One of my readers, Susan, sent in this great question about sunscreen stains:
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?
Find a sunscreen that does not use avobenzone.
This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for more details.
There are a few products on the market that do not contain the chemical: Blue Lizard Suncreen Sensitive and Kiss My Face Oat Protein Sunscreen.
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.
But Oxi-Clean is a wonderful product! I use it all the time for The Soak, which gets out other types of stains.
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.
Thanks! All my old t’s I wear around the farm have sunscreen stains around the neck. At least I can experiment with some of these products.
I used Sun lemon dish soap straight by gently rubbing the soap in even after generic oxi clean cold wash mistake and got most of the sunscreen stain out. I haven’t used this method on colored clothes though or generic oxi clean/sunscreen mistake using warm or hot water. I use Sun oxygen wash.
Never heard or Charlies but would love to try them. Thanks.
Avobenzone is also in moistuizers that contain sunscreens. I’m not sure about foundations.
Sunscreen stains are only caused by certain sunscreens that contain oils. It’s a grease/oil stain. It comes out on your clothes as a yellowish, sometimes orange color. My most successful remedy is to use a degreaser, such as GOO GONE. It’s to help remove sticky substances from stuff and works amazing on sunscreen stains. Just spray it on. It usually only takes one wash, however it might take a couple more washes to get the “citrus” oily scent out that is a result of the degrease spray. =) HInt: if you do spray this stuff on clothing, wash it separate from your other clothes or they will all smell “citrusy-oily”.
I wonder if Goo Gone would work on multi colored tennis tops that are stained from sweat & suntan lotion/spray?
Diana, I don’t think Goo Gone would work. Even if it took the stain out, it would leave a grease stain… and those can be super tough to remove.
It also says right on the bottle that you should never launder fabrics saturated with GooGone because it is highly flammable.
I had a white polo shirt that my son had stained with chocolate, so I went to soak it in detergent/oxyclean before washing it. As soon as the shirt hit the water, these bright yellow/orange patches were everywhere. They were especially bad on the collar and sleeve holes. I was crushed. I found this post and tried something similar to the shower/tub cleaner mentioned above. It’s called ‘Lime Away’. It totally worked!! I’m thrilled; I thought I was tossing it. Thanks so much for blogging about this. PS: We have well water too.
Suzanne – I’m so glad it worked for you! Yippee!
How do you get these stains out of clothing that is mixed colors…White base but also some color printed on it. It’s a golf shirt made of synthetic materials like polyester and spandex?
Thank you so much!! Using TheWorks just saved my gorgeous new sundress! Now to go shopping for a different sunscreen before I go on vacation….
SolarAegis is another natural sunscreen that won’t stain!
“CLR” (Calcium, Lime, Rust) Remover took the stain right out of my daughter’s sunscreen stained shirt. Thank you so much for the tip!
Oh you’re welcome! So glad you could get the stains out!
Can I use CLR on a multi colored tennis tee top?? Synthetic material.
Just tried the CLR on my white lace bathing suit cover-up….it has been saved! Thank you soooo much!!!!
Oh YAY!! I’m so glad to hear that, Sherry! Happy Dance for you!
I am trying! My son has a white baseball jersey with orange sunscreen stains. Nothing is working!! I wonder if the synthetic material is the problem?
Stacey, I’m fairly certain it IS because the shirt is a synthetic fabric. The Works (and other such products) aren’t nearly as effective on synthetics as they are on cottons.
You might could try a whitening agent like Rit Dye Wash-White. It’s the only thing I know of that would help restore the whiteness. Of course, use at your own risk! 🙂
The only thing I have found that removes sunscreen stains from all fabrics that I have tried is 1000+ stain remover. Hasn’t harmed or bleached any.
What can I use to get those orange stains out of colored clothes?
Eleanor, I haven’t found a product yet that will not cause the color to fade. When and if I do, I’ll make sure to post it here!
So sorry –
In Australia there is a product called Sard Wonder Soap (a bar shaped stain remover that has been around for years) that will remove orange Avobenzene stains, with some vigorous scrubbing.
Thanks for sharing that tip, Jenny!
