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Preventing & Removing Sunblock Stains

Jul05

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Photo by Daquella manera
Dear Amy-
I need to ask for your help – you have so many readers that there must be someone out there who has found a sunblock that does not stain clothes orange once they go through the wash. I read (in another blog, are you mad?) that avobenzone is the ingredient responsible for those stains. The reason it doesn’t show up until after you wash your clothes is that it reacts with the iron in your water. You may not deal with this particular issue if you have city water or a water softener. It seems to be reserved for those of us who have well water and don’t want a water softener.
So, since I am SO SMART, I went to the drug store and bought some sunblock WITHOUT avobenzone. I took some of several sprays and lotions and applied directly to an old white t shirt, then washed the t- shirt. GUESS WHAT? Some of the sunscreens WITHOUT avobenzone still stained! Here are the results, summarized. Please feel free to share, I have posted them on WIki, and hope for feedback there too.
*PLEASE DO NOT TAKE THIS AS A GUARANTEE!!!!! These are my results, with my water and detergent, etc. spraying the sunscreen directly onto the fabric, point blank range.
BEST:
* Coppertone Oil Free lotion SPF 15, (white bottle) NO AVOBENZONE left no stain.
* NO-AD lotion SPF 15 (pink bottle) NO AVOBENZONE left a very faint “off white” stain that would not be noticed on anything except white – I suspect it’s more the oil in the lotion that the sunblock.
OK: I would use these when I had on colored fabrics, NOT WITH WHITE!!!!!
* Coppertone Dry Spray SPF 10 (brown can) NO AVOBENZONE left a faint stain that came out with bleach.
* Neutrogena Spray SPF 45 WITH Avobenzone (go figure!) left a faint stain.
* NO-AD Spray Lotion 30 (kids, Tinkerbell can) NO AVOBENZONE left a faint stain.
* Rite-Aid Spray SPF 30 (white can with purple letters) NO AVOBENZONE left a faint stain.
WORST: (significant orange stain)
* NO AD lotion SPF 50 (orange bottle) NO AVOBENZONE!?! left an orange stain. Light, but wanted to list it here because it did NOT have Avobenzone.
* Coppertone Ultraguard Spray SPF 15 (white can with blue top) WITH AVOBENZONE left horrible dark orange stains that would not come out with bleach.
* Walmart store brands of SPF 30 spray (white and purple can) WITH avobenzone.
* Coppertone Sport Lotion SPF 30 (Blue bottle) WITH Avobenzone .
SO – No avobenzone does not equal no stains, but it seems to mean the stains will be lighter. Lotions also seem to be better than sprays. Bummer. I am trying to apply and let it sink in before dressing, and when we go to the beach when I HAVE to use sprays to chase down a kid and a husband who hate sunscreen application, I guess we will wear old/colored clothes. I am going to call my local Avon rep and see what she’s got for me – I’m willing to pay for something that won’t stain, and I need something higher than SPF 15!
That said, for stains you already have, I have heard that Lestoil and Kaboom work. These are both fairly harsh cleaners, and Kaboom is meant for bathrooms, so be careful with it on your clothes! I haven’t tried them yet. Oxyclean has worked for me on some faint stains – very strong paste, soaked overnight. I have also had some success with bleach, figuring that the clothes were ruined anyway, so no matter if the bleach ruined them further. I have also heard that anything made to remove hard water/rust stains will work.
-R

