Help! How Do I Get These Rust Stains Out Of My Shirt?

Illustration for article titled Help! How Do I Get These Rust Stains Out Of My Shirt?

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

I have a white cotton shirt that had some brown ring around the collar from sunscreen. I treated it with my usual surefire stain remover, Goop, but I didn't leave it on long enough so I re-treated it and let it sit while still damp. The problem is that it was laundry day and hanging space was at a premium. I chose to let it sit on my radiator, but there are a couple unpainted areas on my radiator and I ended up with rust stains on my shirt that were far worse than the original sunscreen blotch.

Without giving it much thought, I treated the rust with Goop—which has worked for just about everything else I've ever stained my clothes with since I discovered it back in my bike mechanic days—but it didn't work. (Note: the sunscreen stain did come out though, so that's a plus.)

Anyway, I have a number of small brown rust stains on the shirt now. I did wash it. But I never cooked it in the dryer. Wondering if there's anything I can do about this comedy of errors. I saw something about lemon juice online, but I get the feeling the ship has sailed on that. Also so that bleach has an adverse reaction with the rust, so I steered clear of that.

To be honest, at this point it's less about the shirt and more about me trying to undo a stupid mistake. It's now hanging on my closet doorknob taunting me and my bumbling ways. Can I still claim victory over this goading garment or would I be better off with a cut and run approach? As in cut it into useful rags and run to the mall for a new white shirt.


God created gold stars just for people like you: You know about Goop—gold star! You know about the lemon-juice rust-remover trick, gold star!! You know not to use bleach on rust stains—gold star gold star gold star!!! Perhaps you even learned these things because you attended Laundry School, in which case this is me, making it rain gold stars!!!!

To recap for those who played hooky from Laundry School: Bleach is a no-no on rust stains because something something science it will make the rust stains worse. And we do not want that. Oxygenated bleaches—your OxiCleans, Clorox Oxi Magic Powders, those sorts—also won't work, so don't bother with 'em. (You can't imagine how devastating it is for me to write those words.)

Lemon will work; it just works a little more slowly than commercial rust-removing products. Which is fine. I just want to tell you up front that you'll need to let the shirt sit with the lemon on it for about a day. If you go this route, some salt would also be a good idea. So: squeeze lemon juice on the stain; sprinkle salt over the juice; leave the shirt be for 24 hours. The stains should be gone, or faded significantly, after which you can launder the shirt as usual. The same procedure will work with a combination of white vinegar and salt. If that all feels too hippy-dippy, we'll now turn our attention to the sorts of commercial products that come with terrifying warnings about skin irritation and blindness.

Unfortunately, Rust Stain Magic, my go-to rec for removing rust stains, has been discontinued. I can't even tell you how bummed I am about this—mostly because the packaging was sort of delightfully creepy and '70s-esque and reminds me of a childhood filled with flimsy child-safety latches that did absolutely nothing to keep me out from under the sink where all of the cool cleaning products were stashed.

There are, however, two similar-looking products that I dug up to recommend: Rust Away Stain Remover and Whink Rust Stain Remover. "Whink" sounds like the name of a Price Is Right contest so if it's OK with you, I'm gonna invite it in to chill in the sunken living room with me and my nostalgia.


For years, I have accumulated stains in the legs of my shorts that I couldn't identify. After buying some new shorts and wearing them for a round of golf, I have discovered that somehow I am rubbing the grips of the club on them leaving black streaks (note: being an atrocious golfer is surely the root cause).

I have not washed these since, waiting to research a solution, and hope you might have the answer.


Since it worked so well for the fellow upcolumn from you, why not try pre-treating the stains with Goop? Basically, that's what you need here—a good laundry pre-treatment product, and the stains should come out without too much trouble. But because the rubber residue you're dealing with falls into the "grease" category, you'll want to use a stain treatment that we know works on those sorts of stains.

Lestoil and Pine Sol are the two go-to products whenever we talk about grease stains. To use, dab a bit onto the stain, allow it to sit for 30 or so minutes and then launder as usual. Be sure to check that the stain came out before putting the garment in the dryer!


Two other products you could check out are Fels-Naptha and WD-40. Fels-Naptha is laundry soap that comes in bar form; you'll apply it to the stain prior to laundering in the same way you would a liquid stain-treatment product. Fels-Naptha can be an irritant, however, so if you have sensitive skin wear a pair of kitchen gloves when you're handling it. Or maybe skip it altogether and stick with the Pine Sol? Yeah, let's do that.

And finally, our old pal WD-40 can be sprayed on the stain and then washed away with a bit of dish or laundry soap, which should remove the stain.


One last thought for you. Well, two actually: It may actually not be the grips causing those stains; as one often does, I recently found myself puttering around on a golf enthusiasts' forum. According to the Chatty Cathys over there, those marks are also likely to have come from a golf cart's steering wheel. If the stains truly are being caused by your rubber grips, you could consider switching to corded grips. I mean, I think. I don't really actually play golf or know anything about golf other than the fact that it has the coolest pants in sports.

Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.


Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.