Thanks everyone! Just tried “The Works” on a white sports bra that had bright orange sunscreen stains all over the straps. I sprayed the works on and the stain faded right away. I’m not sure if this item will ever be white again but atleast I will now be able to spray anything white as soon as I take it off to possibly avoid stains in the future. 🙂
Yippee for you, Holly! So glad it worked fairly well.
Does anyone know if this will also work on the yellow discoloration under the arms on white shirts from deoderant?
Ann, it probably won’t. The chemical make-up of sunscreen is different than the chemical make-up of deodorant stains. Sorry.
I am struggling with the exact same issue that Susan describes. I agree that the well water in my home, with higher than normal degress of magnesium, may be the culprit. I am also currently taking a prescription dosage (product un-named) of omega fish oil and can find nothing on the web about that. Your suggestions are worth a try – since I’ve tried Dawn, various Tide products, Oxy-Clean. I’ll let you know how Bar Keeper’s Friend works on the whites.
Hmm, strange! I use Whink on tons of colored things and it’s only ever faded one item of clothing. I love it; it has become my go-to stain remover.
Thanks for the great tip about sunscreens!
Andrea, I went to use Whink on my sunscreen stains and found out there is more than one kind – there is regular Whink stain remover, and then there is Whink rust remover. Maybe that is the difference between Mamalaundry’s experience and yours?
OMG I am so glad to have found this information. The orange staining is driving me nuts! I am going to try a couple of the suggestions above to remove the stains AND I am going to be looking for a sunscreen without Avobenzone. I too have well water, so that must be exasperating the issue. We have ruined so many clothes over the last two summers, it’s out of control.
Joann, so sorry about your ruined clothes but I’m glad you found the culprit! Hoping you can save your other clothes. Thanks for stopping by!
What about stains from white titanium dioxide based sunscreens (like California Baby’s sunscreen)? I have a stain on my red dress from a white blob that landed on it. : (
This is the one question that’s unanswered, yet the one I’ve been looking all over the web for! I just ruined my 3-season black go-to dress with sunscreen stains around the neck and arms. I don’t actually know if it had zinc or titanium oxide or chemicals, I just see whitish (not yellow/orange) stains on a black fabric (hemp/cotton, if it matters). Please help or I’ll have to wear my bathrobe all summer! Thanks!
I had a shirt with sunscreen spots and before reading, I immediately put it in Oxyclean. Then had BRIGHT yellow stains show up. I used Limeaway and they immediately disappeared! Thank you so much for saving my shirt.
So fabulous, Ann-Marie! Happy day for you and the spot-free shirts. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know!
Thanks so much for your post and solution! I’ve been getting orange shirts for years and finally figured out it was related to sunscreen, but didn’t know why it happened. I live on well water too. I got Iron Out spray (rust stain removal) today at Food Lion and it worked like a charm. thanks so much!
Jen, so glad it worked for you! Thanks for letting me know. 😉
I’ve been doing some research and someone at another site recommended Ivory Bar Soap and warm water, but it seemed like a lot of hard work and hand washing. Most of the clothes I’ve ruined belong to my 2 and 5 year olds. I’m worried about the amount of chemicals I might be exposing them to by washing their clothes in all these cleaners. Also I’ve never heard of most of these products and am wondering if anyone has found any of them in Canada? Do they work as well or are their chemical formulas different? I tried CLR on some clothes last year and it did absolutely no good…
Any Canadian mom’s out there with advice, I’d love to hear it!
Colleen, about the chemicals – I would do at least 1 extra rinse cycle to make sure all of the chemicals are out of the fabric. In fact, I would personally do two cycles just to be on the safe side. Like you, I don’t want chemicals against my children’s skin.
If you’re interested in trying one of the products, you could always search on Amazon and have it shipped to you.
I’m going to try Mean Green. You can get it at Canadian Tire. I know it works well on lots of stuff but I haven’t tried it on laundry yet. I’m gonna pick up some tomorrow before leaving work…I hope it works! If not the next thing I’m going to try is pumice hand cleaner. Just a couple ideas for you that I know are available in Canada.
Thanks for listing those, Kristy, for my Canadian friends. 🙂
Just used Lestoil, which i got at Ace, and it worked great!! Even worked on an old shirt that had been washed and dried many times. Just rinsed right out without soaking!
