How to get laundry detergent stains out of clothes — and stop it happening again

Easy tips for removing those pesky laundry detergent marks

how to wash clothes by hand - folded laundry
(Image credit: Getty/Poh Kim Yeoh / EyeEm)

Knowing how to get laundry detergent stains out of clothes is crucial for ridding your favourite pieces of unsightly marks and keeping them in the best condition.

To make the process as seamless as possible, we talked to laundry experts who’ve shared their best tips for getting detergent stains out of clothes, as well as preventing them from happening in the first place. 

From how to remove a set-in detergent stains, to the best ways to deal with a fresh mark, our experts have covered all bases. 

How to get laundry detergent stains out of clothes

Understanding how these stains build up on clothes are the key to putting the brakes on recurring marks.

James Joun, laundry expert and co-founder of Rinse, says, “Detergent stains on clothing come from a combination of using too much soap and having too much clothing in the washer. “

Cleaning expert, Karina Toner says it's important to act quickly. She says. “The sooner you address the stain, the better.”

James Joun
James Joun

James Joun is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Rinse. He is a second-generation dry cleaner and has over 20 years of industry experience having first worked at his parents' store. 

Karina Toner, Operations Manager, Spekless Cleaning
Karina Toner

Karina Toner is the operations manager at Washington D.C.-based Spekless Cleaning. 

1. Blot and rinse stains under cold water

Removing the stains are straightforward.

Karina says, “Blot excess detergent with a clean cloth or paper towel without rubbing to prevent spreading. Rinse the stained area under cold, running water to flush out the detergent. Hot water can set the stain, so it's crucial to use cold water.”

For any stubborn stains, mix equal parts white vinegar and water and blot the stain. The vinegar will help break down detergent residues and brightens the fabric.

Karina recommends pre-treating the stain before washing it for a second time in the washer, and advises applying a small amount of liquid laundry detergent directly to the stain.

She says, "Gently rub the fabric together. Allow it to sit for a few minutes before using cold water to wash the pre-treatment off and washing the item. Check the stain before drying, as heat can set any remaining residue."

2. Re-wash the item

The easiest way is to re-wash the items in a delicate cycle without the use of any soap. 

James says, “While cold water should be enough to dissolve the detergent stain, it's okay to use warm water (care label permitting) during the delicate cycle to make sure the detergent fully dissolves.”

3. Always measure detergent

How many of us take our bottle of detergent and go to town on the amount, with the hope that lovely crisps fresh linen scent will linger for longer? However, it's a big mistake to go overboard on detergent, our experts say.

James explains, “Most people use too much detergent for their loads. Read the recommended dose carefully and if it's too hard to pour precisely, lean towards under-dosing rather than overdosing."

To compound detergent matters, there's a strong chance there's residual soap already inside your washing drum from previous loads, strengthening the case for under-dosing. 

If you have trouble with nailing the amount, switch to liquid detergent pods. James recommends this to clients to avoid manually dosing. He says, "These are pre-measured and dissolve well. Avoid using any powdered detergent or powder-form pod packs as these may not fully dissolve.”

4. Use the right detergent

If your washer is a newer eco-conscious one, the water levels may be lower than previous iterations, making the dose and type of detergent you use even more crucial.

James says, “From my experience, powdered soap tends to lead to more detergent stains as the powder has to dissolve with water in order to break down. Liquid soap is already in a viscous form, which increases its chance of properly mixing with the water.”

Most, but not all washer cycles have an option to add an extra rinse, so you may opt for this next time you're figuring out how to get laundry detergent stains out of clothes.

5. Don’t overfill your machine

A common cause of laundry detergent stains is overfilling your washing machine

James says, “Make sure  you're not over-stuffing your washing machine. Ideally you're loading up to 80% of the poundage capacity of the machine. So if your machine has a 20lb maximum, you'll want to load no more than 16 lbs of clothing."

How big a load you put in the washer will impact how well water circulates. Overloading will increase the risk of the detergent failing to properly dissolve or be evenly be applied to all the clothes being washed.

Picking out clothes we love is hard enough without detergent mishaps ruining the ones we have. These expert tips will have your favourites back to tip top shape in no time. 

Don't forget to regularly clean your washing machine with vinegar for all-natural maintenance washes that will prolong the life of your appliance, and keep your clothes smelling fresh. 

Beth Mahoney
Freelance journalist

Hi! I’m Beth Mahoney and I’m a former staff writer at Real Homes. I’ve been a journalist for the national press for the past six years, specializing in commerce and trends-related lifestyle articles, from product reviews and listicles to guides and features. With an eye for pretty things (think: quirky wall prints, scalloped edge furniture, and decadent-looking tableware) but a limited budget, I love nothing more than a bargain buy.