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Preventing & Removing Sunblock Stains

By Amalah

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.
* 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.

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?


Published July 5, 2009. Last updated July 5, 2009.
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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  • Jessica

    July 6, 2009 at 11:26 am

    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.

  • ksmaybe

    July 6, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    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.

  • Heidi

    July 7, 2009 at 9:31 am

    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.

    • Joan

      July 21, 2015 at 11:36 pm

      I find that “the Works” toilet cleaner in the blue and white bottle takes the stains out after soaking in this with water.  It also takes the stains out of our white boat interior.  On the boat, I use the green and whit bottle.  Very Very cheap, too!

    • Tammy

      July 24, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      I have tried just about everything to remove sunscreen stains except the citric acid mentioned. Well, I didn’t have any citric acid but I had lemon juice. I poured it on the stains and let it sit a few hours and it worked!!

  • amy

    July 7, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    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. 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!

  • Caitlin

    July 9, 2009 at 2:08 am

    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.

  • Brandy

    July 15, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    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

      June 5, 2014 at 9:19 am

      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!

  • Jean

    July 25, 2009 at 10:30 am

    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.

  • Sandy Law

    July 29, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    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.

  • Chris

    March 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    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.

  • Judy

    June 1, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    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!

  • Alicia

    June 23, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    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!!!???!!!

  • Kira

    July 5, 2013 at 11:29 am

    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. 🙂

  • Bea

    July 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    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.

  • Lindsay

    August 26, 2013 at 1:47 am

    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

      March 31, 2014 at 1:08 am

      where do you buy citric acid? Thx

    • Gina

      June 18, 2015 at 10:35 am

      Citric acid worked like a charm!  I could see the orange in the sleeves of my white cotton cardigan fade away before my eyes to match the super white of the body.  Oxiclean did nothing for the sleeves at all – just made the body whiter.  i had a bag of citric acid crystals on hand from my experimenting with homemade dishwasher detergent.  Bought it at a wine-making supply store.

  • Chris P

    May 17, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I think citric acid would be in lemon juice.  

  • Kevin

    May 28, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    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!

  • Nora

    May 28, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    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.

  • Peggy

    June 5, 2014 at 9:25 am

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

  • Tiffanie

    June 15, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    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… 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

      July 1, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      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?

  • Joan

    July 5, 2014 at 2:16 pm

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

  • Sophie

    November 6, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    I read this article after a recent incident with sunscreen badly staining some favourite clothes, I did some research of my own and have come up with an easy fix that I wish to share with everyone and surprisingly doesn’t seem to be well known.

    This remedy easily removes the orange/brown stains from sunscreen that seem to magically appear only after the clothing has been laundered.

    The stains are caused by Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane (BMDM) which can react with traces of iron in the water causing horrid and very hard to remove brownish stains. Some sunscreens contain more of this ingredient than others.

    The simple way to fix it is not with a multitude of complex stain removers, bleach or vigorous rubbing but simply citric acid which is available from most supermarkets. Mix two tablespoons of citric acid granules per litre of cold water and soak the stain for a couple of hours or even over night. Rinse in clean water and hang to dry as usual. Safe to use on even coloured clothing and the only thing I have found to easily remove those stubborn marks.

    • brenda

      May 15, 2015 at 5:11 pm

      Does it work wiyh Orange stains that show before washing?

  • Pat

    March 14, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    The scope of my staining problem is pretty dramatic in that I operate a linen rental service for beach vacationers who slather themselves and the kids with this stuff all day long. The damage is staggering and the loss of income? Enormous.
    I have tried nearly every single product listed above and have only had minor success with Iron Out.
    I will be trying the Amway product suggested and the citric acid and if anyone comes up with any miracles, I am all ears.

  • Elyse

    March 21, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Wow more people out there then I thought. I have the worst problems with this. Just wondering are these products available in Australia? We live in Queensland and its very hot here my girls are very fair skinned and i put sun cream on them every day the 50plus stuff. Their clothes look ridiculous and of course its all their favourite things plus a very expensive school uniform. Thanks for all the advice now to try find these here.

  • Robyn

    May 12, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Just ruined a white J.Jill tank top with Nuetragena SPF 45 Sunscreen. Turned it orange. When I put stain remover on it and washed it again it came out full of holes.

  • Donna

    June 15, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Well, As I figure my shirt is ruined already..I doused my white (previously ORANGE) shirt in “The Works” Tub and Shower cleaner… and,, well.. it worked… I’ve got a teal swimsuit soaking in it now…. I’ll let you know if it comes out of the suit or if either of them fall apart… 

    • Donna

      June 15, 2015 at 10:22 am

      OK! So, My suit and shirt are now stain free! I’ll let you know if they fall apart!! 

  • Penny

    June 27, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    I am so upset at the moment! I bought a MK swimsuit, navy and white stripes. Wore it yesterday in the pool and loved it! I am the Mom of a Melanoma survivor, so sun screen is a must, we use Kiss My Face 50 SPF! So far, I have soaked it overnight in vinegar and now lemon juice! Praying…I am very sad for Tiffanie and her son! Getting ready to try Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover! Will let you know…

    • Dana

      August 20, 2015 at 2:28 pm

      Penny you did not let us know!

  • Liz

    July 5, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Soaking suits in a solution of baking soda and warm water OR vinegar and warm water work well.

  • Jen

    July 27, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    How about this… Ugh, somehow a bottle almost empty got into my washer with about $160 worth of brand new clothes and a wet pool towel, which I assume is where it was hiding!!! I started switching the clothes over to the dryer when I found the cap less bottle! The wash didn’t seem covers until I discovered the bottle. I immediately moved the few pieces den the dryer back to the washer and am running it through again. I REALLY hope the gobs of white cream come off the new clothes without staining them. 🙁

  • Judy

    January 1, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    I hate to say this, but Oil of Olay 7-in-1 lotion (which is SPF15) leaves orange on all my white clothes around the collar. When I apply OoO, I also put it on my neck thus the orange around the neck. My problem is I need to apply SPF, but the discoloration does not come out (yes, I am on well water with high iron content). I am wondering, after reading this article, if it is the combination of oil and the chemical additive in these lotions? Anyway, will see how the future goes knowing these issues.