My husband wears sunscreen every day to work (around his neck and face) and he wears white dress shirts. I thought I ruined a whole batch of his work shirts by throwing a detergent pack with oxy clean into the washer. They all had bright orange collars:-( Well… I am happy to report that the Barkeeper’s Friend works! Amazing… Just a little of the powder with a little water and a toothbrush and they’re all as good as new and it worked almost instantly. So happy you wrote this post! Thanks
Emily – So happy for you and your results! Thanks for letting me know!
I am so delighted to have this website & info. My husband is a self-employed landscaper & for a few years now I’ve been struggling with these pesky stains. It wasn’t until last year that we finally realized exactly what they were however. He loves wearing white t-shirts while working of course because of the sun/heat. Anyway,I will definitelybe trying the remedies listed above as well as searching for a new sunscreen for him without avobenzone. Thank you for this info!!!
Anyone notice any difference in cotton clothes vs. synthetic? CLR worked GREAT on my son’s synthetic swimwear. However, I have a cotton cover-up and cotton socks that CLR got the stains out of, and when I washed them after soaking, the stains came back. I’m trying again now with Lime-Away and will use a hotter water temperature. Maybe Goo-Gone will be my third attempt if necessary?
Update – Lime-Away, scrubbing with scrub brush in the bathtub, and washing in hot water with plenty of Rain Drops water softener helped. The stains aren’t totally gone, but they are much less visible. I’m thinking it wasn’t the choice of chemical as much as the scrubbing and hot water that made the difference. However, for really bad stains I would still consider switching cleaning products with each attempt if necessary.
Scrubbing and hot water never hurt, that’s for sure! But yes, a change of chemical will do the trick. You might just need to find the right one for your water type. Since it’s a chemical reaction to start with (the sunscreen and iron), you’ll need a chemical reaction to combat it.
Thanks for the update! 😉
Sue, I’d be very careful using Goo Gone. Sometimes it can leave a grease stain.
I’ve had this problem too and remembered something I read about grapefruit juice being able to strip paint. I bought some concentrate, brushed it on, let it sit for a while and washed. Even old orange sunblock stains came out.
Nice! Thanks for leaving the tip!
I came back from the Keys, unpacked my beach bag, and found that my white – rather pricey – hat had been stained by an opened tube of sunscreen. After trying literally everything, I found this website, tried using The Works, and viola; the stain is gone! I love my hat and the thought of having to toss it was painful. Thank you for saving the day!
Christine, thanks so much for leaving this comment! So thrilled that your hat is back in business. 😉
Thank You!!!!! I’m a lifeguard and our shirts are white! The sunscreen stains are ridiculous!
You’re so welcome! Glad it helped.
I’ve used The works on my sunscreen stained clothes. The first time it worked great, the next time it melted the item.
I just used the works on a light yellow polo shirt with orange sunblock stains. The shirt turned blue from The works. Any suggestions to get the blue out?
Shari, I’ve never heard of that happening. My guess is it’s some type of chemical reaction with the dye. You can certainly try washing again with no detergent and putting in the sun to dry to see what happens.
My husband had sunscreen stains around the neck and arm holes on one of his white tee shirts. I first used oxyclean in my wash. The tee shirt came out even more orange. I found your site and tried the bar keepers friend (I already use it to clean my sinks). I made a mixture of bar keepers friend and water in a small bowl. I put only the neck and arms in the bowl first. It almost instantly removed the stain. I would have never thought to use such a cleaner on clothes. I hand washed the rest of the shirt in the solution too and it did not harm the printing on the shirt. It made the shirt brighter since I had washed it earlier with well water. Love it! Thanks, I thought the shirt would have to go in the rag sack!
Yay, Nancy! I’m so glad it worked so well for you! We just got back from the beach, so I’m off to do the same with my husband’s white tshirts!
I had yellow stains from suncream on all our White t shirts worn to the beach. I used limescale remover used for toilets! Left it on for 30 minutes then washed it on the highest temperature that the T-shirts could be washed on and Hey presto the stains disappeared 🙂
i just tried fels-naptha and was successful at removing the yellow sunscreen stains!
THANK YOU THANK YOU! I have worn chemical sunscreen for several years with no problem, and then randomly one 100% cotton white shirt came out of the laundry with lemon-yellow stains around the neck (I’d used OxiClean in the wash, so likely I never saw the orange color).
