Ironically, the product designed to clean clothes can sometimes also leave them stained. But don’t despair if you discover blue or white splotches from spilled laundry detergent. With the right techniques, detergent stains can be safely removed from fabric.

How Detergent Stains Form

To remove detergent stains, it helps to understand what causes them:

Excess Alkalinity

Laundry detergents are highly alkaline (opposite of acidic) due to ingredients like borax, soda ash, and other builders. This alkalinity can discolor fabrics or react with dye molecules.

Dye Particles

Some detergents, especially liquid forms, contain blue or green dyes that can rub off and stain clothes they are supposed to clean. Powder detergents are typically dye-free.

Optical Brighteners

Detergent optical brighteners bond strongly to fabrics, appearing as splotchy white stains if they become unevenly distributed.

Incomplete Rinsing

Leftover detergent residues turn into sticky blotches if not fully rinsed away after washing.

Spills, drips and splashes happen when pouring and measuring detergent.

Removing Fresh Wet Detergent Stains

If you catch a spill immediately:

Quick Rinsing

Rinse the fabric under cold running water before the detergent dries or sets. Hot water can set some stains.

Dish Soap

Make a solution of warm water and dish soap and gently sponge and rinse the fabric. Avoid scrubbing.

White Vinegar

Undiluted white vinegar helps dissolve many detergent and alkaline stains. Sponge on and rinse.

Hydrogen Peroxide

_Hydrogen peroxide’_s oxidizing bubbles help lift out many fresh stains. Apply directly before washing.

Avoid Heat

Never put detergent stained clothes in the dryer before removing the spots or the heat will set them permanently.

Act quickly while detergent stains are still wet for best results.

Removing Dried Detergent Stains

For dried, set-in detergent stains:

Vinegar Soak

Soak the fabric in a mixture of 1 part vinegar diluted with 3 parts water for at least an hour before washing. This helps dissolve alkaline residues.

Lemon Juice

Fresh lemon juice is another acidic option. Let fabric soak in undiluted juice, then rinse. The citric acid cuts detergent stains.

Borax Paste

Make a paste with borax powder and water. Gently rub onto the stain and allow to sit 15 minutes before rinsing and washing.

Oxygen Bleach

Make a paste of oxygen bleach powder with just enough water to make a spreadable consistency. Scrub paste into stain and rinse thoroughly.


Apply a few drops of pure glycerin onto set stains. Allow to soak in 1 hour before washing. Glycerin breaks down residues.

It may take repeated applications to lift stubborn dried-in stains.

Removing Bleachable Detergent Stains

For white fabrics and non-chlorine bleach safe colors:

Non-Chlorine Bleach

Add non-chlorine bleach like OxiClean or Clorox 2 to the wash cycle according to packaging directions to lift splotchy discoloration or optical brightener stains without risk of damage.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Use 3% hydrogen peroxide solution directly on the stain. Add a squirt of dish soap and scrub gently with a toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly.

Lemon Juice and Sunlight

Lay the fabric in direct sunlight. Spritz lemon juice onto the stained area and allow the sun to do the bleaching work. Rinse well.

Baking Soda Scrub

Make a paste of baking soda and water. Gently scrub onto stained area. The abrasive alkalinity of baking soda lifts soil. Rinse carefully.

For whites and colorfast fabrics, bleaching can eliminate residual spots.

Preventing Detergent Stains

Stop stains before they start with these tips:

  • Use dosing cups or caps – avoid free pouring from bottles that can spill and splatter on clothes.
  • Add detergent first – pour detergent into the empty washing machine drum before adding clothes.
  • Use white detergent – colored liquid detergents lead to dye transfer stains. Use white powder forms.
  • Avoid overdosing – excess detergent causes residue stains and dinginess from poor rinsing.
  • Check pockets – stray pens and tissues lead to ink and tissue lint stains when agitated in the wash.
  • Pretreat stains – food, cosmetic and other soils become permanent stains without pretreating.

A little prevention saves the hassle of stain removal down the line.

Laundry Detergent Stain FAQs

How do you get bluing out of clothes?

Rinse immediately under cold water before washing. Soak in diluted vinegar. Use non-chlorine bleach in the wash cycle. Air dry in sunlight.

How do you remove detergent buildup on clothes?

Wash clothes in hot water a second time with no detergent. The heat helps dissolve residues. Add white vinegar or borax to the rinse cycle to remove any lingering detergent film.

What takes out soap stains?

Lemon juice, vinegar, and glycerin all help dissolve detergent residues. For dry stains, make a borax paste and scrub gently before washing.

What removes white bleach stains on clothes?

Soak in a mixture of oxygen bleach powder and cool water. For severe stains, a commercial rust remover solution can help dissolve bleached areas.

Why does my laundry have white spots after washing?

This is likely optical brightener residue. Soak in borax or vinegar solution before washing again with warm water and fewer suds. Do not overload detergent.

Can you get rid of bluing from laundry detergent?

Yes – rinse immediately under cold water. Soak in diluted vinegar. Wash again with non-chlorine bleach and no detergent. Air dry in sunlight.

Don’t let your cleaning agent create a mess. With some smart troubleshooting, detergent staining disasters can become clean victories. Arm yourself with the insider tips to lift pesky residue stains and keep clothes looking their very best.

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