Rust is bad enough on any set of clothes but it can be especially bad on white clothes since it stands out so much more. It’s not as easy to get rid of rust as you would grease or dirt but with a few household items and some elbow grease, you can have your white shirts looking new again.

You can remove rust stains from white clothes with white vinegar or lemon. A soft cloth soaked in either of these will usually remove small rust stains after some light scrubbing. A little salt on the cloth can also be a good abrasive and add some extra cleaning power.

This article will give you a thorough breakdown of how to remove rust stains from white clothes. You will also get a few tips on what may also help remove the unsightly rust stains from your white clothes — and what you should avoid.

1. Attend to Rust Stains Immediately

Rust stains are difficult to treat and remove overall, and waiting to treat the stain can make these already challenging stains much more difficult to remove. When rust stains sit on clothing for too long, there is a chance that the stain can permanently set.

The sooner a rust stain is acted on, the more likely you will be able to remove it. Letting a rust stain- or any other stain- sit overnight increases the chances that the stain will not come out of the fabric.

2. Use Lemon Juice or White Vinegar

Rust stains are not a common household stain, yet they are one of the most challenging ones to remove. While all stains should not be treated the same, this is particularly true for rust stains. Fortunately, with the right products, patience, and determination, you should be able to remove rust stains from white clothing.

In order to remove rust stains, you must first understand their makeup. Rust stains contain iron oxide, which can wreak havoc on surfaces that it comes in contact with.

To combat the iron dioxide in rust, you will need to use acidic products. There are some commercially produced rust removers, but they can be damaging to clothing. It is best to read the label on the product before purchasing and using it on clothing.

Further, commercially produced rust removers contain harsh chemicals and usually require some caution. Failing to do so could damage other surfaces the product comes in contact with or irritate your skin.

Using Lemon Juice to Remove Rust Stains

To remove rust stains from white clothes, you may have to look no further than your refrigerator. Fresh lemon, which is a highly acidic fruit, is one of the two recommended methods to remove rust stains from your white clothes.

This article pertains to white clothing specifically. However, if you have darker-colored clothing, lemon juice may not be the best option to remove rust stains as it could have a bleaching effect on the clothes.

Here’s how to use lemon juice to remove rust stains:

  1. To begin, first apply salt to the rust stain.
  2. Next, fully saturate the rust stain with lemon juice.
  3. Let the salt and lemon juice sit on the rust stain for at least ten minutes.
  4. After ten minutes have passed, blot the stained area with a clean white towel.

Using White Vinegar to Remove Rust Stains

White vinegar is superior to lemon juice when removing rust stains, but you will follow the same steps as you would with the lemon juice with only a slight variation.

Here’s how to use vinegar to remove rust stains:

  1. Saturate the rust stain with the white vinegar just as you would with the lemon juice.
  2. Allow the vinegar to soak into the clothes. Aim for a minimum 30-minute soak, but up to two hours is considered safe.
  3. Finally, you will need to blot at the stain with a clean white towel.

3. Blot at Rust Stains

Your first attempt to remove a stain may be to rub a stain out. However, a stain should never be rubbed at. Rubbing a stain will not help lift the stain. In fact, it only drives the stain deeper into the fabric.

The best method to lift rust stains is by blotting at them with a clean cloth. As I mentioned above, heat should be avoided so never blot with hot water as it can set the stain.

4. Set the White Clothes Out in the Sun

Sunlight is an excellent stain remover. When using either of the above methods, the rust stain is more likely to disappear if you let it sit out in the sun.

You may be wondering just how the sun serves as a stain remover. The sun’s rays consist of approximately ten percent ultraviolet radiation, and even less of these UV rays reach the ground. The ultraviolet radiation breaks down the molecules in the stains, and the stain is no longer able to hold.

You should first apply the lemon or vinegar to the rust stain as directed, then lay it out flat in direct sunlight.

The best way to use the sun to remove rust stains is by hanging the garments on a clothing line using clothespins. If hanging the clothes outside is not an option, you can place them on a flat indoor surface that gets direct sunlight.

Two to three hours should do the trick. If the rust stain is particularly stubborn, you can repeat the process another day rather than leaving it out for hours at a time on the same day.

5. Launder After Treating Rust Stains

After you have treated the rust stain, first properly check and ensure the rust stain is truly gone. Rust stains can be stubborn hanging on to your clothes in lighter shades. This makes it necessary to check each of your affected clothes thoroughly.

If the stain isn’t completely gone (even if it’s very light now), you will need to repeat the steps above before you proceed.

If the rust stain is no longer visible, you can move on to the next step of the process: laundering the garment. This step is relatively easy.

Essentially, you’re following your usual laundry routine for white clothes with a few modifications.

Mainly, you should air-dry the garment after this first washing as opposed to a heat dry. You should also use cold water throughout the process and avoid bleach.

Avoiding heat and bleach is key here for a few reasons which I’ll cover in the next section.

6. Keep the Clothes Away From Heat and Bleach

As bad as rust stains are, the situation can easily get worse once you launder or expose them to heat. Bleach is a common choice for white clothes for its stain removal properties as well as washing in hot water. While it’s good for a wide range of applications, you should never use chlorine bleach or heat on rust stains.

Always Avoid Bleach

You may be tempted to use chlorine bleach to remove rust stains. After all, chlorine bleach is a tried and true go-to to whiten whites and remove other stains. However, when it comes to rust stains, it is best to avoid bleach at all costs.

There’s a bit of chemistry involved but the summary is that the chlorine in bleach and the iron from rust are highly reactive. As a result, using a chlorine bleach on rust stains can significantly worsen it, making it a lot harder to remove.

Avoid Heat

Heat can also make rust stains set. Because of this, you will need to avoid applying any heat, including washing, heat drying, and ironing until the stain is completely gone.

The clothes dry is exceptionally hot; probably hotter than most of us realize. If you see hints of the rust stain, do not put the garment into the dryer. You will want to treat and rewash it before it goes into your clothes dryer.

7. Know When to Take Rust-Stained Clothes to a Professional

Sometimes, rust stains should not be treated at home. Clothing made of delicate fabric, like leather, rayon, silk, suede, or wool, should be taken to a dry cleaner.

The dry cleaner is a lot more experienced and will know how to remove stains without ruining the fabric in the process.

8. Find the Source of the Rust

If rust stains begin to appear on freshly laundered white clothes, your culprits are likely either your washing machine itself or your pipes. When water comes into contact with iron, rust may begin to form.

While pipes in most modern homes use PVC piping, older homes may have iron pipes. Likewise, the tub of your washer may become rusty. Over time, the rust may break away, depositing rust on your white clothing.

Finding the source of the rust will prevent the problem from recurring. While the fix may be pricey, it will save you from the misery of inspecting your clothing for rust stains and going through the steps above to treat stains as they appear.

A Word or Two in Closing

While rust stains can be stubborn, they are fortunately not a common household stain. Simple household staples like lemon juice and white vinegar can get rust stains out of your favorite white clothes easily.

However, it’s vital to always remember that heat will set the stain. Until the stain is completely gone, do not use hot water on it and air dry your clothes rather than using the dryer.

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