detergent is supposed to make your clothes cleaner and your life easier, but sometimes it fails. Detergent stains are frustrating, but because they’re essentially just caked on soap, they lift off of clothes fairly easily. With the treatments and methods we’ve discussed here, you’ll be able to tackle that stain and prevent new ones in the future.

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Veronica Sparks
Veronica Sparks is a writer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who loves writing about gardening, home décor, and DIY life. She’s…
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