How to get rust stains out of clothes

Rust stains can be a real headache, especially when they show up on your favourite pieces of clothing. These unsightly reddish-brown marks can be stubborn and challenging to remove, but with the right techniques and products, you can effectively tackle them and keep your clothes looking their best. In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore various methods and tips to help you get rid of those pesky rust stains and keep your wardrobe in tip-top shape.

get rust stains out of clothes

Rust Stains

Rust stains are caused by the oxidation of iron, a common element found in many everyday objects. When iron-containing materials like nails, tools, or even water pipes come into contact with moisture and air, they can leave behind these distinctive stains. The chemical reaction that occurs during the oxidation process creates the reddish-brown discolouration that we know as rust.

Rust stains can be particularly stubborn because the iron particles become embedded in the fabric fibres, making them resistant to regular washing. Additionally, the longer the stain is left untreated, the more difficult it becomes to remove, as the oxidation process continues to deepen the discolouration.

Pretreatment: The Key to Effective Stain Removal

Before attempting to remove a rust stain, it’s essential to pretreat the affected area. This step helps to loosen and lift the stain, making it easier to remove during the washing process. Here are some effective pretreatment methods:

  1. Lemon Juice or Vinegar: The acidic properties of lemon juice or white vinegar can help break down the iron particles in the stain. Simply apply either of these liquids directly to the affected area and let it sit for a few minutes before washing.
  2. Baking Soda Paste: Create a paste by mixing baking soda with a small amount of water. Gently rub the paste into the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour before washing.
  3. Commercial Rust Remover: There are several commercial products specifically designed to remove rust stains, such as Whink Rust Stain Remover or Iron Out Rust Stain Remover. Follow the instructions on the product packaging for the best results.
  4. Salt and Lemon: For a natural alternative, make a paste with salt and lemon juice, and gently scrub it into the stain before washing.

After pretreatment, be sure to check the care label on your garment and wash the item as recommended, using the hottest water safe for the fabric.

Washing Techniques and Tricks

Once you’ve pretreated the rust stain, it’s time to tackle the washing process. Here are some effective techniques and tricks to help remove those stubborn stains:

  1. Oxygen-Based Bleach: Opt for an oxygen-based bleach (like OxiClean or Persil ProClean) rather than chlorine-based bleach, as the former is less likely to set the stain or cause further damage to the fabric.
  2. Enzymatic Detergent: Look for a laundry detergent that contains enzymes, such as Persil ProClean or All Mighty Pacs, as these specialized proteins can help break down rust stains.
  3. Soaking: If the stain is particularly stubborn, try soaking the item in a solution of warm water and oxygen-based bleach or an enzyme-based cleaner, such as Biz Stain Fighter, for 30 minutes to an hour before washing.
  4. Agitation: Gently scrubbing the affected area with a soft-bristled brush or rubbing the fabric together can help dislodge the stain during the wash cycle.
  5. Repeated Washing: It may take several wash cycles to completely remove a stubborn rust stain. Be patient and persistent, and don’t hesitate to repeat the pretreatment and washing process as needed.
  6. Sunlight: Exposing the stained area to direct sunlight can help bleach and lift the stain, especially if you’ve used lemon juice or vinegar pretreatment.

Preventing Future Rust Stains

While removing existing rust stains is important, it’s also essential to take steps to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Here are some tips to help you keep your clothes rust-free:

  1. Avoid Contact with Rusty Objects: Be mindful of your surroundings and try to avoid placing your clothes in direct contact with rusty items, such as metal hangers, tools, or furniture.
  2. Treat Stains Immediately: The sooner you treat a rust stain, the easier it will be to remove. As soon as you notice a stain, pretreat and wash the item as soon as possible.
  3. Use Rust-Resistant Hangers: Consider investing in hangers made from non-metal materials, such as plastic or wood, to prevent rust transfer from the hanger to your clothes.
  4. Check Your Water Supply: If you live in an area with high iron content in the water, the rust particles can be transferred to your clothes during the washing process. Consider installing a water filtration system to remove these impurities.
  5. Maintain Your Appliances: Regularly clean and maintain your washing machine to prevent rust buildup, which can be transferred to your clothes during the wash cycle.

By following these prevention tips, you can help keep your clothes looking their best and minimize the risk of future rust stains.

Specialty Fabrics and Tricky Stains

While the methods outlined above are generally effective for a wide range of fabrics, certain materials and stains may require additional care or specialized techniques. Here are some tips for handling specific situations:

  1. Delicate Fabrics: For delicate fabrics, such as silk or satin, use a more gentle approach. Opt for a mild detergent, avoid excessive agitation, and consider taking the item to a professional dry cleaner if the stain persists.
  2. Leather and Suede: Rust stains on leather or suede garments should be treated with a specialized leather cleaner or conditioner. Avoid using water-based methods, as they can damage the fabric.
  3. Rust Rings: If a rust stain has left a ring-shaped discolouration on your clothing, try using a clean toothbrush and a paste of baking soda and water to gently scrub the affected area before washing.
  4. Set-in Stains: For particularly stubborn, set-in rust stains, you may need to use a commercial rust remover, such as Whink Rust Stain Remover, or seek the help of a professional dry cleaner. These stains may require more intensive treatment to fully remove the discolouration.

Remember, it’s always best to test any cleaning method on an inconspicuous area of the garment first to ensure it doesn’t cause further damage to the fabric.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I use bleach to remove rust stains?
  • Chlorine-based bleach is not recommended for removing rust stains, as it can set the stain and cause further discolouration. Instead, opt for an oxygen-based bleach, such as OxiClean or Persil ProClean, which is less likely to damage the fabric.
  1. How long should I let the pretreatment sit before washing?
  • For most pretreatment methods, such as lemon juice, vinegar, or baking soda paste, it’s recommended to let the solution sit for 30 minutes to an hour before washing the garment. This gives the pretreatment time to break down and lift the stain.
  1. Will rust stains come out of white clothes?
  • Yes, rust stains can be removed from white clothes, but it may require more effort and repeated treatments. The light colour of the fabric can make the stain more visible, so it’s important to act quickly and use a combination of pretreatment and washing techniques.
  1. Can I put a garment with a rust stain in the dryer?
  • It’s best to avoid putting a garment with a rust stain in the dryer, as the heat can set the stain and make it more difficult to remove. Instead, hang or lay the item flat to air dry after washing.
  1. How can I prevent rust stains on my clothes in the first place?
  • Prevent rust stains by avoiding contact with rusty objects, treating stains immediately, using rust-resistant hangers, and maintaining your washing machine. It’s also a good idea to check your water supply for high iron content and consider installing a water filtration system if necessary.


Rust stains can be a frustrating and persistent problem, but with the right techniques and products, you can successfully remove them from your clothes and keep your wardrobe looking its best. By understanding the nature of rust stains, using effective pretreatment and washing methods, and employing preventative measures, you can tackle even the toughest rust challenges and maintain the quality and appearance of your clothing.

Remember, patience and persistence are key when dealing with rust stains. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries to completely remove the stain – with the right approach, you’ll be able to restore your clothes to their original condition and enjoy wearing them with confidence.

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.