Well! Goodness. I kind of feel like you submitted an entire column more than a question, because CLEARLY, you know way more than I do. I’ve…never had any sunblock stain my clothes. Occasionally I’ve gotten streaks on swimsuits, but nothing that my regular detergent with a scoop of Oxy couldn’t handle. But I do indeed have “city water” and not well water, and it falls somewhere in the middle of the hard/soft scale. So I learned something today! Huh.
I do notice, however, that you’ve mostly stuck with the major drugstore brands and none of the more “natural” brands. California Baby, for instance, claims to be non-staining right on the package. It comes in a tube and stick, though not a spray. Personally, though, I prefer the stick applicator to the spray for my wild wiggly kids — the spray bottles seem to waste a lot, clog a lot, can’t be applied indoors without making a mess, and the stick is better for faces and ears and such. Since you’ve determined that it’s not just the avobenzone that stains, it could very well be some other random chemical that’s interacting with your water. Switching the whole family to a chemical-free sunblock — even if it is technically for “babies” — might be the answer.
As for the stains, I don’t know how much help I can be, since I’ve never dealt with them in person. I HAVE used Lestoil on clothing in the past (grease stains, and such), and while I’m not sure I’d use it on my baby’s clothing (not without another wash and a BUNCH of extra rinse cycles), it’s never damaged anything. So that’s probably worth a try.
And similar to the whole baby-spit-up stain topic: putting stained clothing in the dryer is the quickest way to ruin them forever. If you notice that a stain did not come out in the wash, DON’T put it in the dryer. Pre-treat — with Oxy, Lestoil, vinegar, whatever — and try again. I also wonder (and I’m just pulling ideas out of thing air here) if letting the clothes dry in the sun would help, like with spit-up or poop stains? I’m guessing these are more like oil or grease stains than protein stains, so maybe not. Also worth a try, I suppose.
Ooh, ooh! Idea! Were the non-avobenzone sunblocks that still stained all labeled “waterproof,” by any chance? Maybe that’s the culprit, and you could opt for a non-waterproof version for times when you AREN’T at the beach or pool?
And…I am officially out of ideas. Readers? Any brand recommendations or tips for preventing or dealing with the stains?


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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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23 Responses to “Preventing & Removing Sunblock Stains”

  1. Jessica Jul 06 at 11:26 am Reply Reply

    The Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection line. It’s zinc- and titanium dioxide-based, so no avobenzone or other chemicals, and it stays put forever. I wore it on my face for a week at DisneyWorld in July, in Orlando, in crushing humidity and occasional pouring rain, and didn’t even come close to burning; didn’t even tan. With ONE application in the morning. I used Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch spf55 on the rest of me (it makes my face sting like crazy but is ok for my arms and such) and turned faint pink by the end of the week, and developed a very attractive farmer’s tan. Shiseido is a little expensive but you don’t need to use a whole lot and it is totally worth it.

  2. ksmaybe Jul 06 at 12:40 pm Reply Reply

    Not necessarily sunscreen stains…never had those, but have city water too, my all-time fave stain removing potion is a paste of Oxy and detergent, let it dry on the stain and then launder as usual. This has worked on darn near every stain I’ve tried it on, even years old stuff! I dilute my triple strength detergent a bit to do it.

  3. Heidi Jul 07 at 9:31 am Reply Reply

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am so frustrated by sunscreen stain on my sons’ clothing and can’t tell you how many pairs of white socks have been thrown away after the yellow stains became really unsightly . (BTW, read the site advising Kaboom a few weeks ago, and it’s been only partly helpful with removing current stains. Any further help anyone can give would be welcome. I have city water, too, but no water softener.) But now! I know what to try in the future–too bad I just bought a few new bottles of Coppertone Kids, which has been a major offender.

  4. amy Jul 07 at 5:33 pm Reply Reply

    This may seem a bit simple, but have you tried a laundry detergent/additive made specifically for hard water? Calgon makes a water softener made specifically to be added to your detergent to soften the water. http://www.homesolutionsnews.us/calgon/ I’m sure there are other brands as well.
    There are also varying sizes of water filtration units you can buy. The water in our house was so hard it was literally off the scale. We bought a (rather expensive) water filtration unit that filters all the water going into the house. I don’t regret it for a minute, that hard water would have destroyed our plumbing before long.
    Good luck!

  5. Caitlin Jul 09 at 2:08 am Reply Reply

    on a similar note, how does one get the mineral sunblock stains off of dark fabric? I’ve got a black bathing suit that’s now covered with white streaks from the sunblock that is impossible to rub into my skin.

