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Removing Sun Cream Stains From Clothing

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 8 Aug 2020 | comments*Discuss
Sunscreen Stains Sun Cream Stains

We all know the importance of wearing sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays, particularly in summer or when spending an extended period of time outdoors, such as playing sports or gardening. But it can be very frustrating to find that dutifully following this advice has resulted in sunscreen stains on our clothing!

In many cases, the sport-type sweat-proof and waterproof formulations can be the worst culprits. Some sunscreens also contain dyes which make things worse plus the conditions in which sunscreen is often used – heat and perspiration – combine to cause problems over time. In some cases, stains occur because tubes of sunscreen “explode” in the suitcase during travel, staining all the clothes packed for holiday!

What’s in Sunscreen?

The active ingredients in sunscreen can be of 2 types: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens contain ingredients like titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide which physically “block” or deflect the sun’s radiation whilst chemical sunscreens contain ingredients which absorb UV rays, like padimate O, homosalate, octyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone, octyl salicylate, phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid and octocrylene – as well as chemicals like oxybenzone or avobenzone and Mexoryl, which also protect against UVA rays (“broad-spectrum”). Physical or “chemical-free” sunscreens are ideal for people allergic to chemical ingredients and may also be less likely to cause stains on clothing.

How Can I Prevent Stains?

One good precaution to take is to always rub sunscreen thoroughly into the skin and then to wait for it to be fully absorbed and the skin dry to touch, before getting dressed. This is will help greatly in reducing the likelihood of stains. Also, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly after applying any sunscreen, especially before handling any clothing, as traces of sunscreen on your hands – although invisible to the naked eye – could easily transfer onto any surface you touch. Finally, if travelling anywhere and carrying sunscreen in your luggage, make sure that you wrap the bottle in a plastic bag which is then securely sealed with a knot, so that any “accidents” can be contained. Another way to minimise stains is to choose formulations which rely on physical rather than chemical ingredients for sun protection as these have few reactive components.

How Do I Remove Sunscreen Stains?

Unfortunately, even with all the best precautions, stains can still occur. For example, even if you wait until the sunscreen is dry before dressing, subsequent perspiration, heat and sun exposure could activate the ingredients in your sunscreen to react with the fibres in your clothing. In some cases, the sunscreen smeared onto your clothing could be fine until it comes into contact with the water during your laundry cycle – especially hard water – and reacts with the minerals in the water to leave a mark on the garment.

There are various ways to tackle sunscreen stains. Applying or soaking the garment in a pre-wash stain remover is very effective, particularly if you choose a stain remover that is designed for fats, grease and oils. Alternatively, you could rinse or soak the garments in white vinegar before washing. This is a very effective natural, home remedy for stains. Next, wash the garment in the hottest temperature that is safe for the fabric and the check for the stain again before putting it in the dryer. Never place an item in the tumble dryer before a stain has been fully removed as the heat could set the stain permanently. If the stain is still persistent, you could try an extra-strength bio-enzyme product which is designed to remove oily discolourations and use a brush to gently loosen the stain from the fabric. Remember, sunscreen can be very difficult to remove, especially from certain types of fabrics. Your chance of success also depends on the chemicals used in the formulations. If your garment is delicate or you are unsure of the process or unsuccessful, then it may be best to take it to a professional drycleaner.

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Hi This is a strange one..... We have v good quality coloured towels at our holiday rental apartment. The last guest have used sunscreen that has caused pink spots (large) on grey towels and white spots on turquoise towels. They look like bleach stains but the (very nice) guests swear it is not and that it is sunscreen. Has anyone heard of sunscreen doing this? Is there a remedy? It looks like the fibres have changed colour. Thanks for any suggestions:)PS I know about the effect on white towels which is why I went for coloured!
Jani - 8-Aug-20 @ 4:35 PM
I have got sun cream on a pair of navy shorts, any ideas on have to get rid, thank you
Flower - 30-Jun-19 @ 7:34 PM
@Jay - maybe a touch of bleach would work - nit too much though as you might not have any clothes left.
SHarB - 18-Jun-18 @ 2:36 PM
Hi I've just got back from my holidays and all my whites tops I've trying vansh with no chance of going .please if you know how to get it out I'd be be grateful. Thanks
Jay - 15-Jun-18 @ 10:07 PM
Peaceful greetings. Looking into the problem of white marks or stains from natural zinc-based sunscreen on dark cotton clothes, I've found almost all sources refer to chemical sunscreens -- which leave an entirely different kind of stain. It is appreciated that this article mentions the natural kind. It would be even more appreciated if the natural sunscreen issue would be addressed specifically -- this would be one of the only online resources readily available (that I have found) to so do. Thank you. Peace.
R.Lee - 30-May-17 @ 1:33 PM
@WilJenny - did you use a cleaner that deals directly with oil and grease? One of these can help to break up the oily enzymes. A bleaching agent may work in combination too. There is nothing worse I have just managed to get some out of my son's t-shirt after reading this article.
Gill - 24-May-17 @ 9:59 AM
Hello, I have just come back from holiday and unfortunately my sun tan cream has stained my white clothes, despite putting stain remover on it and washing it on a high temperature. Can anyone advise on how to get my whites looking white? Thanks in anticipation, Kind regards, Jenny
Wiljenny - 23-May-17 @ 2:13 AM
i got some alcohol on my leather shoes and they're stained. i would like to know the best way to remove the stains without damagine the shoes.
jake - 6-Apr-13 @ 9:30 AM
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