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How to get sunscreen stains out of white clothes

how to remove sunscreen stains
How to remove sunscreen stains from clothing. (Getty Images)

It's hard to avoid the benefits of using sunscreen; protection from harmful UVA and UVB rays, and of course preventing sunburn which can lead to an increased chance of developing skin cancer make it the best anti-ageing ingredient out there.

Despite its plethora of advantages, there is one downside that is rarely mentioned: sunscreen stains. You know the ones I mean. The lovely yellow patches that discolour the neckline and armpits of your white T-shirts.

That's not to say you should stop using sunscreen by any means but with summer around the corner, and the wardrobe swap from wintery layers to lighter fabrics and colours in full swing, maybe you’ve pulled out a few less-than-appealing looking white T-shirts with suncream stains.

Don’t throw them in the clothes recycling pile just yet. With a little expert input, you can get those sunscreen stained clothes looking brand new again.

Keep reading to discover the best way to remove sunscreen stains, and how to prevent them in the future.

yellow dirty stain sweat on white armpit shirt
Yellow sunscreen stains can appear in particular on collars and armpits of white shirt. (Getty Images)

Why does sunscreen stain clothes in the first place?

It's all down to the ingredients in some formulas. Sunscreens contain UV filters which have a slight yellowish colour. It is this colour which leads to unsightly yellow sunscreen stains on white T-shirts, for example.

Oils are also added to formulas to moisturise the skin and stop dehydration, so it’s not unusual to notice an oily-looking mark on darker and coloured clothes, or a yellowish stain on white clothes after a day in the sun.

The good news is that there are just a few steps standing between you and a stain-free summer wardrobe.

View of laundry room with washing machine and laundry basket with dirt clothes
Pre-treating stains can give clothing a better chance in the washing machine. (Getty Images)

How to wash sunscreen out of clothes

Don’t let sunscreen sit if you can help it. Sunscreen stains can usually be treated pretty easily but like with most stains, the longer the sunscreen sits on the clothing, the harder it will be to remove.

Getting that oil off and out of the fabric early is key to making sure the rubbing or spill doesn’t turn into a stain.

  • Try to start the cleaning process as soon as you notice a spill or stain start to appear.

  • Scrape away any excess sunscreen and rinse with cold water, not warm.

  • For particularly oily stains, a powdered stain remover or even corn flour sprinkled over the area can help to soak up as much of the oil as possible before treating. Let the powder sit on the stain for half an hour before brushing it off.

  • If you can’t treat a sunscreen spill right away, (for example, if you are at the beach) you can use sand or talcum powder to soak up as much of the sunscreen at the time.

How to get sunscreen stains out of clothes

Once you get the majority of the sunscreen off the clothing, washing out the stain can be much easier.

  • Pre-treating the stain with a laundry detergent that targets oily stains such as Dr Beckmann Stain Devils for Oils and Sauces (£3.25, Amazon) can really go the extra mile in preventing it from staying around.

  • Make sure to use a stain remover specific to the type of fabric you have. For example, silk will need a particularly gentle stain remover such as the Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover Pen (£6.49, Amazon).

  • You can also try soaking the item in a bath of white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda to break down some of the oils before washing.

  • Wash the item according to washing label instructions, adding stain remover to the cycle where possible. Dr Beckmann's Glo-White sachets (£1.45, Amazon) can be added straight to the drum.

Laundry is hung up on an outside washing line to dry on a sunny day.
Sunlight acts as a natural bleaching agent, and can help to remove pesky sunscreen stains from white clothes. (Getty Images)

How to get sunscreen stains out of white clothing

Unfortunately, white clothes are particularly vulnerable to sunscreen stains. Even if you get all of the oil out, the stain can leave a yellow mark where the sunscreen used to be.

But don’t lose hope. There are still some tricks you can use to try and get those pesky yellow sunscreen stains out of your clothing, by lightly bleaching the white clothing in one of three ways:

  • After completing the above pre-treatment and washing steps, hang your whites out in the sunlight if you can. The sun will have a natural bleaching effect on the yellowing stains.

  • For a little extra push, squeeze some lemon juice straight onto the stain and then leave in the sun. Lemon juice contains citric acid, which is another natural bleaching agent.

  • If you’re still struggling to eliminate those stubborn stains, you may want to try a chemical bleaching agent as a last resort. If you’re reaching for a pure bleaching agent, dilute with water before applying to clothes, or you can try a clothing-specific treatment such as Ace Stain Remover for Whites (£1.85, Waitrose), which already contains a small amount of bleach

Orange tube with suntan lotion, cosmetic face cream or hand cream, shower gel, shampoo against the background of blue turquoise water with waves from the swimming pool.  Body, Hair Skin care nature concept.  Flat lay. Copy space. Close-up.
Some sunscreens are more likely to stain clothing, depending on their ingredients. (Getty Images)

How to prevent sunscreen staining clothes

Don’t avoid sunscreen entirely, but you might be able to lessen the staining problem simply by changing the type of sunscreen that you use, and how you apply.

  • Applying sunscreen 15 minutes before getting dressed is recommended by most brands, and waiting for it to totally dry before letting it touch clothing avoids transfer.

  • Try to avoid formulas with excessive amounts of oil, or better still, try an oil-free sunscreen such as Supergoop! Unseen Screen (£17 for 15ml, Cult Beauty).

  • One ingredient that is a particularly bad culprit for staining is avobenzone, a broad-range UV protector that unfortunately leaves a yellow mark. Sunscreen for kids and babies are made without avobenzone so they’re a good place to start.

  • Some brands like Eucerin have tried to tackle the staining issue within the formula, by adding an anti-redeposition agent that prevents the UV filter (which causes staining) from binding with the fabric.

Five non-staining sunscreens to pack in your suitcase this summer

Buy it: Eucerin Sun Sensitive Protect Kids SPF50+ | £14.62 from Amazon

Buy it: Ultrasun SPF30 Face | £17.60 (Was £22) from Lookfantastic

Buy it: Supergoop! Unseen Screen 15ml | £17 from Cult Beauty

Buy it: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-Shine SPF50+ Sun Cream 50ml | £15.68 (Was £20.90) from Lookfantastic

Buy it: Garnier Ambre Solaire Invisible Protect Spray SPF50 Transparent Sun Cream Spray 200ml | £6.50 (Was £13) from Lookfantastic