  6. Brandy Jul 15 at 9:32 pm Reply Reply

    I’m SOOOOO glad I found other people who are ruining their clothing like I am!!! I’ve tried every brand out there and it’s all stained my cloths! And yes I’m on well water!! I don’t even have to put it on myself, but if I’m holding my kids and they have it on it ruins their’s and my cloths!!

    • Peggy Jun 05 at 9:19 am Reply Reply

      I too so appreciate this information. I have a softener but also well water and completely ruin light colored clothes. Hope all this great advice helps!

  7. Jean Jul 25 at 10:30 am Reply Reply

    Something else that works on many whites – spray the stain with lemon juice and then put the clothing in the sun. Make sure the sun rays hit the stain. It works about 95% of the time.

  8. Sandy Law Jul 29 at 10:15 pm Reply Reply

    OK, so I thought I’d found the reason too! Thought it was avobenzone! So I was only buying Hawaiian tropics 45. It seemed to be working until the other day, 40c weather made me sweat with the sunblock on and destroyed a tank top!!So maddening!!Yes I too have well water. So I went to the health food store and bought a natural sunblock mainly made with zinc. Now my 4 year old has a nasty sunburn, even when slathering her til she was completely white.URRGGHH!! I did find though that dishwasher detergent rubbed on a stained white t-shirt removed the stain but ruined colored articles.

  9. Chris Mar 12 at 12:15 pm Reply Reply

    I live in Florida, have very fair skin, and use sunblock every day. I not only get these stains on all my white cloths but also on my white boat. On the boat, its takes 6-12 months or the stains to fade away.
    I have not found any sunblocks that have an SPF50 or greater that do not stain but I have found that GOOP hand cleaner works very well at removing the stains. Rub it in and let it sit overnight before washing. Actually, GOOP works better than anything I have ever used for removing just about any stain from laundry.

  10. Judy Jun 01 at 7:19 pm Reply Reply

    This only started to happen to me about 4-5 years ago. We have tried every sun block we can find, they all do it. When it started to happen I was using Sunbabies, I burn very quickly and easily. I contacted them and they told me they changed the formula and where working on trying to figure out how to fix the problem. But as soon as I apply any sunblock in a few minutes of getting hot, my clothing start to get that nasty color. Last year my husband and I went out and bought all orange clothing for me for summer! that is all we can think to do. My underwear also turn orange, just from sweating. I hope someone soon figures this out. I am so glad to hear others have this issue also! Everyone I have talked to said they have no problem! I was thinking I had some strange condition!

  11. Alicia Jun 23 at 5:34 pm Reply Reply

    Ok, I read through everything here. I’m glad to see the struggles reach far and wide. I’m in Western Washington, on a far, on well water with a very expensive water softener/filtration system for heavy iron content and I have tried various brands, and mixtures of sunscreen. It does appear the higher the SPF is the worse it is. I also believe the UVB blocker is a culprit in this. We get about 3 months of nice weather a year. My son loooooves every moment outside. Clothes aren’t cheap and it really blows my kid and husband work and play on the farm only to be the only ones with their clothes turning orange the minute they start to sweat. There MUST be a solution out there!!!???!!!

  12. Kira Jul 05 at 11:29 am Reply Reply

    I have “city” water and live out a ways… farms and such are neighbors… I have a water softener and these stains are REALLY ridiculous. So, I’m not xonvinced that this would help. Even with the water softening additives as one woman suggested. I actually have yet to find something to remove the stains -sadly, purchased Coppertone- and I’m feeling like a failure because I’m the go-to for everyone I know for any kind of cleaning help. Nothing seems to get these terrible stains gone enough that they wouldn’t be noticeable. My next step, is trying to soak clothes in a baking soda/vinegar solution before applying a stain removing paste and laundering. I’ll let you all know how that goes. :)

  13. Bea Jul 06 at 1:36 pm Reply Reply

    Only this year have I had an issue with orange stains from sunblock use. I purchased a new tube of Coppertone Sport for my husband who spends a lot of time in the boat and on the golf course. His favorite golf shorts had the orange stains on them even before I washed them. After washing them, the stains had not gone away. I had even used Oxyclean in the wash in warm water.

