One of my readers, Susan, sent in this great question:
I always have this struggle starting and lasting throughout the summer season. I have narrowed the culprit down to sunscreen. The most important thing to wear in the summer time does terrible things to my laundry! I’ve tried several different brands and they all turn my clothing this awful orangish color where it comes in contact with the clothes. I am figuring that it reacts to the minerals in our well water, which is heavier in magnesium-type deposits. Even cloroxing white clothes doesn’t always get it, often times turning the stain yellow instead of orange. And it has ruined several colored clothing. Any suggestions? I’m at my wit’s end with the damage!
Avobenzone is the culprit
I’ve done quite a bit of research on this sunscreen problem and spoken with several sunscreen companies. It turns out that the problem is with a little chemical known as avobenzone. It is the ingredient in some sunscreens that eliminates the harmful effects of long-ray UVA.
While it is extremely effective in a sunscreen compound, it can wreak havoc on white clothes. It can cause orange or brown stains that are quite difficult to remove. It seems that having well water, which tends to be ‘hard’ water only makes the problem worse.
So how to remedy this problem?
This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for more details.
Find a sunscreen that does not use avobenzone.
Obviously by not using the chemical, the problem is completely eliminated.
Make sure you take a look at this full list of sunscreens that do not contain avobenzone if you’re heading to the store.
Do not use Clorox or Oxi Clean to remove the stains.
Believe me, it hurts me to advise you not to use Oxi Clean, but in this case it will only make the stains worse.
It will deepen the orange stain and possibly set them in permanently. The chemical reaction between avobenzone and bleach or sodium perchlorate (ie: Oxi Clean) are not friendly, so it only makes the orange reaction appear worse.
Try ONE of the following products. Trying more than one at the time can be dangerous due to fumes.
→ The Works Tub & Shower Cleaner: As you can see from its online ad, it touts that it rids the shower of “stubborn rust stains and mineral deposits.” It will do the same for your clothes. Spray a small amount onto the stain and gently rub in with a toothbrush until the stain is saturated with the product. Leave on about 5 minutes and literally watch the stain disappear. Launder as usual with white clothes only.
→ Bar Keepers Friend OR Bon Ami in the powdered form: These products also work on rust stains and hard-water stains. Make a thin paste of the product and water and rub onto stain very gently with a toothbrush or your finger. Leave on about 5 minutes and rinse under cool, running water. If stain is still present, repeat the paste process. If it is gone, launder as usual with white clothes only.
→ Whink: Also used to remove rust and hard-water stains, this product comes in a liquid form. Lightly pour on orange stain and it should disappear in 2-5 minutes. This should only be used on white clothes! It will definitely take the color out of anything other than white. Trust me.
A few notes about sunscreen stains
I am not sure whether The Works, Bar Keepers Friend or Bon-Ami will cause colored items to fade or develop bleach-type areas after application.
IMPORTANT: Use these products on an inside seam first. If it doesn’t bleach it or lift the color, you are probably safe to use it on the rest of the fabric. I am quite certain that Whink will bleach colored clothes, as it has happened to me!
Also, it is important that after treating your items that you wash them only in a load with white clothes. Or you can even wash them alone if you are unsure if they will bleach other items.
Even if you rinse the item thoroughly under running water, some product will probably remain embedded in the fabric of the item.
You don’t want to ruin a whole load of clothes!
Disclaimer – As with any stain removal advice given on Mama’s Laundry Talk: Mama is not responsible for any adverse reactions caused by one’s stain removal efforts. You alone are responsible for any advice taken and the outcome on your clothes.