How To Clean Rust Stains On Clothes?

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Rust on stainless steel is bad. But, rust stains on your new clothes are just worse! I distinctly remember having a uniform in my school days with a rust stain from the skirt’s steel hook. And though my mother tried soaking and washing it repeatedly, it wouldn’t budge. Of course, it was frustrating! And that is a reason this cleaning task is closer to my heart.

So, as usual, to clean rust stains on clothes, we tried various hacks commonly found on the internet and tested them to find what works best. The first task was of course to create rust stains on our sample strips. Fortunately, just earlier, we had tried a test on how to clean rust stains from stainless steel. So, before we started that test, we took our cloth strips and rubbed them on the rusted stainless steel.

Then, we tried four popular hacks found online and also kept a piece as a control for the experiment.

Control

The control strip of the experiment was washed just like everything else in a washing machine. This is to check if pretreating the stain is necessary or if rust stains can be removed with normal washing. The before and after images are given below. As you can see, though it has faded a bit, the stain remains, showing that you need to pre-treat it for effective removal.

The control patch- Before and after washing in a washing machine

Baking Soda + Salt

Baking soda is considered a versatile cleaning agent. From our tests, we have found it to be quite useful for cleaning burnt pans. Salt on the other hand, due to its abrasive properties helps dislodge stains. For this test, we added baking soda and salt in equal quantities and added water to make it a runny paste. Then, we applied it to the rust stain overnight. The next day, we washed it as usual with other clothes in the washing machine. As you can see in the image below, it doesn’t prove to be an effective method for cleaning rust stains. In fact, the results are pretty much like the control group, proving this method to be futile.

how to clean rust stains on clothes using baking soda
Before and after treating the rust stain using baking soda and salt.

Vinegar

Rust, which is iron oxide, is alkaline in nature. Many websites claim that vinegar, being acidic is an effective method to neutralize rust stains. So, we tried soaking the stained part of the cloth overnight in vinegar. We know that doing so risks damaging the cloth fibres. But we did it nevertheless to give it the best chance of working. Unfortunately, as you can see from the before and after image below, though the stain has dulled, it did not remove the stain completely.

how to clean rust stains on clothes using vinegar
Before and after treating the rust stain using vinegar

Detergent + Vanish

Vanish, without a doubt, is an effective stain remover. It proved the most effective method for cleaning turmeric and masala stains from clothes. That is why we tried cleaning rust stains too using the same method. We made a runny paste of detergent and Vanish and soaked the stained part in it overnight. The next day, we ran it in a washing machine. This was one of the most successful methods showing beyond doubt that every home should keep a bottle of Vanish handy. Though not visible in the picture, there was still very faint remains of the stain. But, it would go away completely in another wash.

how to clean rust stains on clothes using vanish and detergent
Before and after treating the stain using Vanish and Detergent Powder

Oxalic Acid

Oxalic acid is one of the effective reagents for removing rust stain from stainless steel. The package says that it is effective on clothes too. Hence, we made a paste and soaked the stained part in the oxalic acid solution. As it is slightly more acidic than vinegar, soak it for just 3-4 hours and then wash it as usual in the washing machine. This too proved quite an effective method of cleaning rust stains from clothes. It wasn’t able to remove the stain completely in the first cycle. Just like Vanish, a faint stain remained, which would go away in another wash cycle.

how to clean rust stains on clothes using oxalic acid
Before and after treating rust stain with oxalic acid

Winner

As you can see, the best method for cleaning rust stain from clothes is using Vanish and Detergent. The next best option is oxalic acid. Other common hacks like baking soda and vinegar did not provide the desired results.

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