Why Are Rust Stains on My Clothes After Washing?

Those red, yellow and brown smudges shouldn’t be there. So, where are they coming from?

Clothing in a washing machine with rust stains

Your water is likely the culprit. The good news is there are simple solutions!

If you’ve had enough of those mysterious smudges, we don’t blame you. After all, they’re likely costing you a lot of money for extra cleaning supplies and time spent trying to scrub them away. It’s time to be done with them for good!

Keep reading to learn:

  • How your water causes rust stains on clothes after washing
  • Other household issues this type of water can cause
  • How to remove rust stains from clothes
  • Simple solutions to keep rust stains away for good
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How Water Causes Rust Stains on Clothes After Washing

How could your water be causing these rusty-looking stains on your clothes? Water can’t help it because it’s very adhesive and tends to stick to and collect whatever particles it flows over. Unfortunately, this includes the minerals that cause rust stains and discoloration in the washing machine.

The minerals that often pollute water and contribute to these problems in the washing machine are iron, calcium and magnesium. As we will see, iron can get into water from several different sources. Calcium and magnesium are common throughout the Northern Illinois and Southeast Florida regions and are what contribute to making the water hard.

These minerals cause stains by reducing the effectiveness of laundry detergent and sticking to clothing during the wash cycle.

Let’s take a closer look at where these contaminants come from and how they stain your clothes.

How City Water Becomes Contaminated

Although city water receives municipal treatment, this treatment is largely ineffective at keeping iron, calcium and magnesium out of water. Most water plants don’t do much more than treat the water with chlorine or chloramine, which can eliminate iron from the water. However, it can’t remove calcium or magnesium.

Even if city water treatment does remove iron, the contaminant often still infiltrates the water after it’s left the water plant. This is because it often flows through old iron pipes on its way to your tap. As these pipes rust and wear away with time, little bits of iron break off into the water. Water line disturbances from construction can also increase the amount of contamination from these pipes.

For this reason, we recommend checking if old pipes might be contributing to the high amount of iron in your water. You can have a licensed plumber inspect the pipes in your home and check to see if your neighbors are having the same issues. If your neighbors are, then there’s probably a problem with the service lines in your region.

How Well Water Becomes Polluted

Unlike city water, private well water receives no treatment before it enters the home. Because of this, iron pollution is more common for homes with well water.

Iron, along with the hard water minerals calcium and magnesium, frequently contaminates well water because they make up the rock surrounding the well.

The Effects of Iron on Your Clothes

When water contains a lot of iron, it doesn’t interact well with most laundry detergents, especially those containing chlorine bleach. When the iron interacts with the detergent, a chemical reaction occurs that causes a rusty substance to form and stick to your clothing. These are the red, yellow and brown spots you see when you pull your clothes out of the machine.

The Effects of Hard Water on Your Clothes

The hard water minerals calcium and magnesium do not directly cause rust stains. However, they do not help matters by further disrupting the wash cycle.

When calcium and magnesium mix with laundry detergent, a hardened, sticky substance forms. Rather than pulling dirt off the clothing, this curd-like substance sticks to the clothing and holds the dirt there with it.

Not only can this residue discolor the clothing, but it can also make the clothing feel uncomfortably rigid and grimy after washing. In excessively hard water, you might also see the fabric fibers of your clothing breaking and creating holes.

Other Household Issues This Water Can Cause

While water containing calcium, magnesium and iron is safe to consume, it can still lead to inconvenient, embarrassing and costly problems.

Some of the most common issues include:

On top of this, hard water can  cause your water-using appliances to work harder, making your bills increase. You may also have to wash your clothes for longer amounts of time with hotter water. Usually, it takes up to 30 percent more detergent and a much higher water temperature to get satisfactory results.

List of the negative effects hard water can have on clothing
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How to Remove Rust Stains from Clothes

There are a few different methods you can try to get rid of stains from rust and hard water. Some are simple and require items you can find around the home. Others require special products. We recommend trying the less expensive methods first before going out and purchasing stain removers or strong detergents.

Method 1: Treat Iron Stains with Lemon Juice, Salt, Water and Vinegar

This easy method for removing iron stains on clothes requires inexpensive materials you can find in the grocery store. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sprinkle salt and squeeze a little lemon juice onto the stained areas.
  2. Leave the item of clothing out to dry in the sun for half an hour.
  3. Rinse the salt and lemon juice off the garment with a mixture of water and a small amount of vinegar.
  4. Wash the clothing in your washing machine using regular detergent and hot water.

