What Causes Stains on Clothes After Washing (& How to Remove Them)

If you've ever had your clothing get stained while it's in the washer, don't worry - you can get stains out & prevent them in the future.

Published June 26, 2023
woman inspecting a laundry stain

You're pulling your warm laundry out of the dryer, blissfully unaware that your washing machine just committed treason. It didn't leave your clothes cleaner than they were before you put them in. Those black smudgy spots and blue stains are the bane of anyone who's running late and needs a freshly washed uniform. But all is not lost. You can conquer those stains that pop up after washing with these helpful tips.

Where Do Post-Washing Stains Come From?

There's not one universal reason that you might have stains appear on your clothes after washing. But there are a few reasons you can troubleshoot to keep those stains from becoming a common occurrence.

You Forgot to Look for Stains Before Washing

Before putting a serious dent into your savings and buying a new washing machine, make sure that you aren't missing hidden or hard-to-see stains before putting them in the wash. When treated and heated, these stains might spread or become more obvious.

Quick Tip

Before every wash, inspect your clothes for any new stains so that you can pre-treat them properly.

Your Washing Drum Is Dirty

Nearly every appliance has a recommended cleaning and maintenance routine, yet we all go months without having the thought of deep cleaning cross our minds. Washing machines are no different and need to be cleaned about once a month. This is especially important if you leave your clothes in the washer for a few hours before switching them over or keep your washer closed all the time.

Bacteria and mildew can grow inside the drum and spread onto your clothes during the wash cycle. And on top of that horrific situation, they can also make your clothes smell funky.

You're Using Too Much Detergent or Softener

It's important to check your washing machine's manual for the type of detergent that it requires. Higher-efficiency washing machines need less detergent and/or detergent pods, so if you're finding white or blue cast stains on your clothes right after the wash, you could be putting too much soap into the drum.

High-efficiency washers don't use as much water in the wash cycle as older models. When you add too much soap, it will make so many suds that the machine won't be able to completely wash them out of your clothes.

You Could Have Rust in Either the Washing Machine or Dryer

Rust is a frustrating culprit that you usually won't notice until you've got some reddish-brown staining. And with rust stains, if it's on internal mechanisms, you might need to call a repair technician to service your machines.

Something Might Be Stuck in Your Machine

Things like pens, markers, and dyed products can continue staining clothes cycle after cycle until they run out of ink or are removed. Check your pockets before tossing clothes into the wash so that you don't accidentally lose a pen to the washing machine void.

How to Treat Post-Wash Stains

It's all very good and well to figure out what caused the new stains to appear, but that doesn't make getting rid of them any easier. Thankfully, if you catch these stains before they've been washed and dried multiple times, you should be able to get rid of them.

Mold/Mildew Stains

If you've got those slimy blackish green smudges all over your clothes, then you've probably got some mold coming out in your wash cycle. Although mold feels like something you'd want to ring the alarm bells for, you can easily get it out of the clothes using a diluted vinegar bath.

Scrape off as much mold as you can find (try doing this outside to avoid spores spreading) and soak the affected clothes in a gallon or two of water with a cup of distilled vinegar for 30 minutes. Once you pull them out, just toss them through the regular wash cycle (after you've washed your machine, of course).

Blue or White Laundry Detergent Stains

There are many ways to get rid of laundry soap stains. You can follow the same vinegar recipe and process as with the mold and mildew-stained clothes, or you can try out one of these other methods to remove detergent stains.

Rust Stains

Rust stains are pesky little spots that don't take too much work to get rid of. One way to clear the rust stains out of your clothes is by adding a cup of lemon juice to your laundry detergent load. Then, put your clothes through their regular wash cycle.

Rust stains need a more targeted approach? Check out these other methods to get rust stains out of your clothes.

Dye Stains

If you messed up and forgot to check if a new shirt would bleed in the wash, and now you have a load of slightly pink clothes, you'll want to grab a bottle of bleach or RIT Color Remover. Essentially, you need to strip your clothes of the new dye. You can douse fully natural fibers in heavily diluted bleach (1/4 cup to 1 gallon water), while synthetic fibers should be processed with color remover. After treating the clothes, wash them through your regular cycle.

Ways to Prevent Post-Wash Stains in the First Place

man sorting laundry

If you want to protect your clothes from getting stains during the washing and drying process, try these preventative measures:

  • Check your clothes for stains before and after washing to detect any changes right away.
  • Use a professional laundry cleaner once a month to fully clean out the drum of any mold or mildew.
  • Check your washing machine manuals to see what kind of laundry detergent to use and how much.
  • Test all of your questionable dyed fabrics to see if they'll bleed in the wash by soaking them in a little water and checking the water for a color change.

When Should You Call It Quits on Your Stained Clothes?

Transitioning clothing from your closet to your rag pile is a highly conditional choice. Everyone has different standards of cleanliness and order when it comes to their clothes. So, for you, a stained shirt might just get rotated into your workout ensemble, while for others, it means it's got to go.

A few standards for calling it quits on your stained clothes include:

  • If it's starting to grow mold (it'll look like little black flecks), it's time to toss it.
  • If you're feeling self-conscious about wearing it and never pull it out of the clean pile, rotate it out.
  • If it can't serve its purpose anymore, it's time to remove it. For example, a work uniform polo with the logo completely obliterated.

Washing Is Supposed to Keep Your Clothes Clean

Going through the whole rigamarole of sorting your clothes, putting them in the wash, then taking them out and tossing them in the dryer is supposed to result in perfectly clean and spotless outfits. But sometimes, opposite day hits, and your washing machine dirties your clothes instead. Avoid getting stains on your clothes after washing by cleaning and maintaining your machines on a regular basis and attacking stains right when they happen.

What Causes Stains on Clothes After Washing (& How to Remove Them)