How to Get Rid of Rust Stains in White Clothes

by M.H. Dyer

Rust stains on clothing are often the result of old water pipes or the presence of dissolved iron in the water. The stains may also appear on dishes, sinks and plumbing fixtures. On white clothing, rust shows up as unsightly brown, yellow or bright orange spots. Before attacking the spot, be sure the stain is iron rust and not rust-colored stains resulting from tea, coffee or makeup.

Lay the stained garment on an old, thick towel to protect your working surface. Or place the garment on a grassy area outdoors.

Pour lemon juice or white vinegar directly on the garment to saturate the stain, then sprinkle the stain with salt.

Allow the garment to air dry.

Brush off the salt, then launder the garment using heavy-duty laundry detergent and an oxygenated or all-fabric bleach. Never use chlorine bleach on rust stains, because bleach makes rust impossible to remove.

Inspect the garment carefully. Do not place a rust-stained garment in the dryer because the heat will set the stain.

Use a commercial rust remover if the rust stain is still visible. Fill a washing machine with warm water, then add about 1/2 cup of rust remover. Allow the stained garment to soak for about five minutes, then add regular or heavy-duty laundry detergent and launder the garment as directed on the container.

Dry the garment according to the recommendations on the garment care tag. Alternatively, allow the garment to dry in bright sunlight, because the sun is a natural whitener.

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Items you will need

  • Thick towel
  • Lemon juice or white vinegar
  • Salt
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Oxygenated or all-fabric bleach
  • Commercial rust remover


  • Never use lemon juice on colored fabrics, because the juice may fade or discolor the dyes.
  • Most commercial rust removers contain hydrofluoric acid or oxalic acid, which are highly toxic. The products may damage appliances, especially those made of porcelain or enamel. Use the products strictly according to label recommendations.
  • Never use commercial rust remover on a colored garment unless you're sure the garment is colorfast. To test the garment, place a few drops of rust remover on a hidden, inside seam.

About the Author

M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.

Photo Credits

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