How to remove salt stains

Salt stains on clothes, shoes, and other fabrics can be frustrating to deal with. The white crystalline deposits are unsightly and can be difficult to fully remove. However, with the right techniques and products, you can effectively get rid of salt stains.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about removing salt stains from fabrics. We’ll explore what causes salt stains, the best methods for pretreating and washing items with salt stains, homemade salt stain removers you can make with common household ingredients, tips for avoiding salt stains, when to call in a professional, and recommend some of the top-rated commercial salt stain removers. With the information in this article, you’ll be able to banish stubborn salt stains and restore your clothes and fabrics.

remove salt stains

What Causes Salt Stains?

Salt stains are caused by sodium chloride, which is the chemical name for table salt. Salts are hydrophilic, meaning they attract and absorb water. When salty water evaporates, it leaves behind the crystalline salt deposits.

Common causes of salt stains include:

  • Ocean water or saline pool water drying on clothing or shoes
  • Sweat which contains salt and minerals evaporating on fabrics
  • Spilling or splashing salt water, soy sauce, or other salty liquids on fabrics
  • Road salt used for deicing sticking to shoes and pants hems during winter
  • Rock salt used in home water softeners transferring to clothes in the laundry
  • Saline solutions and salt packs used for piercings can leak onto clothing
  • Salt residue from cooking splattering onto clothes

Salt stains can be difficult to remove because the salt crystals bind to and penetrate into the fibers. The longer the stain sits untreated, the harder it will likely be to fully erase the stain.

Pretreating Salt Stains

To maximize your chances of salt stain removal success, it’s important to pretreat stains as soon as possible. The quicker you can work at dissolving and lifting the salt crystals, the better.

Here are some effective pretreatments for salt stains:

  • White vinegar – The high acetic acid content helps dissolve salt crystals. Simply let the vinegar sit on the stain for 15-30 minutes before laundering.
  • Lemon juice – Similar to vinegar, the citric acid helps break down the bonds of the salt. Let lemon juice soak into the stain, then rinse and launder.
  • Glycerin – Apply a layer of this thick liquid to help draw salt stains out of fibers. Allow it to penetrate for an hour before washing.
  • Dish soap – Squirt dish detergent directly onto the salt stain and scrub with an old toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly. The surfactants in dish soap help detach salt.
  • Salt stain remover sprays – Look for pretreater sprays made specifically for salt stains. Spritz the formula onto the fabric and let it sit before washing. Popular picks include Carbona Salt Stain Remover, Oxi Magic Salt Stain Remover, and Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover.
  • Commercial stain sticks – Rub a stain removal stick containing enzymes onto salt stains prior to laundering to help break down the crystals. The Oxiclean Max Force Stain Remover is highly effective.
  • Boiling water – For heavy salt stains, boil a kettle of water and hold the stained fabric taut over the steam. This can help loosen embedded crystals.
  • Talcum powder – Sprinkle talcum powder over the salt stain to draw out moisture and absorb salt deposits. Let sit for 1-2 hours before laundering.

Washing Items with Salt Stains

In addition to pretreatment, using the right washing method is key to blasting away pesky salt stains. Follow these tips for the most effective salt stain removal:

  • Wash in hot water – Use the hottest water recommended for the fabric. The heat will better dissolve salt crystals.
  • Extra rinse cycle – Add an additional rinse cycle to your wash to fully flush away pretreatment solutions and dislodged salt.
  • Vinegar rinse – Fill your rinse dispenser with undiluted white vinegar, or add 1⁄2 cup vinegar directly into the drum during the final rinse. This helps remove any lingering traces of salt.
  • Heavy duty detergent – Look for a laundry detergent specially formulated for tough stains. Top-performing options include Persil ProClean Stain Fighter and Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release.
  • Oxygen infused detergent – Detergents enriched with oxygen bleach help lift salt stains. Try OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover or Arm & Hammer OxiClean.
  • Laundry booster – Add a laundry booster or stain remover additive like OxiClean or Borax to the wash cycle along with detergent to increase cleaning power.
  • Dry in sunlight – The sun’s UV rays have natural bleaching effects to help remove last traces of stains. Hang clothes outside or in direct sunlight to dry.