I have tried everything and, not wanting to trash the brand new shirt, Googled and found this page. My wonderful husband got out the bathroom rust-remover spray, spritzed and massaged in with a toothbrush, and viola! nearly perfect. when wet there’s a slight discoloration, but it’s hardly noticable and when dry, it’s fine.
Thank you for saving my shirt! I just went out and bought a mineral sunscreen to wear on my chest, neck, and arms so I don’t have to worry about it anymore. (I still use the chemical one on my face b/c it soaks in and doesn’t ball up when I apply makeup.)
Let me tell you I was about to give up and then found this forum regarding the cleaners to clean golf white shirts and finally found the product. I tried all three of the suggestions and the one that clearly worked best and was the easiest to use was The works tub and shower clearner. Works best when shirt is dry and just spray on and let sit for a 1 minute and use the suggested toothbrush method. Tried different products and this was clearly the number one deal clearner. Thank you for your help!!!
I am so excited!!! I just tried this on 2 of my favorite t-shirts that were recently ruined and the orange stain came right out!!! Thank you so much. This solution has made my day happy!
My football coach hubby & I have been trying to figure out the most effective treatment to rid his white hats & white t-shirts of this. We recently discovered, after trying numerous different products, that white vinegar worked better than anything else. We added approx 1 cup of vinegar to the washer (sm-med load I think) & let it soak in hot water for about an hour or so. It removed more of the discoloration than anything else we’ve tried after just 1 treatment. I was relieved that something so simple was so effective because I’m all for not using toxic chemicals in our home. Just wanted to share this info….
Jennifer, thanks for sharing that! Cheap and non-toxic. Win-win.
Do you have well water? I wonder how well this would do for those who have hard water.
I’ll test it and see. Thanks again!
I have white cover ups from the beach w staines from sunscreen it’s an all over browish color and well as a few tops that I soaked in oxy clean and have laundered them already. Is there anyway to still get the dull brownish or yellow color if they have been dried already?
Jill, my guess is those stains will be harder to remove since they’ve been dried.
You can try ONE (not all) of the products in #3 in the post and see if that will make any difference.
Although I DO love oxiclean, it won’t touch sunscreen stains.
I hope it comes out!
I tried multiple methods on an old shirt that had been severely discolored. I tried many of the methods above: the Works 1/2 of the collar, CLR (the other 1/2 of the collar, Hydrogen Peroxide/Baking Soda/Dawn mix (right cuff), Goo Gone (left cuff) to no avail. That shirt had been washed MANY times with every commercially available stain remover I could find (including OxyClean). I think you are right that the stain had been set. I tried The Works on a new, previously untreated, shirt that had sunblock stains and it worked perfectly. The stain was gone in under 5 minutes. Thanks for the info.
Marcus, fabulous info. Thanks so much for sharing!
Could you please let me no where to buy these products thankyou x
I used The Works on my daughter’s sunblock-stained, white softball uniform and it worked perfectly! I will also be purchasing one of the sunblocks you recommend to avoid this in the future. I can’t tell you how many items I’ve thrown out because of this issue. Thanks!
So glad it worked for you, Dawn!
Well water might make the stains worse, but I can tell you that my white tee was stained when I took it off after bicycling with Coppertone Sport! Grrr. I will try some of the products mentioned. Thanks for the info!
Your info was most helpful. I thought I’d ruined several things, including a grandson’s favorite tee. I had already used oxiclean before reading your blog. And, all had air dried. I had The Works in stock. I poured some on one of my printed tees and in 5 minutes it was back to normal!
I went to Wal-Mart to replace all my sunscreens. I found Coppertone Sensitive Skin spf 50 ($7.97) and Banana Boat Baby spf 50 ($6.68), both without avobenzone.
After reading your blog I checked most of my lotions to find they had avobenzone, also. No wonder my sheets have stains, too.
I have a few shirts that have gotten stained from sunscreen. I tried using Bar Keepers Friend and the stains came out perfectly… then after washing (in well water) the stains all came back! Do you have any suggestions on how to keep the stains from coming back? Thank you!!!
Fels naptha soap works for me perfectly
Bartenders friend works! And I sprayed with oxiclean before I knew I should not!! Thank you so much!
