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How to Remove Rust Stains
From Clothes and Carpet

October 30, 2020

Learning how to remove rust stains takes patience, the right stain remover, and some know-how. You could use a commercial stain remover, but there are safer, natural remedies that can get the job done just as well.

How to Get Rust Stains Out of Clothes

Your washing machine can’t usually remove rust stains, and bleach might just make them permanent. If you throw your garment in the dryer before the stain is completely removed, the heat could permanently set the stain, too. The bottom line is, if you want to get those rust stains out, you’ll have to do it by hand before you launder the garment. Find out how to get rust out of clothes with these field-tested tips.

Before you attempt to remove stains from clothing, read the care instructions and warnings on the label. Most rust stains on fabric like cotton, cotton blends, and synthetics should come out easily if you follow the directions below. If you’re in doubt about how to treat a particular fabric, spot-test your stain remover of choice first.

Here are a couple of homemade stain remover recipes to get you started:

Salt and Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is a natural, antibacterial cleaner that’s also a safe bleaching agent; salt is a natural abrasive that also absorbs liquids. When you combine the two, you get a powerful stain removal formula that’s easy on your clothes. Dark fabrics may not be colorfast, so test the lemon juice first on a seam or inconspicuous spot to see if it’s safe.

Sprinkle salt on the rust stain, pour lemon juice on the salt, and then lay the garment flat to dry. If it’s a sunny day, let your clothing dry in the sun to speed up the stain removal process. If the stain remains, repeat the process.

Cream of Tartar, Baking Soda, and Hydrogen Peroxide

On its own, cream of tartar is a pantry staple that’s good for baking. It’s also a mild cleaner. But combine it with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and you have a powerful homemade rust stain remover. The combined stain-removing power of natural bleaching agents and the acids in the cream of tartar will break down the rust and dissolve the stain.

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Make a paste with one teaspoon of cream of tartar, one teaspoon of baking soda, and a few drops of hydrogen peroxide. Spot-test the paste on dark fabrics before trying to remove the rust stain in case the hydrogen peroxide causes fading or discoloration. Once you know it’s safe, apply the paste to the stain and let it work on the stain for 30 minutes before rinsing the fabric thoroughly. Let the garment air dry and repeat the process if you still see the stain.

Stain Removal for Clothes Made With Natural Fibers

To remove rust from delicate fabrics or garments that can’t be washed, you’ll have to be gentle and use the mildest stain removers to protect the fabric. For silk, pour lemon juice on the stain and cover it with salt. Let the stain removing solution sit for five minutes. Rinse the stained area with warm water until it runs clear. You may have to repeat the process several times to get the stain out. When the stain is gone, dab the area with white vinegar to bring back the silk shine.

If you have a rust stain on wool, blot it with a clean cloth dampened with club soda. Dab on a paste made from lemon juice and salt and wait until it dries. Vacuum up the dried paste and check the stain. If the stain is still noticeable, mix a third of a cup of cup white vinegar with two tablespoons of dishwashing liquid and one cup of water in a bowl. Dip a clean cloth in the soap suds only and dab the stain until it’s gone. Blot the wool dry and let the garment air dry.

How to Get Rust Stains Out of Carpet

Getting stains out of carpet isn’t difficult if you take your time and keep the stain from spreading. Spot-test your stain remover in an out-of-the-way area to be sure your efforts don’t make things worse. Start with these natural stain removers and you should be in good shape.

Dish Soap and Water

If the rust stain isn’t set or too deep in the carpet, regular dish soap might get it out without harming your carpet. Scrape away and loosen the rust from the carpet fibers with a butter knife and then vacuum the stained area. Put a bit of dish soap onto a damp white cloth and dab the rust stain several times. Get the stain area soapy and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Press a dry white cloth or paper towel over the dampened stain to absorb the soap and rust. Use a fresh part of your cloth and repeat the process until you see no more rust being absorbed. Wipe with a damp cloth and let your carpet air dry.

Salt and Vinegar

Salt and vinegar will give you some extra stain-removing power if your soap and water don’t get the job done. Soak a cloth in distilled white vinegar and dab it on the stain. Don’t overdo it or the stain will spread. Keep dabbing the stain with a fresh part of your cloth until you no longer see rust being absorbed. Sprinkle salt over the dampened carpet and let it sit for 30 minutes. Blot the area with a cloth to get up as much moisture as you can, then vacuum up the salt. Find a white cloth, dampen it, and wipe the area.

Lemon Juice and Salt

Lemon juice can help lighten rust stains with its natural bleaching action. Pour lemon juice into a bowl and add two teaspoons of salt. Dip a clean white cloth into the lemon and salt solution and dab the stain to get the surface of the stain loose. Press a clean part of your cloth firmly onto the stain to let the lemon juice saturate deeper. Wait five minutes and wipe the stained area with a damp cloth. Pat the area with a dry white cloth to absorb moisture.

How to Get Rid of Rust Stains on Laundry

If rust stains are a recurring problem, you’ll have to take preventive measures to fix the issue. First, figure out what’s causing the rust stains. If you find that the legs on your metal tables or chairs are the culprit, you’ll need to put something between your furniture and your carpet to prevent them. Plastic leg caps or furniture coasters under furniture legs will prevent the rust from reaching the carpet.

For recurring rust stains on laundry, you’ll have to dig deeper to find the problem. Rust can get on your clothes in the washer or your dryer for a variety of reasons. Here are some areas you can investigate.

Water Heaters

Rust and iron deposits can build up in water heaters, especially if they are older. The rust particles can break loose and end up in the washer with your laundry, causing rust stains. If you think this might be the case, give a plumbing service a call; most will inspect and clean your water heater.

Washing Machines

Many modern washers have stainless steel tubs, but some washing machines have tubs made of steel with a porcelain finish. As your washer gets older, the finish can chip or scratch, allowing water to get to the steel and cause rust. Inspect the tub with a flashlight; if you find rusty areas, you can use appliance repair paint to repair the chipped and scratched areas.

Clothes Dryers

Just like washers, many dryers have steel drums with an enamel or porcelain finish. A chip in the dryer drum can expose the metal. Damp laundry can allow moisture to get to these areas and cause rust. Inspect your dryer drum and use appliance repair paint to cover the bare metal.

Water Sources

The water that comes into your home can contain high levels of iron, which can cause yellowing on whites and leave red or brown stains. In rural areas, the high levels of iron could come from your well, and some city water systems still use cast iron water pipes that can corrode and become rusty. Think about installing a water filter to help minimize iron and other minerals.

Use this rust stain removal guide to get rust stains out of your clothes, carpet, and upholstery, and find out more about how to get stains out of fabric when you browse our cleaning blog. From DIY cleaning and disinfecting tips to a range of residential cleaning services, The Maids wants to help you enjoy a clean and healthy home.

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