How to get sunscreen out of clothes: A step-by-step guide to removing stains from the cleaning experts

We share four tips you need to know about if you're always getting sunscreen on your clothes

How to get sunscreen out of clothes as illustrated by a mother putting sun cream on toddler girl
(Image credit: Peter Cade/Getty/Future)

How to get sunscreen out of clothes can seem like an unwanted extra task when the sun is shining, but it doesn't have to be difficult - we have some top tips on getting rid of those unwanted stains quickly.

The sun has come out and you've chosen the best sunscreen to protect you from its rays and enjoy some time taking in the warmth. Children can be sensitive to the protective cream, sometimes needing special sunscreen for kids. Faces can be easily irritated by a lot of formulas for both adults and children, meaning the best sunscreen for your face might need to be a consideration. With all that thought given to protecting your skin, you then find the lotion has stained your clothes and are faced with another dilemma: How to get sunscreen out of your clothes.

Nigel Bearman, CEO and founder of cleaning service Daily Poppins, tells us "Sun protection is important for your skin, but do you know how to protect your clothes from sunscreen? The ingredients in sunscreen, such as avobenzone, can leave sunscreen stains on clothing. In some cases, avobenzone can leave brown, rusty residues when it mixes with minerals found in water. Aside from oils, colours, and active ingredients, there are other ingredients that stain the garment, even after it's been washed and ironed! With solvents and enzymes that work for different stains, sunscreen stains can be effectively removed."

With that in mind, read on for a full range of tips and tricks from industry experts, on how to get rid of sunscreen stains from your clothing.  

How to get sunscreen out of clothes 

1. Act quickly

Fast action will offer the best results. As soon as you spot sunscreen on your clothing, it is best to gently blot the area with a cloth to absorb as much as possible

Carl Broadbent from Travel Spock says "In my experience, the key to sunscreen stain removal is patience and quick action - act immediately when the stain occurs." He continues "take off the garment and blot the stain with a clean cloth to remove as much sunscreen as you can. Resist the urge to rub, as this could cause the sunscreen to penetrate deeper into the fabric." 

Alex Econs, founder of t-shirt printing company ICON Printing has plenty of experience helping clients care for their fabrics. He adds "Sunscreen stains are harder to remove the longer you leave them. The best thing to do is wash your clothing as quickly as possible after wearing it – try not to let it sit around for more than a few days or it will be tougher to get rid of." 

2. Spot treat the affected area

If you're not in your home and don't have regular detergent to hand for spot treatments, shaving cream, glycerin, baking soda, white wine vinegar, soap, dishwashing liquid, lemon and salt, and even bread can be used to spot treat.

Carl Broadbent says "Grab some of that shaving cream you've packed in your toiletry bag. Apply it generously to the sunscreen stain, and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then rinse with warm water, and the stain should come out. The cream acts to break down the oils in the sunscreen, making it easier to rinse out."

He's also a fan of dishwashing liquid, adding "Dishwashing liquid is my go-to remedy. It's designed to cut through grease, and that's exactly what we need it for here. Apply it to the stain, let it sit for a while, then rinse and launder as usual." Shampoo or hand soap can also be substituted for dishwashing soap, if there is none available.

If you have glycerin to hand, Elaine Warren from Family Cruise Companion says "This humble pharmacy essential can perform magic on sunscreen stains. Simply dab a bit of glycerin onto the stain, let it sit for about 30 minutes, and then rinse it off."

Stephanie Ritting from The Unknown Enthusiast says "Applying a mixture of baking soda and water to the spot and letting it sit for about an hour can do wonders. The baking soda helps lift the sunscreen from the fabric."

She has also reached for white wine vinegar and dish soap on many occasions, finding them extremely effective. "Mix equal parts of both with warm water and let the stained clothing soak in the solution for a few hours, or overnight if possible, she said. She added "The vinegar will help dissolve the sunscreen, while the dish soap will wash it away."

Anne Sutherland from Pretraveller  told us about the unusual method of using bread, that has saved her on many occasion. Her advice is "Grab a piece of bread and gently use it to blot and scrape off the excess sunscreen. Believe me, it works like a charm. I discovered this trick on a picnic under the cherry blossoms in Japan and it's been my first resort ever since."

Petya Holevich from Fantastic Services, is a fan of lemon juice and salt. She tells us "A mixture of lemon juice and salt is another DIY method for removing rust-like sunscreen stains. For this method, flush the stained area under cold water but work quickly by only exposing it to water for long enough to saturate the area. Lay the clothing piece on a flat surface where it can remain undisturbed overnight. Apply lemon juice directly onto the stain and a heap of salt onto it. Leave them on overnight to break down the stain and, in the morning, brush the salt away and wash the item as usual." 

Full laundry basket placed on the floor

(Image credit: Robert Reader/Getty)

3. Soak the garment

After your spot treatment, some methods will be required to stay on overnight. If not, you could try pre-soaking before loading in the washing machine.

