How to remove detergent stains from clothes

Find out how to help remove different detergent stains from your laundry

Detergent is supposed to help remove stains, but sometimes it leaves a mark (or two) of its own. If a washing machine is overloaded or detergent is not properly dispensed, it won’t properly dissolve in water – meaning it ends up on your clothes instead.

Laundry detergent stains are annoying, but they don’t have to be permanent. Use our guide to learn how to help remove detergent stains from clothes.

1) How to get liquid laundry detergent stains out of clothes

Liquid laundry detergent stains can show up if your detergent wasn’t properly rinsed away. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to remove these types of stains. Start by mixing 1 cup of vinegar into 1 quart of water in a sink or laundry tub. Place the soiled item in the tub; once it’s wet, rub the stained portion of the garment against itself to loosen the detergent. Let the garment soak up to one hour, and then run it in the washing machine separately or with only a few clothes.

Don’t overstuff the machine – your soiled garment needs room to tumble and agitate so the detergent can work its way out of the fabric. After the item is done in the washing machine, pull it out and take a look. If the stain is still there, repeat the steps above. Don’t dry your shirt until all of the detergent is gone – heat can set the stain.

2) How to remove powdered detergent/hard water stains from clothes

If you have hard water and use powdered detergent, you may notice stains on your dark clothes. That’s because powdered detergents don’t always dissolve in hard water, which can leave streaks. (You may not notice these streaks on light or white clothes.) To avoid this issue, be sure to completely dissolve powdered detergents in your top loading washing machine’s wash water before adding clothes.

If you have a front-load washer, you may wish to switch to liquid detergents or dissolve powdered detergent in water before adding it to the machine. Powdered detergent/hard water stains can be removed from clothes by using the same soaking method for liquid detergents described above.

A person pours detergent into the detergent dispenser of a washing machine.

3) How to remove laundry detergent residue

While powdered laundry detergents may not leave stains on light or white clothes, they can sometimes leave a residue that can make clothes stiff. The best course of action in this case is to switch to a liquid detergent, or alternate between powder and liquid to help keep residue from building up over time. If you do not wish to use liquid detergents, you can add a laundry water softener to help the powder fully dissolve and rinse away more easily.

4) How to remove fabric softener stains

Fabric softeners help keep fabrics soft and supple, but they can leave their own stains if they come in direct contact with clothes. If you see or feel a waxy residue on your clothes after they’ve been washed, fabric softener may be to blame. To remove these stains, first scrub the area using a bar of laundry soap and a soft bristle cleaning brush.

This will loosen the stain and help to work it out of the fibers. After removing as much as you can by hand, place the item in your next regular load of laundry. Repeat this process as often as necessary until the stain is removed.