How to Treat Avobenzone (Sunscreen) Stains

Have you ever taken a shirt out of the washer and found it covered with mysterious orange stains? If this has happened to you, you were probably completely stupefied by the incident. What could have caused such a catastrophic laundry mishap? Could it have been the detergent you used? Could it have been dye from a different garment? Did an orange marker somehow make its way into your washer? Although all of these are great theories, there is one likely culprit that you would never suspect. It comes in either a lotion or spray and you’ve been lathering it on since skin cancer became a well known health threat.  I’m talking about sunscreen; great for your skin, terrible for your clothes.
Woman hand putting sunscreen lotion on child face
In all fairness to sun screen, there is another compound needed to make these stains come about. The other agent responsible is iron minerals commonly found in hard water.

Here’s how it all goes down:

1.) Sunscreen applied to your skin rubs off onto your clothing.
2.) Avobenzone, an ingredient in sunscreen, oxidizes the iron minerals found in the water.
3.) The reaction between the avobenzone and iron cause a colored stain (rust) on your garment.

You’ve identified the culprit, it’s time to look at solutions.

Your skin is by far more valuable than your clothing so ditching the sunscreen is not an option, and unless your last name is Gates buying brand new clothes all the time is not an option either. Instead swap out your current sunscreen for one that is avobenzone-free. Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic both offer avobenzone-free lotions for just a little more than the cost of their avobenzone-containing counterparts. If you don’t want to use a different sunscreen, you can take preventative measures like waiting for the sunscreen to completely dry before putting on your clothes.

To remove stains out of your laundry follow these steps:

1.) Depending on the saturation of the orange stain, you may or may not need the soak the garment in an enzyme-breaking solution of water and oxygen cleaner (Oxiclean) for 12 hours. If the stain is light, applying an over the counter stain treatment such as Resolve and letting it sit for 5 minutes should do the trick.  On white clothing, you can apply bleach directly to the garment as long as the clothing care instructions do not specifically prohibit bleach.
2.) Wash the item on the hottest setting tolerated by the fabric.
3.) When the wash is done, check to see if the stain has been lifted. If it’s still present, repeat the previous steps. DO NOT PUT IT IN THE DRYER! Heat from the dryer will cause the stain to set in.
If you follow these steps you can have it all; beautiful healthy skin, and well-kept clothing!
Need a hand with the laundry?  Let us take care of the stain treatments, hand-washing and air-drying while you have fun in the sun.