Method 2: Wash Hard Water Stains with Hot Water and Detergent

If hard water has left your clothing discolored or soiled, we recommend using this modified washing method from The Spruce:

  1. Fill your washer with the hottest water that you can use for the type of fabric you are washing.
  2. Add four times the amount of detergent you normally use and one cup water conditioner.
  3. Wash just long enough to get the clothes wet.
  4. Leave the clothes soaking overnight or at least 12 hours.
  5. Drain and spin your clothes without agitating.
  6. Wash the clothes with a regular cycle, but only with one cup of water conditioner.

Method 3: Try a Commercial Rust Remover

If using household supplies doesn’t work for the rust stains, another option is to try a commercial rust remover. These heavy-duty products are made with acids that loosen rust stains. So, applying a little to your garment should get the rust out of your clothes.

Be careful when using a commercial rust remover because it can burn and be dangerous if it gets on your skin. So, we recommend using protective gloves and goggles when handling it. Additionally, be careful to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying the rust remover to your clothes.

Simple Solutions to Prevent Rust and Hard Water Stains

Removing these stains is one thing. What’s better is making sure they never smudge up your clothes again!

You can do this by investing in the right water treatment equipment to keep iron, calcium and magnesium out of your water.

How do you determine the best water treatment solution for your situation? It starts with getting your water tested.

Get Your Water Tested

An EPA-certified test of your home’s water will reveal the amount of iron you’re dealing with and how hard your water is. It’ll also show you if any other potentially harmful contaminants are present.

These test results are important because they’ll allow you to make an informed decision about which water treatment solutions to choose. This way you won’t spend money on an expensive device you don’t really need.

If you need assistance making sense of your water test results, our team of water treatment experts at Angel Water would be happy to help you determine the right next step.

Your test will likely show that you need one of these three solutions:

  • Water softener
  • Reverse osmosis system
  • Chlorine injection system

We’ll explain what each of these are and how they can help you below.

How a Water Softener Helps

Most of the time, a water softener is the best option for preventing rust and hard water stains on clothing. Water softeners use a proven process called ion-exchange to take calcium, magnesium and iron ions out of the water and replace them with sodium.

Of course, not all water softeners are created equal. Some only remove calcium and magnesium while others remove iron as well. So, you’ll want to make sure the softener you’re getting removes iron if you have it in your water.

You’ll also want to find a quality system that will give you the lasting protection you need. One way to identify a trustworthy system is by checking to see if it’s NSF/ANSI 44 certified. You can also look for softeners from trusted American-made brands like EcoWater.

At Angel Water, we sell a wide variety of NSF/ANSI 44 certified water softeners from EcoWater and other brands. We also offer 10-year warranties, licensed installation and maintenance for all of our systems.

Water Softener Prevents Rust Stains Graphic Angel Water

How a Reverse Osmosis System Helps

Water softeners can only handle so much iron. So, if your water test reveals a higher amount of iron than a water softener can handle, a reverse osmosis (RO) system will be a better option.

RO systems filter out iron and many other contaminants by forcing water through a semipermeable membrane. This is one of the most effective and proven water filtration methods available today.

The best way to ensure you’re getting a quality RO system is by checking that it’s NSF/ANSI 58 certified. You also can’t go wrong with trusted RO brands like Pentair and EcoWater.

You can learn more about the RO systems we sell at Angel Water at the link below.

How a Chlorine Injection System Helps

For water with very high amounts of iron in water, we will usually recommend a chlorine injection system. This device is like your own personal water tower for your home. It injects the water with chlorine to kill off the iron and other contaminants in it and then filters the chlorine out of the water with a carbon filter before sending it to your tap.

Chlorine injection systems are especially great for homes with well water because they kill off harmful bacteria that often grow in well systems along with iron.

Need Help Eliminating Rust Stains on Clothes After Washing?

You don’t have to live with your washing machine leaving your clothing stained and smudged! Instead, you can take control of your water by getting the right system for your home. And we’d be happy to help you with that!

At Angel Water, we provide free at home water tests and consultations to help you identify the best solutions. You can shop for those solutions from our selection of industry-leading systems. And once you’ve found the right fit, we can professionally install and service it to keep the cleaner, healthier water coming!

We serve customers throughout the greater Chicago, IL, and West Palm Beach, FL, regions.

Please call us today at (847) 382-7800

or fill out the form below to talk with an expert or schedule a free consultation!

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