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The Best Ways To Remove Rust Stains From Clothes and Carpet — And Why You Should Never Use Bleach

Pantry staples work well, but what you use varies widely with fabric/material. Here's what to know

Have you ever moved a piece of furniture only to discover a mystery orange-red rust stain on the carpet? Or maybe your favorite shirt suddenly has a new rust stain on it after a recent wash. No matter the situation, finding stains on carpet and clothes that you’re not sure can be removed, is never a fun discovery. The good news: removing rust stains from clothes and carpet is easier than you might think. We interviewed cleaning experts to learn the best techniques for how to remove rust stains from clothes and carpet.

What causes rust stains on clothes and carpet?

“Rust stains on clothes typically occur when metal objects, such as zippers, buttons or metal fixtures on clothing, come into contact with moisture, leading to oxidation and the formation of rust,” explains Prerna Jain, operations manager at the Ministry of Cleaning.

More surprisingly the rust stains on clothes can be caused by the very process of laundering them. “Hard water with a high iron content can contribute to rust stains during laundering.” If you’re regularly struggling with clothes coming out of your washing machine with rust stains, consider a water softener.

Another potential cause of rust stains on clothes that occur while during laundering: metal objects in the washer or rusted pipes. “If you suspect that rusted pipes are the case, consult with a plumber,” says Petya Holevich, domestic cleaning expert at Fantastic Services.

“Whatever the reason for the rust stain, avoid tossing the clothes in the dryer because the heat will very likely set the stain further.”

Rust stains on carpet are mainly due to the same reason: The stain is formed when furniture that has a metal component comes in contact with some form of moisture (a spill, a pet accident, extreme humidity) and causing the metal to oxidize. This causes rust to occur and then eventually transfer to your carpet.

How to remove rust stains from clothes and carpet?

The method for removing rust stains from clothes and carpet varies by the affected surface material, but essentially it comes down to removing the iron oxide (the scientific name for rust) through a chemical reaction. As with all stains, the faster you act, the more likely it is you’ll be able to get the rust stain out before it sets in the fabric.

And even though it might be tempting, don’t just throw the rust-stained items in the washing machine with your normal detergent and hot water. “Washing machines aren’t usually effective for this task and it might even make the rust stains permanent, but there are a few other effective methods you can try based on the type of material you’re dealing with as each one will require a different approach,” Holevich says.  Read on to learn how to remove rust stains from clothes and carpet.

How to remove rust stains from clothing

If you’ve got a rust stain in your clothes, follow these steps to get the stain out.

Step 1: Act quickly. The sooner you find and address the rust stain, the better chance you’ll have of removing it completely. Fresh rust stains are easier to treat than old, set-in stains. If you’ve got a set-in stain, be prepared to repeat step 4 multiple times.

Step 2: Blot the stain. If the rust stain is wet or has any loose particles, blot the affected area with a clean, dry cloth or paper towel. While blotting, avoid rubbing the stain because it may spread the rust to an even larger area of the fabric. If stuck-on pieces remain, use a plastic scraper (Buy from Amazon, $7.64 for a set of 10) to remove the pieces.

Step 3: Check the fabric care label on clothes. Before applying any cleaning solution, check the fabric care label to make sure the cleaning method and solution you use won’t damage the fabric fibers. If there aren’t any specifications, before treating the entire stain, test the cleaning solution in an inconspicuous spot.

Step 4: Dissolve the stain. There are several options to remove stains based on the fabric and severity of the stain. See below to find the best one for your stain.

Step 5: Air dry and launder. Once the garment is stain-free, let it air dry and then launder per the instructions on the care label.

White, cotton, cotton blend or synthetic fabrics: Use salt & vinegar

how to remove rust stains from clothes and carpet using salt, vinegar and lemon

Mix equal parts white vinegar and salt until it creates a paste. We recommend starting with 1 tablespoon of each mixed together in a small bowl or cup. Then apply the paste directly to the rust stain, covering it completely. Let the solution set for 30 minutes. Gently scrub the area with an old, clean toothbrush. Rinse with cold water. If stain remains, repeat the process until you’re happy with the results.

For light-colored fabrics, Holevich recommends sprinkling lemon juice over the stain and placing the item in direct sunlight for several hours. “The combination of lemon juice’s natural acidity and the sun’s UV rays has the potential to fade the rust stain,” she says. “Afterwards, rinse the fabric thoroughly in cold water to remove any leftover cleaning solution.” 

