Home > Ask Our Experts > How Do You Remove Yellowing Stains from Old Linens?

How Do You Remove Yellowing Stains from Old Linens?

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 7 Jul 2019 | comments*Discuss
Yellow Stains Linen Stains Age Stains

Q.I have inherited some very old cottons/linens that have been folded in a cupboard for decades and have yellowed severely where the exposed edge of fabric was. What is the safest way to tackle the stains? I'd hate to do anything that is likely to make any of it worse. Some of the items haven't seen the light of day for probably 30 or more years and though none are valuable or delicate, I wouldn't want to ruin them all.

(Mrs Caroline Parkinson, 10 September 2008)


Cotton and linens that have been stored for a long time often develop mysterious yellow stains or “age stains”, especially along the fold lines. This is usually due to an old stain that was invisible to the naked eye at the time of storage (e.g.. an old grease or oil stain which showed up “clear” at the time) or just due to the accumulation of grease, dust and other airborne pollutants, such as nicotine, on the exposed folds of the fabric. In addition, the fold lines will also put stress on the fibres and leave the more open to staining and damage. Furthermore, if the linens have been laundered and dried prior to storage, this may have “set” any stains making them even more difficult to remove now.

Since cotton and linen are natural fibres, it is best to rehydrate them before working on the stains. The safest way to do this is to soak the fabric in water that is at room temperature for at least half an hour, with perhaps a mild soap or detergent. Then gently rinse and pat and knead the fabric to remove all excess water – do not wring or twist it. Do not dry the fabric before working on the stain.

For yellow age stain, the most effective stain remover is a hydrogen peroxide solution, which is available in commercial form as stain removers under brand names such as OxiClean. The main ingredient in most of these stain removers is a solidified form of hydrogen peroxide, combined with surfactants and detergents. This formula produces a chemical reaction when mixed with water, to release oxygen and remove stain particles in the process.

Alternatively, you can also tackle the stains using a home-made solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide, gently dabbed onto the stain using a cotton bud. The solution may need to be left on the stain for over an hour to produce an effective result.

Stain removers containing hydrogen peroxide are a good choice for several reason. Unlike bleach, they are not chlorine-based and therefore, they are less harsh on sensitive skin as well as less damaging to the delicate fibres of old, vintage fabrics. These solutions are also more environmentally-friendly, as they break down into oxygen and water and is therefore biodegradable.

Make sure to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the label of the stain remover and if in any doubt, it may be best to consult the advice of a professional dry cleaner.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
I have a dress and jacket suffering some reddish -looks like bleached blotched areas Is there any cure?
Sarah - 7-Jul-19 @ 1:40 PM
I have quite a few older cloth books, for example Dean's Rag books. Most of them are in nice condition so I can't remove stains without removing the sizing. However, I have a valuable Dean's Rag book that has been washed repeatedly, thus no sizing. How do I remove the tide mark, i. e. edge, of a waterstain on an old cloth book? I suppose it is caused by minerals in the water, or perhaps by existing dirt in the fabric pages themselves. Has anyone tried to do this?
Suzanne - 12-Sep-17 @ 6:58 PM
I have a white cotton kimono with blue butterflies that is fifty years old. I The white areas have yellowed. I want to clean it to give to my niece. It was my mother's and I want to past it on. Thanks.
Versi - 12-Aug-17 @ 12:37 AM
I have 2 cross-stitch works on linen.One about 120 yrs. old & one about 90 yrs. old.At some point, many decades ago, both were mounted on a heavy, cardstock backing by wrappng the edges around the backing.Then they were framed. The backing was not acid-free & the edges of the fabrics are acid-stained.The staining is almost entirely a dirty yellowish-gray but in 3 small places there are also rusty-brown spots.They are also heavily creased from being pressed around the backing. How would you advise trying to clean them & press them? Thank you so much for your help.
mizcriz - 16-Apr-16 @ 10:21 PM
how to remove yellow dye that has stained a white check shirt?
bunny - 12-Sep-12 @ 6:04 AM
How do I remove a black dye stain which has bled into a pink bra which accidentaly got mixed up with a black top when washed. I have tried soaking it in a colour run solution sachet, but it hasnt removed it a solution to my problem would be very much appreciated thank you
ROCKY - 15-Feb-12 @ 6:21 PM
How do you get rid of deoderant stains on shirts on the underarms?
von - 28-Jul-11 @ 9:02 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments