How to remove sunscreen stains

Using sunscreen is crucial for protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, but those creams and lotions can sometimes leave behind unsightly stains on clothes, towels, and other fabrics. Don’t worry; with the right techniques and products, you can effectively remove sunscreen stains and keep your belongings looking fresh and clean.

remove sunscreen

What Causes Sunscreen Stains?

Before we dive into the stain removal methods, it’s helpful to understand what causes sunscreen stains in the first place. Most sunscreens contain active ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, and titanium dioxide, which are designed to absorb or reflect UV rays. These ingredients can leave behind greasy or oily residues on fabrics, leading to stubborn stains.

Additionally, some sunscreens contain dyes or colorants that can further contribute to staining. The heat and friction from activities like swimming or playing sports can also cause the sunscreen to penetrate deeper into the fabric fibers, making the stains more challenging to remove.

Act Quickly for Best Results

The key to effectively removing sunscreen stains is to act quickly. The longer the stain sits, the more it will set into the fabric, making it harder to remove. As soon as you notice a sunscreen stain, try to treat it immediately. This will increase your chances of success and prevent the stain from becoming permanent.

Pre-treating Sunscreen Stains

Before attempting any stain removal methods, it’s essential to pre-treat the affected area. This will help to break down the sunscreen and make it easier to remove. Here are some effective pre-treatment options:

  1. Cold Water Run cold water over the stain to flush out as much of the sunscreen as possible. Avoid using hot water, as it can cause the stain to set further.
  2. Stain Remover Apply a store-bought stain remover or a DIY solution (like a mixture of dish soap and hydrogen peroxide) to the stain and let it sit for a few minutes before washing.

DIY Stain Remover Recipe:

  • 1 part dish soap
  • 1 part hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 part warm water

Mix the ingredients together and apply the solution to the stained area. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before washing.

  1. Baking Soda Make a paste with baking soda and water, and gently rub it into the stain. Baking soda is a gentle abrasive that can help lift the sunscreen residue.

Baking Soda Paste:

  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 2-3 tablespoons water

Mix the baking soda and water to form a thick paste. Gently rub the paste into the stain using a soft-bristled brush or your fingers, then let it sit for 10-15 minutes before rinsing and washing.

  1. White Vinegar Soak the stained area in undiluted white vinegar for several minutes before washing. Vinegar’s acetic acid can help break down the sunscreen’s chemical composition.

Washing Sunscreen Stains

After pre-treating the stain, it’s time to wash the affected item. Here are some tips for effectively removing sunscreen stains during the washing process:

  1. Check the Care Label Always check the care label on the garment or fabric before washing. Follow the recommended water temperature, cycle, and detergent instructions to avoid damaging the item.
  2. Use Oxygen-Based Bleach For white or colorfast fabrics, consider using an oxygen-based bleach (like sodium percarbonate) instead of chlorine bleach. Oxygen bleaches are gentler and can effectively remove sunscreen stains without damaging the fabric.

Recommended Oxygen Bleach Product:

  1. Add Borax or Washing Soda Boost your detergent’s cleaning power by adding a bit of borax or washing soda to the wash cycle. These natural cleaning boosters can help lift stubborn sunscreen residue.

Recommended Borax Product:

  1. Opt for a Heavy-Duty Cycle For particularly tough stains, choose a heavy-duty or pre-soak cycle on your washing machine. The longer agitation and exposure to detergent can help break down the sunscreen and remove the stain more effectively.
  2. Repeat if Necessary If the stain persists after the first wash, repeat the pre-treatment and washing process. Stubborn stains may require multiple treatments before they are fully removed.

Dealing with Dried or Set-in Stains

If you’ve missed the window for treating a fresh sunscreen stain, don’t worry – there are still ways to tackle dried or set-in stains. Here are some effective methods:

  1. Enzyme-Based Stain Removers Look for stain removers that contain enzymes, which can help break down the proteins and oils in sunscreen stains. Apply the remover and let it sit for several hours or overnight before washing.

Recommended Enzyme Stain Remover:

  1. Rubbing Alcohol For synthetic fabrics, try using rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol to break down the sunscreen residue. Dab the stain with a clean cloth dampened with alcohol, then rinse and wash as usual.
  2. Dish Soap and Warm Water Make a solution of warm water and a few drops of dish soap, and use a clean cloth or soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the stain. The surfactants in dish soap can help lift and dissolve the sunscreen residue.
  3. Freeze and Scrape For particularly stubborn stains on sturdy fabrics, try freezing the stained area with an ice cube or compressed air. Once frozen, use a dull knife or spoon to scrape off as much of the sunscreen residue as possible before washing.

Special Considerations for Different Fabrics

While the methods above can be effective for various fabrics, it’s important to consider the specific material you’re dealing with. Here are some special considerations for different fabric types:

  1. Silk and Delicates For delicate fabrics like silk, avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive scrubbing. Stick to gentle stain removers and handwashing in cool water to prevent damage.

Recommended Delicate Fabric Stain Remover:

  1. Synthetic Fabrics Synthetics like polyester, nylon, and spandex may respond better to solvents like rubbing alcohol or dry-cleaning solutions. Always check the care label and test on an inconspicuous area first.
  2. Leather and Suede Sunscreen stains on leather or suede can be challenging. Use a specialized leather cleaner or saddle soap, and gently rub the stain with a clean cloth. Avoid oversaturating the material.

Recommended Leather Cleaner:

  1. Upholstery and Outdoor Fabrics For outdoor furniture or upholstery, look for stain removers specifically designed for those materials. Spot-test in an inconspicuous area first to ensure the product won’t cause discoloration or damage.

Recommended Outdoor Fabric Cleaner:

Prevention is Key

While accidents can happen, it’s always better to prevent sunscreen stains in the first place. Here are some tips to help minimize the risk of staining:

  1. Apply Sunscreen Correctly Follow the directions on the sunscreen bottle, and apply it evenly to your skin. Avoid over-applying or rubbing excess sunscreen onto your clothing or towels.
  2. Use Sunscreen Towelettes Consider using sunscreen towelettes or wipes instead of lotions or creams when possible. The towelettes are less likely to transfer excess product onto fabrics.

Recommended Sunscreen Towelettes:

  1. Cover Up Wear loose, lightweight clothing that covers more of your skin, reducing the need for as much sunscreen and minimizing potential staining.
  2. Rinse After Swimming After swimming or engaging in water activities, rinse off any excess sunscreen from your skin and clothing as soon as possible to prevent it from setting into the fabric.
  3. Opt for Stain-Resistant Fabrics When purchasing outdoor furniture, towels, or swimwear, look for fabrics labeled as stain-resistant or treated with a protective coating to help repel sunscreen and other stains.

Recommended Stain-Resistant Fabric:

By following these prevention tips and using the appropriate stain removal methods, you can enjoy the sun and the protection of sunscreen without worrying about unsightly stains ruining your belongings.

Remember, acting quickly and using the right techniques can make all the difference in successfully removing sunscreen stains. Don’t hesitate to consult professional cleaners or seek advice from fabric experts if you’re dealing with particularly stubborn or delicate stains.

Embrace the sunshine and enjoy the outdoors with confidence, knowing that you can keep your clothes and fabrics looking fresh and stain-free.

Sharing Is Caring:

As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.