How to remove makeup from clothes

Makeup stains on clothing can be annoying and difficult to remove. From foundation and concealer to eye makeup and lipstick, cosmetics can leave unsightly marks on shirts, dresses, pants and more. If not treated properly, these stains can become permanent.

The good news is that makeup stains don’t have to ruin your favorite outfit. With the right techniques and cleaning products, you can get rid of makeup on clothes effectively. In this article, we’ll explain how to remove various types of makeup stains from fabric using common household ingredients.

remove makeup from clothes

Causes of Makeup Stains

Before we dive into removal methods, let’s first understand what causes makeup to stain clothes in the first place.

When makeup comes into contact with fabric, it embeds into the fibers. Oil-based makeup like foundation and concealer contain pigments that bind to the fibers. Meanwhile, emollients in products like lipstick and eyeshadow act like adhesives.

Heat and friction also set stains. The warmth of your body heat causes makeup to soak into fabric. Rubbing or machine washing with heat further drives makeup into the fibers.

Additionally, makeup stains can interact with laundry detergents. Some ingredients may mix with stain molecules in a way that binds them to the clothing fibers.

So to get makeup out of clothes, you need to break down those bonds and lift out the stain. The key is using the right techniques and cleaning solutions for your specific type of makeup.

Pre-Treating Makeup Stains

Before washing makeup-stained clothes, you’ll want to pre-treat any visible stains. This helps prevent setting the stains with heat or detergent.

Start by checking the garment’s care tag and choosing a cleaning method that won’t damage the fabric. Then, lay the stained clothing flat and locate all makeup stains.

For wet stains, blot gently with a clean cloth or paper towel to absorb excess. Don’t rub, which can grind the stain further into the fabric.

For dried stains, use a stiff brush to gently scratch off any clumped or caked-on makeup. Avoid harsh scrubbing.

Next, apply a pre-treat solution. Make sure to use a product compatible with the garment fabric. Gently work it into the stain until fully saturated.

  • Tide Pretreat Stick – $7.97
  • OxiClean Max Force Spray – $8.97
  • Carbona Stain Devils – $6.49

Let the pre-treat sit for 5-10 minutes before laundering. This dwell time allows cleaning agents to break down the makeup bonds.

For extra stubborn stained, repeat the pre-treatment process as needed before washing.

Removing Foundation and Concealer Stains

Oil-based foundation and concealer can leave behind stubborn stains. Luckily, there are a few ways to tackle them:

  • Dish soap – Apply a few drops of dish soap directly on the stain. Gently rub into the fabric with a soft toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly. The surfactants in dish soap will lift up makeup oils.
    • Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid – $14.99 (4 pack)
  • Baking soda – Make a paste with 3 parts baking soda and 1 part water. Rub it into the stain using a clean toothbrush. Let sit for 30 minutes before washing. The mild abrasives in baking soda help scrub out makeup.
    • Arm & Hammer Baking Soda – $5.98 (5 lbs)
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Mix equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water. Use a cotton ball to apply the solution to the stain. Let bubbles form for 5 minutes before rinsing. Hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleach that can lift pigmented makeup stains.
    • Boiron Hydrogen Peroxide – $5.99 (3% solution)
  • Bar soap – For delicate fabrics, rub a bar of soap directly on the stain to coat it. Let sit for 10 minutes then rinse clean. The oils in soap help dissolve the makeup bonds.
    • Kirk’s Original Coco Castile Soap – $14.99 (4 pack)

Removing Mascara Stains

Mascara contains pigments, waxes, and oils that can penetrate fabric and cause smears or spots. To remove:

  • Baby shampoo – Apply a small amount of baby shampoo to the stain. Gently scrub with a soft bristle brush. The surfactants and water solubility help loosen mascara.
    • Johnson’s Baby Shampoo – $9.99 (27 fl oz)
  • Rubbing alcohol – Use a cotton ball to dab rubbing alcohol onto the stain. Check frequently and rinse once pigment lifts out. The alcohol will break down mascara oils.
    • CVS Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol – $6.29 (32 fl oz)
  • Vinegar – Mix equal parts white vinegar and water. Spray onto the stain and allow to soak for 15 minutes before washing. Vinegar helps dissolve mascara bonds.
    • Heinz White Vinegar – $14.99 (128 fl oz)
  • Glycerin – Apply pure glycerin onto the stain. Let sit for 30 minutes then rinse clean. The emollient properties of glycerin can lift mascara out of fabric.
    • Humco Glycerin – $8.94 (16 oz)

Removing Lipstick and Lip Stain

Greasy lipstick and deeply pigmented lip stains need a little extra work to remove from clothing:

  • Chlorine bleach – For white fabrics, make a 10:1 water to bleach solution. Apply to the stain and rinse after 1-2 minutes. Only use bleach on compatible fabrics as it can damage colors. The strong oxidizers in bleach destroy lipstick bonds.
    • Clorox Regular Bleach – $24.50 (121 oz, 8 pack)
  • Rubbing alcohol – Use a cotton ball to apply rubbing alcohol to the stain. Reapply frequently and dab gently. Rinse once the stain lifts. This helps extract the oils and pigments.
  • Glycerin – As mentioned, glycerin can help remove lip makeup due to its emollient properties. Apply to stain, let sit, then rinse.
  • Baking soda – Make a thick baking soda paste with just a splash of water. Use an old toothbrush to work it into the stain. Rinse thoroughly after 30 minutes. Baking soda is an effective makeup stain absorber.
  • Dish soap – Apply a few drops of dish soap directly on the stain. Use a soft bristle brush to gently scrub the spot, then rinse clean. Dish soap is designed to cut through oils and lift grease.

