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

Follow these tips to save your clothes from pesky detergent stains

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

There are a few reasons your detergent might be leaving behind those pesky stains, but the good news is that you can get them out. You just need the right materials and method! Here’s how to remove detergent stains from clothes so they both look and smell amazing.

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1 hour

What You Need

  • Vinegar

  • Rubbing alcohol

  • Bar soap

  • Warm water

  • Pluggable sink

  • Baking soda

  • Clean, damp cloth

  • Soft-bristle brush

Woman putting dirty clothes for wash in machine.
antoniodiaz / Shutterstock

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.

Black kitchen faucet with water running
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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.

Lhand pouring liquid laundry detergent

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 soap, especially powdered detergent, which is a popular formula for homemade laundry 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.

Natural laundry detergent cup and towels
Arturs Budkevics / Shutterstock

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
Kabardins photo / Shutterstock

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 the cleaning power of vinegar is a great way to remove 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.

Glass jar of baking soda with cork and teaspoon tipped over.
Geo-grafika / Shutterstock

Does baking soda remove detergent stains?

Baking soda can be quite effective at removing detergent stains from clothes because it works as a mild abrasive and has alkaline properties. It's one of the best secret ingredients for laundry because it breaks down and lifts a variety of stains, including detergent residue. Here's how to address the stain with baking soda.

Step 1: Locate the areas on the clothes where the detergent stains are visible.

Step 2: Use a clean, damp cloth to gently blot the detergent stains. This helps remove any excess detergent from the fabric.

Step 3: In a small bowl, mix baking soda with water to create a thick paste. Start with equal parts baking soda and water, and adjust the consistency as needed.

Step 4: Take a small amount of the baking soda paste and apply it directly onto the detergent stains. Make sure to cover the entire stained area with a thin layer of the paste.

Step 5: If necessary, use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the baking soda paste into the fabric. Be careful not to be too aggressive, as it may damage delicate fabrics.

Step 6: Allow the baking soda paste to sit on the stains for about 30 minutes. This gives the baking soda time to absorb and lift the detergent residue from the fabric.

Step 7: After the designated time, rinse the fabric thoroughly with cold water. Make sure to remove all traces of the baking soda paste.

Step 8: Inspect the fabric to see if the detergent stains are completely gone.

Step 9: Launder the clothing item as you normally would, following the care instructions on the garment's label.

clothing on clothesline next to white chair and wicker basket
Africa Studio/shutterstock

Remove detergent stains from clothes with rubbing alcohol

If you don’t have any vinegar or baking soda on hand, there are a couple of other methods you can try that are great at removing stains, 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.

lavender sprigs with soap

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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