    THEN…. I used what I refer to as my “magic spray”… a product called Classic Laundry Pre-wash Spray from Amway. That stuff removes everything, and is by far the best one I have ever used. But, it does contain some petroleum products. You have to use caution when spraying this stuff… use it outside.
    In any case…. I sprayed it on the shorts and threw it in the laundry basket and forgot about it for a day. Then, I washed them in warm water w/ detergent & Oxyclean. THE STAINS ARE GONE!!!! I think it may be the petroleum product in it. The fabric was polyester. It also worked on the same type stains left on a white cotton t-shirt. But, I added bleach to the hot water and detergent. Once again… stains are GONE! I highly recommend this Amway product.

  14. Lindsay Aug 26 at 1:47 am Reply Reply

    I emailed my sunscreen manufacturer about this and they advised that it is the BMDM reacting with the iron. Soaking in ciitric acid is the only thing that will fully remove it: from memory it is about 2 tablespoons to 1L of water for a few hours or up to overnight.

    • Diane Mar 31 at 1:08 am Reply Reply

      where do you buy citric acid? Thx

  15. Chris P May 17 at 4:41 pm Reply Reply

    I think citric acid would be in lemon juice.  

  16. Kevin May 28 at 3:13 pm Reply Reply

    I have red hair, live in the south and am a melanoma survivor. I don’t go outside without my “war paint” on. Yes, Avobenzone is the enemy in most every situation. I have used with some success the bathroom cleaner Limeaway (spelling?). Don’t be afraid. I think it says on the bottle not to put it on clothing. Not like I was going to wear the nasty looking stuff like it was. Just give it a good rinse. Limitedly successful. Seems like stuff sometimes looks OK until it gets in the dryer. I have tried air drying. Keeping stuff away from heat seems to help keep the stain from coming back…sometimes. Nothing ever seems to work out the same way twice. Good luck everyone!

  17. Nora May 28 at 9:29 pm Reply Reply

    I did the dumbest thing. I got in my shower and sprayed myself with sunscreen and I now have an orange shower mostly. I’ll buy the Works for showers and tubs and see if it works.

  18. Peggy Jun 05 at 9:25 am Reply Reply

    I’m even dumber, Nora. I didn’t realize why my shower had orange stains.

  19. Tiffanie Jun 15 at 5:26 pm Reply Reply

    My poor toe-headed child was the recipient of a good spray down yesterday at the beach with new sunscreen.Then i put on his baseball hat and turned to myself with a brand new bottle of spf50 wal-mart spray. I sprayed both of us down again, and again….we were there all day. I put on my shirt which became a little orange and streaky.Then I noticed my son’s little trunks were discolored, too. We got home and promptly jumped in our iron rich well water and voilà. ..right before our eyes, my son’s hair turned peach and we were leaving orange marks on my bathtub and walls. We got out and dried off…me furious with my husband for (what I incorrectly thought) was him not putting the correct iron reducing salt in the conditioner. Then, over his shoulder I saw it…in the mirror…..my blonde hair was red, REALLY red everywhere it came in contact with my body. Today my friends thought I has been dabbling with the new fad of hair dying called Hombre! I am so glad to know I’m not alone, yet terrified I will have to spend an arm and a leg on a zillion Malibu treatments to bring my hair back to normal….but my poor darling toe-head….unless you have some suggestions, i fear he will have to remain peachy til it grows or washes out.

    • Alison Jul 01 at 8:52 pm Reply Reply

      I currently have the same issue with my daughter! I am working on finding a resolution to this problem! Any tips you have across yet?

  20. Joan Jul 05 at 2:16 pm Reply Reply

    Before washing clothes in iron rich well water, try soaking with Iron Out too. Also helps in bath tubs. But white clothes–beware!

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