6 Causes of Stains on Clothes After Washing (+How to Fix)

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Noticed stains on your clothes after washing them in your washing machine? Here are some of the common causes of stains on laundry and how to resolve them.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • The common stains on clothing after washing are:
    • Orange rust stains
    • Chalky white hard water stains
    • Blue or white laundry detergent stains
    • Light-colored bleach stains
    • Colored stains caused by dye transfer
    • Dark mold or oil stains

👚 6 Washing Machine Stains And How To Resolve

Let’s take a look at the 6 common washing machine stains and how to resolve them.

1) Orange Stains – Rust Marks

Orange or brown stains on clothes is usually a sign of rust marks. There are a few different reasons why your clothes might accumulate orange rust stains after washing:

  • Iron in your water supplyIf you have a groundwater supply (i.e. you use a private well), your water may contain iron, a natural mineral in the earth’s crust. The dissolved iron might transfer onto your clothing during a wash cycle.
  • Corroding iron pipes – Similarly, if your water flows through corroding iron pipes and plumbing, some of the rust flecks may break off into your water supply and deposit onto your clothes as brown spots during washing.
  • Metal objects in your clothing – Nails, safety pins, and screws left in your clothes’ pockets may rust in your washing machine, causing rust stains on your fabrics.
  • Rusting washer drum or components: If your washing machine contains metal components, these components will begin to rust after years of use. This can transfer rust stains to the clothes during the wash cycle.
Orangish rust marks

✅ How To Resolve:

There are a few ways to prevent rust stains on your washed clothes:

What if your clothes are already rusty?

You can remove rust stains with a commercial rust remover. Some rust remover products are designed to be added to your washing machine, while others can be applied on dry clothing. Check the instructions for the product carefully and test it on a small area of your clothing before using it to treat the whole stain.

2) White, Chalky Stains: Hard Water

If you notice white or grey chalky stains on your clothes, and your laundry feels stiff and rough, you probably have hard water.

Hard water is high in calcium and magnesium hardness minerals. It’s a common water quality complaint that affects over 80% of US homes. While hard water isn’t dangerous, it does have aesthetic effects, and leaves greyish-white stains on surfaces – including your clothing.

You might also notice soap scum on your clothes if you have hard water. Soap scum is a filmy, grey residue that forms when hardness minerals react with soaps and liquid detergents.

✅ How To Resolve:

The best way to resolve laundry stains caused by hard water is to install a water softener.

Water softeners are point-of-entry systems that protect your whole home’s water supply from the effects of hard water.

Soft water is free from calcium and magnesium minerals, so it’s unable to form scale. When you wash your clothes in soft water, they’ll be soft and free from any roughness or white marks.

If you need to remedy the effects of washing your clothes in hard water, try washing the affected clothing with liquid fabric softener and around 1 cup of baking soda.

3) Light Spots: Bleach Stains

Another cause of light spots on your clothing is chlorine bleach stains. You’ll notice bleach stains on your clothes if you’ve used chlorine bleach or a bleach-containing product to wash your clothes.

You might occasionally use bleach in your washing machine to brighten your clothes and remove stains.

However, adding too much bleach to your washing machine drum, improperly diluting bleach before use, or mixing bleach with incompatible substances, may cause white stains to appear on your clothes after washing. This is especially likely if you’re washing dark clothes.

Light spots caused by bleach staining on clothes

✅ How To Resolve:

There are a few ways you can prevent bleach spots or stains on your clothing:

  • Make sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using bleach-containing products.
  • Only use bleach in your washing machine when necessary, and use it sparingly.
  • Don’t mix bleach with other cleaning agents unless you’ve double-checked that it’s safe to do so.
  • Rinse the washing machine thoroughly or run an empty cycle after using bleach to make sure all residue is removed.

If your clothes have already been damaged by bleach stains, you can try rubbing the stains with white vinegar (for light-colored clothes) or rubbing alcohol (for dark clothes).

Unfortunately, stains from bleach aren’t always possible to remove, and you might have to patch over the stain or recycle the affected clothing.

4) Blue Or White Splotches: Laundry Detergent Stains

Blue or white splotches on your clothing are usually caused by laundry detergent stains.