Homemade Salt Stain Removers

Don’t have any specialty stain removal products on hand? No problem. You can whip up effective homemade salt stain fighters using ingredients from your pantry. Here are some easy DIY solutions:

  • Baking soda paste – Make a thick paste with 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water. Rub it into the stain using a damp cloth or toothbrush. Rinse and launder. The alkaline baking soda dissolves salt crystals.
  • Vinegar and dish soap – Mix equal parts vinegar and dish soap like Dawn. Apply it to the stain, let sit 5-10 minutes, then wash. The combination of acid and surfactant breaks down salts.
  • Lemon and cream of tartar – Combine juice from 1 lemon with 2 tbsp cream of tartar. Spread the paste onto the stain and allow it to work for an hour before rinsing and washing. The citric acid tackles the salt.
  • Borax solution – Dissolve 1 tbsp Borax powder into 2 cups hot water. Once cooled, sponge the solution onto the stain and let sit before laundering. The mineral components of Borax lift the salt.
  • Aspirin paste – Crush up 5-6 aspirin tablets and mix with just enough hot water to make a paste. Aspirin contains acetylsalicylic acid to dissolve salt stains. Let the paste sit before rinsing and washing.
  • White wine – Pour some white wine directly onto the salt stain. Let soak for 30 minutes then rinse and launder as usual. The alcohol and acids in the wine help break down the salt.
  • Glycerin and rubbing alcohol – Mix 2 parts glycerin with 1 part rubbing alcohol. Apply it to the stain and let penetrate for 1-2 hours before washing. The alcohol dissolves salt while the glycerin draws it out.

Tips for Avoiding Salt Stains

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some handy tips for avoiding those pesky salt stains in the first place:

  • Rinse swimwear and beachwear thoroughly with fresh water after saltwater exposure. Don’t let it sit wet.
  • Sprinkle talcum powder or cornstarch on damp fabrics to absorb excess moisture and salts.
  • When washing laundry with salt-exposed items, use cold water washes to prevent stains from setting.
  • Add a rust remover like Rusteze or Whink Rust Remover to your laundry to prevent reddish salt stains on colored fabrics.
  • Wipe down leather shoes and bags with a soft cloth after wearing to remove salt deposits before they dry and crystallize.
  • Use a pretreatment waterproofer spray like Scotchgard on items prone to salt water exposure to repel staining.
  • Shake out clothing and rinse off footwear after walking on streets treated with road salt in winter.
  • Blot perspiration stains promptly to avoid sweat salts penetrations into fabrics.
  • Clean up food or saline solution spills immediately before salt residue can set into fabrics.

When to Call a Professional

For most salt stains on washable fabrics, the pretreatment and laundering methods in this article should successfully lift the deposits. However, if you are dealing with a particularly stubborn or set-in stain, it may require professional intervention.

Some instances where you may need to enlist the help of garment care experts include:

  • Old stains where salts have penetrated deep into fibers
  • Delicate fabrics like silks, wools, chiffon, or cashmere prone to damage from harsh treatments
  • Heirloom lace or embellished formalwear
  • Wedding gown preservation and cleaning
  • Leather, suede, or dry clean only clothing
  • Visible dye loss or fading around the salt stained area
  • Valuable tapestries or rugs

Reputable professional cleaners have commercial grade stain removal solutions and methods beyond what can be done at home, like pressurized steamers. They also have specialty training and expertise in fabric and fiber care. For irreplaceable or heavily damaged items, it’s worth consulting the pros.

Top Salt Stain Remover Product Recommendations

Ready to banish those salt stains for good? Here are some of the top-rated and recommended commercial salt stain removers:

  • Carbona Salt Stain Remover – Specifically designed to target salt stains. Can be used on old or set-in stains. Safe for most colorfast washables.
  • Oxi Magic Salt Stain Remover – Chlorine-free formula works well on swimwear and beach clothes. Removes salt residue without damage.
  • Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release – This heavy duty laundry detergent contains enzymes to break down salt stains in the wash cycle.
  • OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover – The oxygen-based powder helps lift tough salt stains. Can be used as a pretreatment or added to the wash.
  • Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover – A natural, non-toxic salt stain pretreater made with lemon juice extract and plant-based cleaners. Gentle on fabrics.
  • Whink Rust Remover – For reddish salt stains, this rust stain remover converts iron oxide stains back to a soluble state for easier removal.
  • Persil ProClean Stain Fighter – With powerful protease enzymes, this detergent gets out stubborn salt and mineral stains in the wash.


With some elbow grease and the right stain removal products, you can successfully conquer salt stains. From pretreatment to laundry day to calling in the pros when needed, use the tips in this guide to banish unsightly white salt deposits and restore your clothing and fabrics to their original beauty.

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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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