As, mentioned in another one of your discussions, I thought I had completely
ruined my expensive white jeans. I had treated the sunscreen stains with Whink stain remover then washed with my well water. Oh my, it was much worse…….ugly orange colored stains. After reading your suggestions, I poured seltzer water on all the stains (seltzer is good remover of blood), then I scrubbed the entire area with Barkeepers powder and a nail brush. Then I rinsed it all thoroughly with water in my sink. Viola, a miracle, it is all gone.
Now, I do not need to buy new jeans. Thank you for this valuable blog so everyone can gets ideas. Thank you very much!
My stains from well water and sunscreen would not budge when I tried these. I finally found a bar of soap in the laundry isle called Fels-Naptha it got out the orange stains-even on colors-without fading! It was very inexpensive- around $3 at Walmart.
We have tried every stain remover on the market and then some – lemon juice and vinegar – sunlight – and nothing really worked until the other day – finally success – my wife tried Lime Out Heavy Duty Rust Lime and Calcium Stain Remover – put this liquid on stains – let sit for 1/2 hour then washed. The orange stains completely disappeared.
Great!! Thanks so much for leaving that tip!! I’m thrilled you were able to save your garments. 🙂
Thanks for this advice! I have two bathing suits (gingham navy and white and a floral print with white background) that were ruined this summer. Will any of the products you mentioned other than Whisk take the colors out?
I’ve lost many light or white clothes due to this issue. This article has super information, thank you. I also came across another cleaner that will make these stains disappear like magic! Resolve carpet stain remover for pet stains. It was in the cabinet in front of my face when I was looking for something to tackle yet another sunscreen stain and I decided: what’s the worst that can happen? It ruins the item further? I can’t wear it stained as it is now. So, long story short, I sprayed it and saw the stain vanish practically immediately! Further, I can also tell you it can be used on any color with no fading or bleaching of colors. I just used it again today, works like a charm!
WHAT?! That’s fabulous!! And you’re so right – if the garment is already ruined, you may as well try anything to get it out.
Thanks so much for leaving that product! It will surely be helpful to other people. 🙂
Just wanted to thank you for solving my mystery and the tip! I had actually already tried Oxi-Clean (minimal results on one garment, zero on the other) when I came across your article. I had both The Works and Bar Keeper’s Friend on hand so I started with The Works because of the handy spray bottle. It was literal magic, watching the stain disappear and the white return. Clothes are in the wash right now, let’s see how they come out. As the previous commenter said – they can’t get any worse! Just wanted to be the first of Summer 2019 to say THANK YOU.
YAY! I am so thrilled to hear that! It really is like magic! 🙂
Thanks for your kind comment!
I cant tell you how incredibly grateful I am. We have had a nightmare of a time for 8 years! We’ve spent hundreds replacing clothes monthly for the whole family due to this. We replaced our washing machine. We were ready to switch to city/town water which would have been a massive financial burden and your post saved us!! I tested and then I freaked in excitement and I’m forever grateful. The Avobenzon once I hit the shower/bath even would turn my Skin Oarnge Rust color! We have exceptionally hard water even with a softener. Following you and recommending to Everyone. You’re incredible.
Oh you are so sweet and I am just tickled you have found a solution to your long-term issue!! How wonderful!
Appreciate your kind words.
You can publish my reply if you would like. I had yellow sunscreen stains on my bathing suit and around the collar and spotty in some areas on my husbands swimming shirt, I tried oxi clean , vinegar, dawn ( not mixed together lol ) still was yellow then tried sun bleaching still no effect. I read you products to try but we don’t carry those in Ottawa Canada but that little part about one of them being a rust remover gave me an idea , I tried a house hold cleaner we have here called Spay 9 ( it removes rust and other tough stains in and around the house) . I sprayed it on the collar and yellow areas on my husband short first rubbed it in with my gloved hands and in minuets it was gone , did the same to my white bathing suit which also has colour stitching , bathing suit turned white and gladly the stitching stayed original colour . So thank you for giving me the ides and yay to Spray 9 !
Sorry about my grammar mistakes , I was so tired from cleaning those items over an over , Lol
Oh great!! I am so happy you found something that will work to get the stains out. That makes for a good day! 🙂