There are a few reasons why you might have laundry detergent stains on your clothes after washing:

  • Excessive detergent: Using too much laundry detergent can leave a residue behind on your fabrics.
  • Undissolved detergent: Powdered detergent isn’t always completely dissolvable in water, especially if you’re doing a cold water wash or you have hard water. These particles will then deposit on your clothing, leaving stains.
  • Pouring detergent directly on clothes: Washing detergent should usually be added to your washing machine’s detergent drawer rather than straight onto the clothes in the drum. If you add detergent directly to your load – especially liquid detergent – you may end up with concentrated detergent stains on your laundry.
  • Detergent dispenser issues: A clogged detergent dispenser or a dispenser that doesn’t dispense properly may result in detergent stains on the clothes. Putting the detergent in the wrong section of the drawer may also increase the likelihood of detergent stains.

✅ How To Resolve:

There are a few ways to prevent detergent stains on clothes after washing:

  • Don’t exceed the recommended amount of detergent for your laundry size.
  • Don’t pour undiluted detergent directly onto your laundry load. It’s always best to add detergent to the designated detergent dispenser. At the very least, if you want to add it straight to the machine, dilute it first.
  • Keep your washing machine’s drum clean to prevent a buildup of detergent residue.

To remove detergent stains from clothes, rewash the clothes with warm water and no detergent or a laundry product designed to remove detergent stains.

5) Colored Stains: Dye Transfer

The most common cause of colored stains on clothes after washing is dye transfer. Dye transfer is when colors from one item of clothing bleed onto another item of clothing during washing.

If you’ve accidentally washed a red sock with your whites, you’ll know the effects of dye transfer. It’s usually caused by washing mixed color loads, especially dark colors, like blue, red, black, and dark green, which causes the dyes to release and transfer onto other fabrics.

You’re more likely to notice dye transfer if the clothes you’re washing are poorly made and have unstable dyes, or you’re washing new garments with strong dyes.

Hot water temperatures also increase the likelihood of dye transfer, as well as overloading your washing machine’s drum, which reduces the space available for proper dilution and agitation.

Colored stain caused by dye transfer

✅ How To Resolve:

There are a few easy ways to prevent dye transfer between your clothes during washing:

  • Rather than only separating your whites from your colors, sort your colored laundry by color and wash similar colors together.
  • Wash your new clothes or brightly-colored garments separately from your other items.
  • Check garment labels for care guidelines. Make sure to wash clothes in the right water temperature or use cold water if in doubt to minimize dye bleeding in your wash water.
  • Don’t overload your washing machine’s drum. The tub shouldn’t be more than three-quarters full.
  • Use products that absorb released dyes, like color-catching sheets.

If your clothes have been dyed and you want to restore their original color, try soaking the affected garments in a solution of water and white vinegar. You could also add one cup of lemon juice or a small amount of diluted bleach to your washing water.

6) Black Stains: Mold Or Oil

Finally, black stains on your clothes after washing are likely caused by either mold or oil.

There are a few ways that mold might get onto your clothes in your washer, including if water is left stagnant in the machine for a few days, or if the machine isn’t cleaned frequently, leading to a buildup of mold around the seal.

Dark oil spots may be caused by the transmission of oil from the washer or from other items of clothing that are stained with oil. Or, a greasy stain could be caused by excessive use of fabric softener or dryer sheets, or a buildup of fabric conditioner in the washing drum.

✅ How To Resolve:

You can prevent moldy stains on your clothes by ensuring the laundry area is properly ventilated, removing wet laundry out of the machine straight after washing to prevent stagnant water, and frequently cleaning the machine – especially the seals, filters, and detergent drawer.

You can prevent oil stains by pre-treating oil stains on clothes before washing, using fabric softener sparingly, cleaning the machine to remove oily residue, and maintaining the machine to prevent problems that could lead to oil contamination.

You can try using baking soda, dish soap, or lemon juice to spot-clean oil stains on clothes.

🔚 Final Word

Hopefully, you now know the most likely causes of stained garments after washing.

We’ve discussed the stains that may occur as a result of the washing process itself. But keep in mind that there are other stains, like grass and mud stains, blood stains, and food stains, that may linger on your clothing after a wash.

Many laundry stain removers will be able to remove these stains, but sometimes, you might have no choice but to patch up or recycle the affected item of clothing.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

2 thoughts on “6 Causes of Stains on Clothes After Washing (+How to Fix)”

  1. Avatar for Jennifer Byrd

    Please help
    My wife and I have noticed dark spots on our clothes. I tried to fix the last washing machine and now have purchased a brand new one. The first load of laundry in the new machine did the same thing. So what can it be?
    Originally we thought it was a build up of mold and grime. But the first load in the new washing machine did the same thing.

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