This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Amazon affiliate disclosure at the bottom of this page or click here.
We all know the benefits of using sunscreen and how important it is to keep our skin and our kids’ skin well protected from the sun by topping up on sunscreen regularly throughout the day.
But one of the major downsides to regularly applying of sunscreen is that it can stain our clothes.
Especially light coloured clothes and most annoyingly of all, white clothes.
Beautiful, crisp, white clothes that set off our lovely summer skin.
Except they don’t look so lovely if there is a greasy looking yellow stain around the neckline and cuffs.
Why does sunscreen stain fabric?
Most sunscreen can cause a slightly oily stain, which can be easily removed if you know how – more on that further down the post.
There’s also a super simple way to prevent sunscreen staining in the first place – if you have time – more on that further down the post too.
The biggie for the cause of stains is for those of us lucky (!) people living in hard water areas.
Because it’s the reaction of the minerals in hard water with certain ingredients found in a lot of sunscreens that causes the oily residue to go darker and become much harder to get rid of.
The main culprit ingredient in sunscreen is called avobenzone.
When avobenzone mixes with minerals found in hard water, it can lead to brown, rust-like stains.
The depth of the problem depends on the type of fabric it ends up on.
Synthetics will stain more easily than cotton or other natural fabrics for example.
How to avoid avobenzone staining your clothes
Firstly – and this is the rub if you are applying sunscreen whilst out and about – make sure the sunscreen you’ve applied is dry before you put on your clothes or put clothes on your child.
Secondly, check the ingredients before you buy a sunscreen and buy one that doesn’t contain avobenzone.
The best way to avoid avobenzone in your sunscreen is to look for a mineral sunscreen product rather than a chemical one.
The added benefit is that mineral sunscreens are much better for both us and the planet.
How to remove sunscreen stains from washable fabrics
Minimise if you can’t treat straight away
If you can’t treat a sunscreen stain right away, at least try to remove any splodges of sunscreen from your clothes without rubbing it in further.
If you’re at the beach you can use sand to soak it up. Just let the sand sit on the stain for around 15 minutes, to make sure it absorbs all the oil it can.
How to treat washable fabrics – if hard water isn’t a big issue
Pretreat the sunscreen stain with a prewash stain remover or by covering it in heavy duty liquid washing detergent.
This is where a biological washing liquid works best over non-biological.
Why biological – because you’re relying on the enzymes to break apart the oiliness of the stain.
Work the stain remover or liquid detergent into the sunscreen stain with either your fingers or a soft bristled brush.
Let the stain remover / detergent work on the stain for at least 15 minutes.
Once you’ve done this, wash the clothing on the hottest wash possible – check the care label to be sure before you boil your favourite top into a doll sized top!
Be cautious before drying
Check the clothing for stains before you start drying it.
Ideally dry the clothing out on a washing line in the sunshine, because sunshine will help fade any discolouration.
What you want to be super careful of though, is not to put any clothing that is still stained into the tumble dryer.
It is MUCH more difficult to remove stains once they’ve been set in by tumble drying.
So, if in doubt, put the clothing through the wash again until you are happy that the stain is as faint / non-existent as you’re happy with.
How to treat washable fabrics in hard water areas
If the water in your area has a high mineral content – i.e is hard water – use a water softener or distilled water to wash the sunscreen stained item.
If you are using a water softener for hard water, you should also avoid using excessively hot water.
You should also avoid products with chlorine bleach in them. Because they can react with hard water to make the problem worse.
If you find the stain still prevails, use a commercial rust remover. Though this can only be used on white or colourfast fabrics.
Sunscreen Stains and Dry Clean Only Fabrics
If you get a sunscreen stain on clothing that is dry clean only, it really is best to take it the dry cleaners.
Do it as soon as possible.
The longer the stain is on there, the less likely it is that it can be completely removed.
Always make sure to point out to the cleaner where the stain is and how it was caused.
I really hope you find these tips useful.
We’ve all been there with the lovely piece of clothing that has been trashed by sunscreen.
I’ve found that using these simple tips I’ve managed to reduce the collateral damage caused by applying sunscreen.
Which makes me much more likely to reapply sunscreen during the day.
So it’s win / win for my clothes and the skin health of my family and me.
Go forth and enjoy the summer sunshine safe in the knowledge that there is a way to save your clothes from dreaded sunscreen stains.
If you’ve found this post useful, you might also like other posts in our Laundry series. It’s all about making doing the laundry just that bit less painful!!
I’d also love it if you pop over and read my post on How Safe Is Your Sun Protection?
We’re at the point where any of us using chemical sunscreens when we’re in the water – the sea or lakes – are damaging marine and water life so badly, that Hawaii has become the first State in the US to ban chemical sunscreens altogether.
It’s likely that many countries round the world will soon move to do the same.
Pin to save: