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Is It Bad to Leave Detergent on Clothes? (How to Get It Off)

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We have all had this experience where you wash, rinse and dry your clothes as usual. Then comes the time to store them in the wardrobe, only to see detergent stains all over them. You immediately despair and feel let down by your favorite detergent.

Leaving detergent on clothes is bad not only for your health but for your clothes as well. When on clothes, detergent stains make clothes look unclean, leave you uncomfortable, and lower your self-esteem. Additionally, wearing such clothes increases the risk of skin reactions and skin diseases. 

For the rest of this article, you will learn why this happens, how to prevent it, how to get the detergent stains off, and more.

Why Leaving Detergent on the Skin or Clothes Is Bad

Allergic Reactions

Leaving the detergent on the clothes is a huge problem, especially for people with allergic reactions. For people with respiratory issues, the smell of detergent residues is enough to cause stimulation of hives and breathing problems.

Other effects include irritation and skin rashes which are especially critical for people with chronic skin problems.

Clothes Wear Out Faster

Improperly rinsed clothes become hard and dingy. Other than the obvious discomfort, abrasiveness in clothes increases friction against the fabric, making it wear out faster.

Also, even with consecutive washes, the stain may not be removed. That sets the stain into the fabric. This can mean throwing away newer clothes sooner, especially the brightly colored ones.

It Is Not Cost-Effective

One of the causes of leaving detergent on the clothes is using excess detergent, making rinsing hard. Using excess detergent depletes purchases sooner and is money down the laundry drain.

Clothes Look Untidy

Normally detergents are for making clothes clean, and not the reverse. But like all others, stains from detergent make the garment untidy and unwearable.

And according to experts, clothes affect how we feel about ourselves. Consequently, wearing detergent-stained clothes reduces our self-respect and may lower productivity at work.

Why Detergents Leave Stains on Clothes

Before we delve into how to remove detergent residues from clothes, we need to find out why this happens. It is only through learning this that you can prevent the situation from recurring.

Here are a few reasons why this happens.

Powder Detergent

When it comes to leaving detergent on clothes, powder detergent is a common culprit. Often, these detergents do not fully dissolve in water. So rinsing such clothes is hard, and eventually, residues will appear on the dried clothes. 

To avoid detergent stains on clothes, switch to liquid detergent. Alternatively, you can adjust the water temperature since powder detergents dissolve faster in hot than in cold water.

Another way is to first dissolve the powder detergent and then load the clothes with the clothes.

Overloaded Washing Machine

Sometimes we want larger loads and get done with the laundry as soon as possible. Often, this will work against you. Overloading the washing machine leaves no room for the detergent solution to permeate throughout the clothes.  

With such a situation, some clothes get soaked in more detergent than others. Not only is that ineffective in removing dirt, but it leaves smears and specks of detergent on others. The wise thing is to only load the right amount as per the instructions in the washing machine manual.

Dirty Washing Machine

After some time, the machine accumulates grime from detergent residues and dirt. This will eventually find its way to the clothes. And one of the sure signs of a dirty washing machine is a foul smell on the clothes and or on the washing machine. 

If you see these signs, give your washing machine a thorough scrub before proceeding with further washing. Do that, and you won’t need to rewash your detergent-stained clothes.

Learn more about washing machine care here.

Hard Water

If you’re using hard water for your laundry, several issues can arise. First, depending on the detergent type, it may not be easy to dissolve in hard water. Additionally, some detergents react with hard water forming scum that sticks on clothes. 

With hard water, it is advisable to use a heavy-duty detergent that can break down dirt without reacting with it to form soap scum. Also, you can use laundry detergent boosters or add ½ a cup of borax with your normal load.

I wrote a guide on the best detergent for hard water and a really comprehensive guide on the best washing machines for hard water that may interest you.

Using Excess Detergent

This may sound obvious, but adding too much detergent will create a myriad of problems in the laundry. The first is too many suds.

Excess suds reduces friction between clothes in the washing machine, which is the cleaning mechanism. Moreover, rinsing detergent off clothes will be hard. To use the right amount of detergent, read the detergent label. 

Here is what to do if you accidentally used too much detergent.

What Are the Signs of Excess Detergent on Clothes?

Dingy Clothes 

The detergent left on the detergent dry on the clothes making the fabric hard. Such clothes feel uncomfortable to wear and often cause skin irritation.

Slithery Clothes 

If you overdosed on the detergent in the wash water, it would feel heavy and slippery when you pass your hand through it.

Excess Foaming

Too much foam is a direct result of a detergent overdose. Too much foaming only looks great in a detergent advert on TV and not in real washing. It only creates a barrier between fabrics in washing machines stopping clothes from rubbing against others. 

And without this action, washing becomes ineffective. Not only that, but with excess foaming, chances are also not all detergent dissolved. 

Moldy or Musty Smells Washing Machine

This is an indication of a prolonged detergent overuse problem. Detergent buildup in the washing machine creates a substrate for the growth of mold and odor bacteria. This problem can only be stopped by removing this detergent grime.

Wrong Agitation

Making the right agitation setting is crucial if you want the detergent to rinse out of your clothes properly. For example, setting the gentleness means the detergent gets stuck into the fabric and isn’t shaken out. Also, be sure to read the wash instructions on the garment to avoid agitating delicate fabric garments.

Determining the Right Amount of Detergent per Load

Now that we know excess detergent usage is one of the main culprits, it is only knowing the right dose that will stop detergent overuse. This will eventually stop detergent stains on clothes. Using the tips below can help in determining the right amount of detergent to use when washing.

Understand the Level of Dirt on the Clothes

The dirtier the clothes, the higher the amount of detergent will be required for washing. This means that by putting the detergent that is commensurate with the soil, the whole detergent will get used up, leaving no residue on the clothes.

For high soil clothes, it is recommended to first presoak to avoid putting excess detergent when washing.

Size of the Load

If you are putting on large wash loads, you will require a higher quantity of detergent dosage. This means the detergent will get used up and leave no residue on the clothes. Usually, two tablespoons are the recommended dosage for a clean wash.

More on laundry load sizes here.

Water Hardness

Before determining how much detergent to use, know the hardness state of your laundry water source. Generally, hard water is more common than soft water.

And it is especially true if you use a well, or any water not from utility providers. Washing with hard water will often leave detergent on clothes due to dissolving problems., even after several rinses.

Washing Machine Types

If you use HE washing machines, that means you will use less water and detergent than the standard types of machines. This can easily cause overdosing if you do not measure the detergent well. 

Another aspect is the loading mechanism, such as the automatic, semi-automatic, top loader, and front loader. Generally, front loaders use less water and consequently less detergent. So, using top loader detergent dosage on a front loader, unless well rinsed, can leave detergents on clothes.

The Concentration of the Detergent

Different detergents are made with different concentrations. Common concentration labeling is 2x, 4x, and 10x. This indicates the washing power of the detergent, which is an important factor in using the right detergent on clothes. The rule of thumb is to use 2 tablespoons for 2x, 1 for the 4x, and ½ tablespoon for 10x detergent. 

How to Remove Detergent Stains on Clothes

To remove detergent stains, you can buy stain removers online or in convenience stores. The alternative is to make your own at home. Let us explore homemade solutions to detergent stains.

Using Alcohol

This is one of the best ways to remove detergent residues from clothes. Rubbing alcohol will break the detergent stains and release them from the clothes. To remove detergent stains with alcohol, soak the garment in warm water and gently rub the stained fabric against itself. 

If the residue is not removed, apply a few drops of rubbing alcohol on the spot and let it sit for 20 minutes. Repeat the rubbing of the fabric and see if the stain is clearing. If not, repeat several times before loading the garment in the washing machine or hand wash without detergent, rinse, and dry.

Using White Vinegar

White vinegar is another fantastic detergent stain remover. To use white vinegar, add four liters of warm water to a basin, add ½ a cup of white vinegar, and stir well to mix. Thereafter, soak your garment in the basin and let it sit for 1 hour. 

After this period, you can agitate the stain with your hands to loosen the detergent stain before laundering without detergent. Before drying, check whether the stains have been removed or repeat the process.

Bar Soap

If you used powder soap or detergent during washing, rewashing the spots with bar soaps will help. To start off, add a sufficient amount of water into a basin, and soak the stained cloth in water for one hour. 

Afterward, examine the stain and rub some bar soap on the spot, and scrub several times. Next, load the garment on the washing machine and wash without detergent.

Remove Detergent Stains With Baking Soda

Baking soda is not only great for leavening cakes and donuts, etc., but you can also use it for removing detergent stains, as well. To clean detergent stains, add ½ a cup of baking soda to a basin with warm water and soak for thirty minutes before laundering without any detergent. 

With fresh detergent stains, you will only require one wash cycle without detergent to clear. But for older stains, you might want to wash them several times before the stain is removed.

Using the Dishwashing Detergent

Using dishwashing detergent to wash another detergent stain might sound unusual, but it works perfectly.

To use dish soap, soak the garment in cold water for about 20 minutes.

Afterward, add a few drops of dishwashing detergent to the stain while working the spots with your hands.

Then, wash the garment without any more detergent, rinse and dry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Detergent Stains Come Out?

Detergent stains are rarely tough stains. They are easily removable with rubbing alcohol, borax, vinegar, and bar soap. All you have to do is to pretreat a stain with one of these cleaning agents and wash it without detergent. Also, for tough detergent stains, you can use a combination of cleaning agents to remove them.

What Do Detergent Stains Look Like?

Detergent stains usually look like circular greasy spots. However, this varies with the color, fabric type, and detergent type. If the clothing is white and the detergent bluish, the stain will take the color of the detergent and appear bluish. For colored clothes, the color may take any other color depending on the color of the clothing.

How Do I Remove Laundry Detergents Out of White Clothes?

Removing laundry detergent stains from white is much easier than for colored clothes. With white clothes, you have a wider variety of cleaning agents to use, including bleaches. One of the easiest methods is to soak it in vinegar or 3% hydrogen peroxide and wait for one hour, wash without detergent, rinse and dry.

I wrote a guide on what to do if your clothes smell too much like detergent that may interest you to read next.

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