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Preventing & Removing Sunblock Stains

By Amalah

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.

* 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.
* 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.

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?


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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