How to Remove White Streaks Caused by Laundry Detergent

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The appearance of white streaks on clothes after washing often means that your laundry soap wasn't completely dissolved in the wash water. While you think the clothes are clean, at best they're only partially rinsed. The lingering detergent residue can cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals, and the streaks of white are unattractive on dark clothing. Removing those white streaks and spots is relatively easy, but you'll have to pretreat or soak your clothes and then wash them again.

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White Streaks on Clothes After Washing

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Laundry soap left on your clothing is often due to failure of the granules to dissolve completely. This can be due to very cold water when washing on the cold setting or using too much detergent. Consider switching to a liquid laundry detergent to avoid this issue.

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Hard water, which can leave mineral deposits and prevent powdered detergent from dissolving, may also be a factor. In addition, overloading your washer prevents full agitation of the laundry, so the clothes are not completely washed and rinsed during the cycle.

Spot-Treat the Streaks

Spot-treat detergent streaks by wetting the fabric and then adding a drop or two of dishwashing liquid over the stain. Gently rub it into the fabric over the streak and then put the clothing in the sink or a bucket of warm water mixed with another drop or two of the dish soap and soak for 10 to 30 minutes. Rinse before washing.

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White streaks on black clothes or yellowish-tan stains on light clothes, especially under the arms or around the neckline on shirts or the waistline on pants, may be due to deodorant or body oils and sweat. Spot treat these stains with a commercial stain remover, Dawn dishwashing liquid, or OxiClean Dark Protect laundry additive. Rub gently into the fabric, wait five to 10 minutes, and then wash in the hottest water possible according to the instructions on the clothing label.

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Before putting the clothing in the dryer, check the stains. If they're still visible, try alternating a stain remover on the back of the fabric and then gently rubbing in dishwashing liquid. Rinse and repeat until the stains have disappeared.

Soak Them Out

Soak the affected clothing in warm water and 1 cup of vinegar or 1 cup of baking soda or you can use an oxygen bleach according to the package directions. Mix with water and then add the affected clothing to the solution. Soak for at least one hour and overnight if necessary. Rinse and then check to make sure the stains have disappeared. Then, rewash the clothing.

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Rewash the Laundry

Rewash the affected clothing in warm water without detergent. Add 1 cup of vinegar or 1/2 cup of baking soda (not at the same time) to help remove the detergent streaks and buildup in your clothing and washer.

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If your washer is a high-efficiency (HE) washer and you used a non-HE detergent, the laundry soap may not have dissolved completely, even at the correct temperature and without overloading. Simply put the clothes back into the washer and rewash without adding more detergent. The extra wash and rinse should remove the white detergent streaks on your clothing.

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Treating Streaked Jeans

One hundred percent cotton jeans and other dark blue fabrics may be colored with indigo dyes. The dye may have bled out of the fabric, leaving white streaks. To help prevent bleeding and preserve the fabric, turn the jeans and other clothing inside out. This evens out the natural fading and prevents the folded edges of the clothing from abrasion during washing, which makes the problem worse.

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To avoid this issue, purchase jeans and other clothing that are marked "colorfast." In addition, clothing made of fabric blends, like polyester and cotton, are less likely to fade than 100 percent cotton.

Clean the Washer

In addition to pretreating, soaking, and rewashing your clothing, clean your washing machine. It may have detergent and mineral buildup inside the tub and the laundry soap and softener dispensers. One way to avoid detergent buildup in the tub is to use the correct amount of laundry detergent and softener. Always use HE-compatible laundry detergent in an HE washing machine.

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Take time to remove and soak the dispensers in hot water and 1/2 cup of vinegar for 15 minutes and then scrub clean. Wipe the gasket, especially on front-loading washers, with a vinegar-soaked rag. Clean the filter according to the washing machine instruction manual.

Finally, add the recommended washing machine cleaner or 2 cups of vinegar to a front-loading washer or 1 cup of vinegar to a top-loader and run the machine on the hottest and highest settings. After the cycle is complete, repeat using 1/2 cup of baking soda. Wipe the inside of the drum dry. Repeat monthly or as needed.

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