Silk & delicate fabrics: Use lemon juice & salt

A lemon juice and salt paste is highly effective in removing rust stains. The lemon juice contains natural citric acid which helps break down the rust particles. The salt acts as an abrasive agent and enhances the rust removal process.

To do: Mix 1 tablespoon each of lemon juice and salt in a small bowl or cup. Gently apply a thin layer of paste to the affected area and let it sit for five minutes. Rinse thoroughly in cool water. Repeat as needed until the stain is effectively removed.

If you’re working with silk, dab the affected area with white vinegar to return the fabric’s natural shine. 

Wool fabrics: Use club soda

Pop open a bottle of club soda and blot the affected area with a clean cloth. If the rust stain remains, try the lemon juice and salt paste method above. Repeat the process until the stain is gone.

How to get set-in rust stains out of clothes

If you’ve washed a load of clothes and you don’t discover the rust spots until after the clothes come out of the dryer, there is still hope. Treat the affected area with the 1:1 lemon juice and salt paste from above. “Apply to the affected area and scrub gently with an old toothbrush. Be careful not to scrub too vigorously because it may damage the fabric fibers,” Holevich says. Let the paste sit on the stain for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight. Rinse with cool water. Repeat the process until the stain is removed.

If the lemon juice and salt paste is not effective in removing the stain, it may be time to try a commercial rust remover such as Whink Rust remover (Buy from Amazon, $7.80). 

How to remove rust stains from carpets

The technique to remove rust stains from carpets is similar to removing rust from clothing, but since the material (and stain) tend to be much larger, be prepared to exercise patience while trying to remove rust stains from carpet.

Step 1: Work quickly. Time is imperative in reducing the amount of chemical reaction that causes the rust to form and stain the carpet. 

Step 2: Remove particles. If you’re working with indoor carpet, outdoor carpet or even carpet in a boat, you can use a wet/dry vac to remove any particles on or around the rust stain. Once the particles are gone, blot the stain with a clean, dry cloth or paper towel. 

Step 3: Dissolve the stain.“When using any cleaning solution on carpets, it’s essential to perform a spot test on an inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t cause discoloration or damage to the carpet fibers,” Jain says.  What solution you use depends on the carpet fabric. See below to learn which to use.

Step 4: Let dry. Make sure your carpet is dry before walking on it as the moisture will attract dirt.

This video shows how easy it can be to remove rust stains from carpet:

Synthetic carpet: Use hydrogen peroxide

Saturate the stain with hydrogen peroxide and let it soak in for five to 10 minutes. Then, use an old, clean toothbrush to work the hydrogen peroxide into the stain so it can target the stain. Apply a carpet cleaner such as Resolve (Buy from Amazon, $4.97) to the area and work it in the stain with the toothbrush. Use your wet/dry vac to vacuum up the cleaning solutions.

Wool carpet: Use club soda

club soda cans to remove rust stains

Use a clean cloth soaked in club soda to blot the stain. If a stain remains, make a paste made from 1:1 mixture of white vinegar and baking soda. Mix the solution in a cup or small bowl. Apply it to the rust stain and let it sit for up to two hours, then gently scrub the area with an old, clean toothbrush. Blot the area with a clean cloth and repeat the process if needed.

What *not* to use on rust stains

Now that you know how to remove rust stains from clothes and carpet, it helps to know what won’t work. While it may seem like bleach is the best solution to remove all stains, “when removing rust stains from clothes, avoid using chlorine bleach as it can react with the rust and make the stain permanent,” Jain says. 

Even more cleaning tips can be found here:

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Rachel Weber is an award-winning journalist with a passion for all things lifestyle, home, and garden. She started with Better Homes & Gardens as an editorial apprentice in 2006 and has been writing and editing ever since. She teaches journalism classes at Iowa State University, works at a boutique public relations firm and loves to write about all the things she learned when she was homeschooled. She’s worked on brands like Allrecipes, Lowe’s Creative Ideas, Shape, and Better Homes & Gardens doing everything from recipe testing to designing kitchens.

Rachel holds a B.A. in journalism and psychology from Iowa State University and an M.A. in communication leadership from Drake University. She loves to crack a good dad joke and listen to Taylor Swift. She’s also pretty proud of her alphabetized spice rack and color-coded closet. A breast cancer survivor, Rachel is passionate about early detection and healthcare advocacy.



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