Simple Ways to Get Rust Stains Out of Clothes From the Washing Machine

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated December 14, 2021
Laundry basket full of clothes
Photo: Pixel-Shot / Adobe Stock

Rust stains are tough, but natural methods like vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda might be able to conquer them

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Rust stains aren’t a great look, especially when they’ve found their way to your favorite button-down. While these unsightly orange-and-brown blotches can be stubborn, you might have the remedy sitting in your pantry or medicine cabinet. By following a few easy steps, you might be able to save rust-ridden clothes.

Why Are There Orange Stains on My Clothing After Washing?

Finding rust stains on your clothes straight out of the washing machine? It could be one of a few causes.

Loose Objects

If you’re not diligent about cleaning out your pockets, metal objects like paper clips, keys, and key chains may get stuck in your washer and begin to rust. A simple visual inspection can help you to remove these.

Rust Stains

These can happen in your washer for a variety of reasons, but they should be fairly easy to spot. Cleaning out your washer will usually be the ticket.

Rusty Objects Elsewhere 

There’s a chance that rust stains have nothing to do with your washer, even though you’re finding the stains on washed clothes. These stains can happen thanks to everything from rusty spots on your car to shelves at your work. Keep an eye out and check for rust stains before you throw your clothes into the wash next time. 

Rusted Pipes 

If you don’t see any signs of rust in your washer or in other parts of your home, there is a chance that you could have a rusted pipe bringing water into the appliance. For this one, you’ll want to speak to a local plumber.

Whatever you do, don’t run clothes with rust stains through the dryer—the heat will likely set in the stain. Instead, try one of the four fixes below.

Woman folding laundry
Photo: Crystal Sing / Adobe Stock

How to Remove Rust Stains from Clothing and Carpet

1. Remove Rust From Clothes With Baking Soda, Cream of Tartar, and Hydrogen Peroxide

Cream of tartar isn’t just for making meringue: Its acidic properties make it great for cleaning, too. When combined with a couple of other household staples, it can act as a powerful rust dissolver.

Here are the steps to follow:

1. Mix 1 teaspoon each of cream of tartar and baking soda

2. Add several drops of hydrogen peroxide

3. Gently mix to create a paste

4. Apply the paste directly to the rust stains

5. Rinse with warm (not hot) water

6. Wash in the washing machine like normal

If you still find stains after a wash cycle, do not put the clothes in the dryer. Repeat this process one or two more times to see if it helps. If not, try the next method.

2. Fight Rust Stains With Vinegar

Vinegar has so many useful applications, and being a handy rust removal hack is one of them.

Follow these steps:

1. Lay a towel down to protect your surface

2. Splash some white vinegar on the rust stains

3. Blot the stain with a clean washcloth (avoid vigorous rubbing, as this could spread the stain)

4. Cycle the clothing through the washing machine

5. Hang outside to dry (do not put it in the dryer), ideally in the sun to continue fading the stain

3. Try Salt and Lemon Juice

Natural lemon juice has bleaching properties—but don’t worry, it won’t ruin your colors like regular chlorine bleach. Combined with the stain-lifting abilities of salt, this natural method can knock out rust stains on your clothes.

Here are the steps to follow:

1. Mix a 1:1 ratio of lemon juice and salt (this should form a thick paste)

2. Apply the paste directly to the rust stains

3. Wait about five minutes

4. Blot with a clean, damp cloth (don’t rub), pressing firmly to saturate the stains

5. Wipe away any excess paste

6. Hang outside to dry in the sun to further lighten the stains 

4. Choosing Commercial Rust Remover for Clothes

If the all-natural approach isn’t cutting it, there are commercial rust removers that might be able to rescue your clothes. Many of these contain acids that react with the rust to loosen the stain. Be sure to read the label carefully to ensure it’s safe for your garment.

Worried about damaging your clothes with these cleaners? Try taking them to a dry cleaner to see if they can help.

How to Handle Rust Stains on Clothes After Drying

If you discover rust stains on your clothes after drying, it might be time to say goodbye. The high heat from your dryer sets in all types of stains, including rust stains. Still, you can try the vinegar, lemon juice, or baking soda methods to see if the stain budges. If not, then at least you’ve got a good excuse to go shopping.

If you believe you have rust in your dryer instead, go over the air duct, dryer drum, and seals with a wet cloth to try and find any rust residue. If you find any, unplug the dryer and apply a rust remover to the affected area, wiping it clean after.

Finding the Source of Rust Stains on Your Clothes

Clothes themselves aren’t corrosive, so if you’re continually finding rust stains on your white button-downs, there has to be a source. While it might have resulted from a rusty tool or piece of equipment out in the wild, the culprit is likely under your own roof.

Here are some possibles causes to consider:

  • Metal shelves, tables, or furniture

  • Your car

  • Your sink

  • Hangers or clothes hooks

  • Metal kitchen and bathroom fixtures

How to Clean Rust Out of Your Washing Machine

Brace yourself for another common culprit: your trusty washing machine. If you discover rust stains on your clothes after washing, try cleaning out the tub with a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and water. Let it sit for five minutes or so, then wipe away. Alternatively, you can try a commercial rust remover.

Dealing With Rusty Water

If your washer is innocent, then the rust might be coming from your water supply. Try running the washer without any detergent, and note whether the water is clear. If it’s discolored, you should consider calling a local plumber to come and check out your pipes.

Rust in your water supply could also point to a couple of unique circumstances, including:

  • House or city water lines disturbed by maintenance work, back flushing, or vigorous movement (e.g., an earthquake)

  • Drought and low water reserves causing sediment to accumulate within pipes

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