Removing Eye Makeup Stains

Eyeshadow, eyeliner, and other eye cosmetics contain dyes and waxes that can transfer onto clothing. Try these tips:

  • Makeup remover – Use a cotton ball to gently dab a waterproof makeup remover onto the stain. Check frequently and stop once pigment is gone. This will dissolve the makeup bonds.
    • Neutrogena Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover – $8.97 (3.5 fl oz)
  • Rubbing alcohol – As mentioned, the alcohol will break down the oils and waxes. Apply with a cotton ball and rinse once pigment lifts.
  • Dish soap – For powder eyeshadow stains, apply a few drops of dish soap and scrub gently with a soft brush. Rinse thoroughly once pigment is removed.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Diluted peroxide can lift eye makeup stains the same as foundation or lip colors. Apply to stain, let bubble for 5 minutes, then rinse.
  • Baby shampoo – Apply just a small amount of baby shampoo to wet the stain. Use a soft brush to gently scrub. The surfactants help dissolve eye makeup.

Laundering Makeup Stained Clothes

Once you’ve pre-treated any visible stains, it’s time to wash the garment. Check care instructions first. Here are some tips:

  • Wash in cold water – Hot water can set stains. Opt for the coolest setting safe for that fabric type.
  • Extra rinse cycle – Add an additional rinse cycle to your wash to help flush out any residual makeup.
  • Liquid detergent – Go with a liquid over powder detergent. The enzymes and surfactants work better at lifting makeup oils and pigments.
    • Tide Liquid Laundry Detergent – $19.07 (150 oz)
  • White vinegar – Add 1⁄2 cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. The acid helps dissolve makeup bonds. (Don’t use with bleach.)
  • Oxygen booster – Detergent boosters with oxygenated bleach help break down makeup stains. Follow package directions.
    • OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover – $7.88 (3 lbs tub)
  • Pretreat again – If stains remain after washing, don’t put in the dryer. Pretreat again before washing a second time.

Once the wash cycle finishes, immediately remove the garment and check for any remaining stains. If needed, spot treat again before drying. The heat from a dryer can permanently set makeup stains. Hang or lay flat to dry.

Removing Dried Makeup Stains

If a makeup stain has already dried or set into clothing, removal becomes more difficult. But don’t throw the garment away just yet! Here are some things to try:

  • Soak in vinegar water – Mix 1 part white vinegar with 2 parts warm water. Soak the stained garment for 30 minutes, then rinse.
  • Rub with bar soap – For delicate fabrics, gently rub a wet bar of soap over the set stain to loosen it up. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Baking soda paste – Mix baking soda and water into a spreadable paste. Apply to stain and let sit for 1-2 hours before washing.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Saturate set makeup stains with hydrogen peroxide. Let it sit for 10 minutes before rinsing.
  • Dishwasher – Place smaller stained items like socks or handkerchiefs into the dishwasher. The hot water and dish detergent help loosen set in stains over multiple cycles.
    • Cascade Platinum Dishwasher Pods – $23.14 (78 count)
  • Iron – Place a stained fabric between two clean cloths. Use a hot iron to press over the stain for 30 seconds. Check frequently. The heat can help loosen set makeup.
    • Maytag Steam Iron – $19.88
  • Dry cleaner – For delicate fabrics, opt for dry cleaning. Let them know about the stain and they can treat with commercial strength solvents.

With some patience and elbow grease, you can conquer even dried-in makeup stains. Just take care when dealing with more delicate fabrics.

Avoiding Makeup Stains

They say prevention is the best medicine when it comes to makeup stains. Here are some tips to avoid them in the first place:

  • Tie hair back – Keep hair pulled back while applying makeup around the face and neckline. This prevents transfer onto clothing.
  • Cover with a towel – Drape a clean towel around your shoulders and upper body when doing makeup. Remove immediately after.
    • Visage Reusable Makeup Removal Towels – $12.95 (2 pack)
  • Clean makeup brushes – Avoid lint and residue transfer by regularly cleaning makeup brushes and sponges.
    • EcoTools Makeup Brush Shampoo – $5.99 (7 fl oz)
  • Blot lips – Blot lipstick and lip gloss with a tissue after application to remove excess pigment that could rub off on fabrics.
  • Set makeup – Use setting spray or powder to help makeup last on the face without transferring to clothes.
    • Urban Decay All Nighter Setting Spray – $33 (4 oz)
    • Coty Airspun Loose Face Powder – $6.97 (2.3 oz)
  • Remove before laundering – Always pre-treat and check for stains before tossing clothes in the wash.
  • Wash delicates separately – Launder delicate fabrics prone to staining separately from everyday clothes.
  • Check pockets – Empty all pockets before washing to prevent items like tissues or blotting papers from transferring makeup in the wash.

With some consistent care, you can apply your makeup each day without creating a laundry stain disaster. But even if stains do happen, use the right stain removal methods to keep your clothes looking fresh.


Makeup stains on clothing can certainly be frustrating. But as you’ve learned, they don’t have to be permanent with the right stain removal techniques.

Always start by pre-treating visible stains before laundering. Use targeted solutions like dish soap, baking soda, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to break down the makeup bonds in fabric.

Take care when washing to prevent setting stains with heat or detergent. For dried and set in stains, try soaking, scrubbing or pressing with an iron to loosen them up.

With some patience and the proper methods, you can successfully remove a wide variety of makeup from your favorite articles of clothing. Just be gentle, never over-scrub fabrics, and properly launder according to care instructions. Your clothes will look like new again in no time.

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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.

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