Sunscreen is a thing we all know we need to wear. (Right? Right. Just checking.) But it can make a huge mess when it gets on your clothes, and it’s not the easiest stain to remove. It can be done, though! As they say, knowledge is power and that is certainly true of sunscreen stain removal, because it’s not your average stain.
The biggest thing you need to know about how to clean sunscreen stains are that there are actually two kinds of stains that occur when it gets on your clothes — grease stains and the more vexing stains that show up as looking pink or orange in color.
We’ll tackle the greasy sort of stains first, because they’re more straightforward (that’s foreshadowing!) and easier to treat.
When it comes to removing the greasy variety of sunscreen stains, i.e. the ones that render fabric darker, the way a salad oil stain would, use a multi-purpose product like Lestoil or Pine Sol to pre-treat the stains. Dab a small amount — a teaspoon up to a tablespoon, depending on the size of the stain — onto the affected area with a clean rag, sponge or paper towel and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes before laundering as usual. Be sure to check that the stain came out in the wash before drying the garment, which will set any residual staining.
It’s the other kind of stain, the one that appears to be pink or orange, that’s more of a challenge.
You up for a tiny science lesson? Great, I promise I’ll make it brief! Many sunblocks contain an ingredient called avobenzone. Remember that name. Avobenzone has a chemical reaction with iron particles that are found in water (this is especially pronounced if you have hard water) that causes, essentially, rust stains. So rust stains are what you have to treat if you find those pink/orange stains caused by sunscreen.
Before I tell you how to do that, I want to start with what not to do. The use of both chlorine and oxygenated bleaches are out — both of those products will make those rust stains worse. I know! Totally nuts, but also totally true.
So, then, what to use?! Well, there are a few options, both DIY and commercial.
On the commercial side of things, you can treat rust stains using a product like Rust Away Stain Remover, or Carbona Stain Devils #9 (Rust and Perspiration). These products can vary, in terms of usage, so this is your friendly reminder to always check the manufacturer’s instructions before using.
On the DIY/all-natural tip, lemon juice and salt can be used in combination to get rust stains out. Start by rinsing the garment in cool water, then squeeze the juice of half a lemon on the stains, then pour a good dose of salt over the juice. Allow that to sit overnight and then launder as usual after brushing away the salt.
It’s well worth noting that the spray-on sunscreens are especially prone to cause staining, since you have less control over where they end up. The lotion version is a bit more cumbersome, application-wise, but is easier to keep away from your clothes. Of course, the best option is to be diligent about checking the ingredients list on sunblock before purchasing, and staying away from formulas that contain avobenzone.