This Fabric Care Scientist Debunks a Common Laundry Detergent Myth

updated Sep 28, 2022
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(Image credit: TanyaRozhnovskaya)

It seems straightforward, but laundry comes with a learning curve. If you’ve ever discovered detergent residue on your favorite jeans, you know what we mean. So, what’s the deal with laundry detergent stains? We consulted with Laura Goodman, a P&G fabric care scientist, to demystify your detergent woes. Good news: these “stains” can be easily removed from your clothes as long as you treat them immediately.

Can Laundry Detergent Stain Clothes?

Technically, no, since laundry detergents are formulated to leave clothes clean, says Goodman. But laundry detergent can leave spots or residue on clothes, especially with improper use. The good news is, Goodman says, these spots should come out relatively easily if you wash the garment immediately.

(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

How to Remove Laundry Detergent Residue from Clothes

If you have a detergent mishap and the spot doesn’t come out after re-washing the item, you’re not out of luck just yet. Goodman suggests trying this six-step routine.

Here’s how to remove laundry detergent “stains” from clothes:

  1. Rinse the spot under hot water to remove as much residue as possible.
  2. Gently wring the excess water from the item and lay it flat.
  3. Apply household rubbing alcohol to the spot, making sure it covers the entire affected area. (A genius move is to spot test on similar fabric or an inside fold first.)
  4. Let the spot soak for at least 10 minutes—the longer the better.
  5. Using warm or hot water, rinse the fabric. This should remove the spot.
  6. If the spot persists, repeat the steps above.

How to Prevent Laundry Detergent Stains

While laundry detergent doesn’t technically “stain” clothes, the spotting that comes with overuse or washing issues is totally preventable. Using your detergent as intended is the best route. “Whether powder, liquid, or laundry pacs, it is best to read and follow the instructions on how to correctly use the product with your washing machine,” Goodman says.