We’ve all been there: You’re ready to leave the house and your makeup is looking great — but after one last glance at the mirror, you discover a bit of lipstick is smeared on the collar or arm of your blouse. And if you’ve ever tried to wash out lipstick stains, you know they can be particularly stubborn. But before you send that shirt to the trash bin, we asked experts how to get lipstick stains out of clothes, and here are their best stain-lifting tricks.
Why is lipstick so difficult to remove?
The answer lies in its composition, says Melissa Caverly, laundry expert and founder of Imagine Maids. “Lipstick is oil-based and contains both waxes and pigments — this combination allows it to moisturize and adhere to your skin to give you that beautiful lip color,” Caverly explains. “But it also means it sticks to fabric fibers with the same stubbornness.”
3 easy steps to get lipstick out of clothes
Step 1: Remove excess
To start, you’ll want to make sure any excess lipstick is removed, but don’t rub the stain, as this can help further set it in. Instead, simply grab a plastic knife or credit card and use it to gently scrape off any excess pigment. You can also use a sticky piece of tape to dab off residue.
Step 2: Pretreat the stains
Pinpoint the right pretreatment to ensure the best results once you place the stained garment in the wash. Luckily, you have lots of options to choose from. Just consider one of the easy methods below.
The best overall pretreament: Enzyme-based laundry detergent
The same soap you use to clean your clothes can also act as a stain pretreatment in its pure form, explains Nathaly Vieira, owner of InspireClean. , adding that this method should also be gentle enough for most fabrics. “This is especially true with enzyme-based detergent, because the enzymes are designed to break down and dissolve oils. They are very powerful when not diluted by the water in your wash cycle. Just pour enough to cover the stain and let sit for 15 minutes.”
But if you don’t have these detergents on hand, the following household staples can work as well:
For delicate fabric: Dish soap
Grease-fighting dish soaps like Dawn or Palmolive help break down the oils that cause oil-based lipstick pigments to stick to fabrics, explains Angel Rubin from Hellamaid. “Just squirt enough soap to cover the stain and let it sit for about 15 minutes.” Dish soap is one of the most versatile options for removing lipstick stains because it is gentle enough to use on even delicate fabrics like silk and linen.
Also ideal for delicates? White vinegar. It helps dissolve oils, and although it’s not as powerful as other stain removers, it won’t be harsh on fabric, adds Vieira. “For this pretreatment, simply mix two parts white vinegar with one part water, then pour over the stain and let sit for 15 minutes.”
For cottons and wools: Rubbing alcohol
Look no further than rubbing alcohol, which may be too harsh for delicate fabrics but will work well on your sweaters, t-shirts and hoodies. It’s a solvent, which means it liquefies oil so surfactants — i.e., laundry detergent — can easily absorb and remove it.
“Rubbing alcohol may be too harsh on upholstery made of silk or wool, so always spot test it before using. Then apply it the same way you would dish soap: just pour a bit over the stain and let sit for 15 minutes,” says Rubin, who adds that alcohol-based hairspray or even vodka can work in a pinch, too.
For whites: Ammonia
Like rubbing alcohol, ammonia is a solvent but a strong alkaline type that helps break down oils. It can also have a bleaching effect, which makes it great for whites, but be cautious using it on bright colors. “Simply mix equal parts ammonia and water in a bowl, then use an old toothbrush to gently apply it to the stain,” says Vieira.
Step 3: Put stained items in the laundry
After you’ve successfully pretreated your lipstick stain, you can basically launder your clothes as usual. Just use the hottest water setting the fabric will allow, since heat helps liquify any oils and wax left in the stain, so your laundry detergent will ensure all traces are removed.
After the wash cycle is complete, check to make sure the stain is completely gone before putting the garment in the dryer. That’s because once heated and dried, any remnants of the stain can set and be even more challenging to remove. If there’s any hint of lipstick remaining, simply repeat the cycle starting with your stain-removing pretreatment again.
What if I placed my still-stained items in the dryer?
In this case, you’ll want to apply either a commercial stain treatment product such as Shout Laundry Stain Treatment (Buy from W.B. Mason, $8.49) or Seventh Generation Laundry Stain Remover (Buy from FreshDirect, $5.59). Or try oxygen-based (aka non-chlorine) bleach, which, unlike chlorine bleach, is safe to use on colors and prints.
If you’re using a commercial stain treatment, follow the directions on the bottle for how long to apply to a set-in stain.
If you’re using bleach, dilute it according to the product’s directions, then pour it into a bin and submerge the entire garment and allow it to soak at least eight hours or overnight. Then, regardless of which method you used, try laundering it in hot water again.
To avoid getting lipstick on clothes in the first place
Even easier than getting a lipstick stain out of clothes is not having to deal with one in the first place. These simple lipstick application strategies with help you outsmart smudges:
Prime lips first:
Applying lip primer first can help lipstick better adhere to your lips and prevent transference. Two options: ColourPop Lippie Stix Primer (Buy from Ulta, $8) or NYX Lip Primer (Buy from Amazon, $15.94).
Seal the color in:
Top coats such as CoverGirl Outlast All Day Top Coat (Buy from Amazon, $4.48) or Ulta Lip Transforming Top Coat (Buy from Ulta, $10) can be applied after you’ve put on your color to create a barrier that locks it in place.
No top coat on hand? You can also use a compact or translucent powder in your makeup kit. To do: After applying your lipstick, simply use a makeup brush to apply a thin layer of powder over your lips, then lightly blot with a tissue.
Find more clever tips for cleaning stains here:
Lindsay Bosslett is currently associate vice president and managing editor for Health Monitor Network, a patient-education print and digital publishing company. In her role there, she oversees a staff of editors and freelance writers, as well as the production of guides and magazines designed to help both patients and healthcare providers in the ever-changing point-of-care space. As a regular writer for both Woman’s World’s Organized column and First for Women’s Life Smarts page, she delivers practical, creative tips to help women make their lives easier. In her free time, Lindsay enjoys reading, hiking, gardening and attending taco festivals. She lives with her husband, two dogs and lots of bears in a little house on a hill in West Milford, N.J.
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