Why Do White Clothes Get Yellow Stains In Storage

It’s always frustrating when you pull out your favorite white shirt or dress from storage only to find it has developed ugly yellow stains. Those bright whites have dulled to a dingy yellow or brown. What causes this staining? And more importantly, how can you prevent it from happening in the first place? In this article, we’ll examine the common causes of yellowing on stored white fabrics and provide tips to keep them looking crisp and bright.

Why Do White Clothes Get Yellow Stains In Storage

What Causes Yellow Stains on White Clothes in Storage?

There are a few main culprits that can lead to yellow discoloration on white garments that have been stored for a period of time:

  • Oxidation – Over time, the chemicals used to create brightened white fabrics can oxidize, resulting in a yellowish tinge. This type of staining is often seen on older garments.
  • Dye transfer – Darker colors that come into contact with white fabrics can result in dye transfer, leaving yellow stains behind. This is especially common if colored and white garments are stored together.
  • Sweat and body oils – Clothes worn close to the body absorb sweat and body oils. These can leave behind yellow discoloration on fabric over time. The stains often appear in areas like the underarms and neckline.
  • Heat and light exposure – Excess heat and light, like from sunny windows or hot storage spaces, can accelerate the yellowing process on whites. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight especially contribute to yellowing.
  • Humidity and moisture – Damp storage conditions provide an ideal environment for yellow stains to form through oxidation, mold growth, and excess humidity.
  • Smoke exposure – Yellow-brown nicotine stains can accumulate on clothes exposed to any smoke, whether from tobacco, fires, or air pollution.
  • Chemicals in detergents – Optical brighteners and certain types of bleaches in laundry detergents can contribute to yellowing over time with repeated washing.

No matter the cause, these yellow stains form because the white fabric has undergone some type of chemical change at a molecular level. While this can’t be reversed, the yellowing can be prevented by storing clothes properly.

More Examples of What Can Cause Yellowing

  • Cooking oils – Aprons, towels, and other kitchen linens stored while still soiled with cooking oils will oxidize and stain yellow.
  • Medications – Certain topical creams and ointments contain benzoyl peroxide that can transfer to clothes and create yellow stains over time.
  • Deodorant and antiperspirant residue – Aluminum and other ingredients in deodorants can react with fabrics to cause yellow discoloration.
  • Makeup and beauty products – Foundation, powder, and self-tanners left on clothes can transfer to fabrics and yellow with storage.
  • Bleach contamination – Any accidental contact between whites and undiluted bleach can cause immediate yellowing.
  • Age and wear – Extremely old, threadbare white garments tend to yellow simply due to age as fibers naturally degrade.
  • Hard water – Mineral deposits leftover from washing in hard water can react with detergents and turn yellow over time.

Tips to Prevent Yellow Stains While Storing Whites

Here are some practical tips to avoid yellow stains from developing on white garments in storage:

  • Use white or non-transparent storage bins – Dark plastic bins can transfer color onto clothes inside. Opt for solid white or clear storage containers.
    • Good options include:
      • The Container Store White Knit Sweater Box
      • IRIS USA White Storage Tote Boxes
      • Sterilite White Storage Totes with Latching Lids
  • Seal clothes in airtight bags or bins – Limit exposure to air, heat, and humidity by sealing clothes tightly in plastic bags or bins with gasket seals. Cotton and linen fabrics are especially vulnerable to moisture and can develop rust stains if left exposed.
    • Try products like:
      • Space Bag Storage Bags with Hand Pump
      • Vacwel Extra Large Vacuum Storage Bags
      • Lock & Lock Airtight Plastic Storage Containers
  • Add desiccant packets – Throw in some silica gel or charcoal desiccant packets to actively absorb humidity inside the sealed container and prevent moisture damage.
    • Look for:
      • Eva-dry E-333 Renewable Mini Dehumidifier
      • Dry&Dry Desiccant Packets 60 Gram
      • Cannonball Desiccants 100 Pack
  • Clean clothes before storing – Make sure clothes are fresh and clean before putting them into seasonal storage. Leftover food, sweat, and body oil stains will only set over time. Run whites through the laundry using an oxygenated bleach to remove organic stains and brighten.
    • Recommended laundry products:
      • OxiClean White Revive Oxygen Bleach
      • Biokleen Oxygen Bleach Plus
      • Grab Green Oxi Bleach Laundry Detergent Pods
  • Avoid biological contaminants – To discourage mold growth, inspect clothes thoroughly for food stains before storage. Vacuum storage containers regularly to remove dust and lint accumulation.
  • Store out of direct light – Prevent light damage by storing sealed clothing bins in cool, dark places like closets or under beds. Avoid attics, basements, and garages which experience temperature extremes.
  • Separate from other colors – Isolate whites from fabrics that may bleed dyes or oils onto them. If using shared bins, wrap whites in tissue paper first or use an inner liner.
    • Try acid-free tissue paper or unbleached parchment paper
  • Fold neatly to avoid creases – The more surface area of fabric that comes into contact, the more potential for yellow discoloration. Hang delicate whites to prevent fold lines.
    • Recommended hangers:
      • Zober Premium Wooden Hangers
      • Honey-Can-Do Wood Hangers with Clips
      • Mmix Infiniti Velvet Hangers to prevent slippage
  • Use cedar blocks and sheets – The aromatic cedarwood naturally repels moths and other insects to avoid damage. Extra cedar will also help absorb ambient moisture in storage.
    • Products to use:
      • CedarFresh Adjustable Cedar Rings
      • Levtex Home Cedar Storage Chest
      • Cederique Cedar Planks for Closet and Drawer Lining
  • Check on clothes occasionally – Every few months, inspect stored clothes for any developing stains or pest issues. This allows you to catch problems early.
  • Limit storage time – Rotate seasonal white wardrobes yearly if possible. The longer clothes sit, the more opportunity there is for yellowing.
  • Handle delicately and refold – When removing from or returning clothes to storage, handle with care. Unnecessary agitation can weaken fibers. Refold differently to avoid permanent creases.

With some diligence on proper storage methods, you can keep your white linens, shirts, and dresses looking freshly bright for years to come. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be ready to proudly unpack your whites at the start of each season. No more unwelcome surprises of faded yellow pieces! Consistent care will help preserve the vibrancy of your favorite white garments.

Removing Existing Yellow Stains from Stored Whites

If you’ve already discovered yellowing on stored whites, don’t panic! Here are some techniques you can try to remove the stains and restore their original brightness:

  • Wash with bluing agent – Bluing agents counteract yellow tones and are safe for most washable whites. Products like Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing or Rit Dye Whitener and Brightener can help remove lighter yellow stains.
  • Bleach soak – For heavier stains, soak garments for up to an hour in an oxygen bleach solution before washing. OxiClean White Revive works well. Avoid using chlorine bleach as it may damage fibers.
  • Lemon juice or vinegar – The acidity in lemon juice and white vinegar can break down yellow discoloration. Mix with water and soak garments before washing.
  • Activated charcoal – Make a paste with powdered activated charcoal and water and gently rub onto stained areas. The charcoal will draw out impurities.
  • Hydrogen peroxide or baking soda – Make a solution with 1 part hydrogen peroxide or baking soda to 4 parts water. Soak and wash stained clothes in this mixture.
  • Sunlight – For white linens and cottons, wet the fabric and lay it out directly in bright sunlight. The UV rays can naturally bleach out some discoloration.
  • Commercial stain removers – Look for pre-treatments specially formulated for yellow stains like Carbona Yellow Stain Remover or Resolve Laundry Stain Remover.

With persistence and repeated applications, you can usually eliminate those pesky yellow stains from your favorite white pieces and restore them to their original vibrancy. Just be patient and gentle with older delicate fabrics.


Yellowing of white fabrics in storage is a common nuisance but not an unavoidable one. Now that you know what causes it and how to prevent it, you can keep your stored clothes looking their absolute best. Take steps to protect your whites from the elements including light, heat, humidity, and pests. With mindful storage habits, your white wardrobe will stay stain-free and ready to wear for many seasons ahead.

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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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