Check the laundry care label on the garment beforehand, for any special instructions. Then fill a sink or bathtub with enough water to immerse the affected items, checking the heat symbols on the label to ensure you don't overheat them. Follow the pre-treatment instructions on your chosen detergent if using, and apply directly to the stain. Once the garment is in the water, mix the dispersing detergent around gently, until it has mixed evenly with the water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. 

For a natural pre-soak method, Nigel Bearman from Daily Poppins is a fan of eucalyptus oil. The naturally occurring antibacterial compounds eucamalol and limonene in the oil, not only act as a disinfectant, but have stain removing properties. As with regular detergent, it is advised to soak the sunscreen stained item in a few drops of eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes, before rinsing and washing as usual.

Nigel says "Oil of eucalyptus has magical stain-removal qualities - and it smells fantastic too." 

4. Wash as directed

Once you've acted quickly, spot treated and soaked the sunscreen stain, the garment can then be washed as normal.

However, Gene Fitzgerald from BOS reminds us that some stains can be more difficult to remove if you live in a hard water area. This is because hard water environments have additional minerals in the water like calcium and magnesium which react with the sunscreen and create insoluble compounds. Hard water can make detergents less effective and prevent soap from dissolving properly, also making it harder for stains to be removed. 

"There are specialist laundry detergents for hard water areas which can work better and adding white vinegar to the wash cycle can also remove any mineral residue and soften the water," he says, "Thereby making it easier for stains to be removed. You should also consider using a water softener which will not only prevent mineral deposits but improve the efficacy of your washing. This will make it easier to remove stains."

Petya Holevich adds that the clothing should be carefully inspected after washing. If any traces of the stain remain, you should avoid putting them in the dryer because the heat can set the stain further. She suggests in such cases, to repeat the pre-treatment process and wash the garment again. She also tells us "Avoid ironing the stained area before treating it, because the heat can cause the stain to set." 

She adds "Use a laundry detergent that’s formulated to cut through oils and grease. This will help break down the oily enzymes and your washing machine will be able to perform its job better." 

A row of white washing hangs on a washing line, drying in the sun

(Image credit: Catherine Falls Commercial)

What gets sunscreen out of clothes?

To summarise, here is what you can use to spot treat and get sunscreen out of clothes. Some of these can be found in the household, and others can be useful if you're on holiday or out and about.

  • Shaving cream
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Hand soap
  • Shampoo
  • Glycerin
  • Baking soda
  • White wine vinegar
  • Bread
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Detergents designed to break down grease
  • Detergents designed for hard water areas
  • Eucalyptus oil

How to get yellow sunscreen stains out of white clothes 

Getting sunscreen stains out of white clothes can require slightly different methods to regular clothing.

It can be easy to reach for the bleach to whiten your whites back up, or simply let the sun bleach them white again. Alex Econs says "One of the simplest but most effective ways of keeping your whites bright is to dry them outside if possible- it isn’t just an old wives tale! The sun will naturally bleach any discolouration lightening any stains and keeping garments whiter for longer."

However, Stephanie Rytting suggests that for a gentler method, hydrogen peroxide and dish soap can be equally effective. "Mix two parts hydrogen peroxide with one part dish soap and apply it directly to the stain," she says, "Then let it sit for a while before laundering. This combo acts like a charm to cut through the yellow sunscreen residue."

Carl Broadbent and Anne Sutherland prefer a take on the previously discussed lemon juice and salt method. Carl's advice is "Apply the mix to the stain, leave it in the sun for a bit, then rinse and launder. The acidity in the lemon juice, combined with the abrasive action of the salt and the bleaching power of the sun, can work wonders." 

How to prevent sunscreen stains on clothes

Although it might require some planning, there are ways to prevent sunscreen staining on clothing.

Some companies also produce mineral-based sunscreens, which have also been found to reduce staining when compared to chemical formulations as they transfer less onto clothing. Similarly, some are marketed as "non-greasy", which can also decrease the chances that prevalent oils will be hanging around on your skin waiting to find a new home on clothing.

It might be difficult when life is busy and there's a lot to think about, but applying sunscreen in advance and allowing it to dry completely can be an option. Carlos Garcia from Total Clean tells us "Allow sunscreen to fully absorb. Apply sunscreen to clean, dry skin and allow it to fully absorb before get dressed. This can minimise the chances that sunscreen will get on your clothes."

Another tip he gave, was "Be mindful of application. Take care when applying your sunscreen to avoid excessive amounts or spreading it on areas that come into direct contact with clothing. Use alternative forms of sunscreen such as sticks or gels, that are usually less prone to staining clothes compared to lotions or sprays."

Now you're fully equipped for a day outside with sunscreen tips, take a look at the best kids sun hats and the best kids sandals, to complete your day of summer fun. To keep children entertained throughout the day, our guide to cheap outdoor toys for summer will have you covered.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.