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Dark Spots on Clothes After Washing: Causes and Fixes

Sometimes when I do the laundry, my clothes come out dirtier than they went in. It’s so annoying. They are covered with dark spots and stains. Why is that? What causes dark spots on clothes after washing? And can I prevent them?

The main culprits behind dark spots on washing are detergent and fabric softener. Both products build up inside washing machines. Then, the accumulated soap scum rubs off onto clothing. Other culprits include rust, oil, color runs, and objects left in pockets. To prevent dark stains on clothes, clean washing machines at least once a month.

In this article, we’ll look at the main causes of dark spots on clothes. You’ll find out if your washing machine or your dryer is at fault. As well as discovering how to prevent stains from happening.

Dark Spots on Clothes After Washing

Why Do My Clothes Have Stains After Washing?

Clothes can become stained in the wash for several reasons. The top causes of those irritating itchy spots that appear out of nowhere are fabric softeners and laundry detergent. Although, to be honest, that should be how those two products are used rather than the fault of the products themselves.

Doing the laundry is one of those everyday chores that most of us do grudgingly. Well, it’s not exactly fun, is it? So, you grab the detergent, pour some into your washing machine, and add a dollop of fabric softener. Then, you push the start button and go and do something more interesting.

Being slap-dash with laundry products can be a recipe for dark spots and stains on your washing. But it isn’t the only cause. Let’s take a look at the main offenders in detail. We’ll start with the culprits taking the number one slot.

Fabric Softener and Laundry Detergent

Both these products play an active role in our laundry habits. Used correctly, they can clean, freshen, and revitalize our clothing. From preventing wrinkles to removing the last traces of the spaghetti bolognese, you had for dinner.

Because you expect these products to clean your laundry, it can be a bit of a shock to find out they can make your clothes dirty too! The reason for this is user error.

How often do you read the instructions on your laundry detergent to see how much you should use? If you’re like me, how much you use depends on how much you feel like putting in the machine. We guess the dosage, then select the washing cycle.

Rather than reading the packaging, you probably just fill the cup on the bottle up to the max level. With a front-loading machine, you most likely fill the compartment in the dispenser drawer to the max. Or maybe halfway because the max level looks too high.

The thing is, if you put too much detergent in the washing machine for the cycle you choose, that detergent isn’t going to get rinsed away. It will end up floating between your clothing during the final rinse.

If you’ve added fabric softener to your final rinse, it will coat the clothes with fragrance and softeners. Well, that’s why you added it, after all. Unfortunately, if the detergent is still swimming around, it will get coated, all over your freshly smelling, clean laundry.

Sometimes getting the detergent and fabric softener added in the right place can cause problems, particularly with front-loading washing machines. This machine has a single dispenser drawer that takes detergent and softeners. Only not in the same compartment.

The drawer has separate sections. One, usually the largest, is for the detergent. Then there is one that has a little flower icon on it. It’s a lot smaller and is for the fabric softener. Hence the flower. It might even say, “softener”. There’s also a compartment for bleach on some machines.

Unfortunately, not all machines are marked so obviously. Some older front loaders have drawers that say main wash, pre-wash, or rinse. Whatever labeling your machine uses, mixing your laundry products in the washing machine drawer is a recipe for dark spots on your laundry.

Particularly if the soapy residue from the fabric softener has been left to build up in the detergent section. As the wash water enters the machine, all that soapy goop gets washed into the drum.

Overloaded Washing Machine

These days of ecological awareness, we all are eager to do as much as we can to save the planet. To do that, you might think doubling up on your washing loads will reduce the number of laundry products escaping into the environment.

So, you fill the drum to capacity and reduce the number of loads you do. You haven’t just saved the planet. You’ve saved on laundry detergent, water, and money on your electric bill. It’s a win-win, right?

Well, actually, no, not really. You see, by overloading your machine, you’re preventing it from working properly. The detergent can’t get near the fabric. Water can’t swoosh it around and dissolve it. Worse, the drum can’t move correctly as it’s too heavy.

All of this leads to undiluted detergent floating around in the water. When you get to the final rinse, any fabric softener you’ve added will exacerbate the problem by adding more goop. With none of it being rinsed away, you’ll get dark stains on your clothes.

Worse still, as the drum can’t move properly, it won’t be able to spin. This means your washing will be twice as wet as it should be when you take it out of the machine. And it will be covered in slime.

Dirty Washing Machine

Even when you use your laundry products correctly, you’ll inevitably get a slight build-up of dirt and grime from previous washes. Not everything can get rinsed away before the spin cycle starts.

If you regularly use your quick wash setting, the chances of debris being left behind increase. The quick wash isn’t always long enough to wash and rinse clothes thoroughly. Traces of dirt can get left behind on the clothing. Leading to dark spots after you’ve washed them.

Short washing cycles are problematic for your washing machine too. They can add to the build-up of laundry detergent and fabric softener deposits. These can clog your pipework and cause dirt, grime, and soap to back into your drum.

As the water hits the accumulated junk, it starts to float around and lands on the first surface it comes into contact with. Unfortunately for you, that’s your washing.

That’s not the only way a washing machine can get dirty. The lid on top loaders can accumulate dirt and debris that can fall into the drum during a wash cycle. Front-loading machines have door seals that collect dust and dirt over time.

There is another issue with front-loading washing machines. They collect water too. If the water stays on the rubber door seal, it can attract mold and mildew. As the water fills, it can wash the mold into the drum and all over your washing.

Iron Deposits and Rusty Plumbing

Depending on the age of your machine and the pipes in your home, you could have rusty plumbing. This kind of issue tends to get worse over time. You might not know you have rusty pipes until bits start appearing in your machine.

The older your machine is, the more likely you will get rust inside it. They are made from steel, after all. The thing with rust doesn’t like to stay attached to the pipework. It likes to travel, especially through the water. When rusty water comes into contact with fabric, you’ll get yellow or orange blotches on your wet laundry.

Steel isn’t the only cause of rust; it might not be your washing machine at fault. It could be your home. Some homes are old enough to still have original iron pipework. Iron is famous for rusting and causing yellow stains in the wash.

But it might not be rust. Iron isn’t just metal. It’s also a mineral found in many hard water areas. It can travel through your plumbing to your washing machine and swish with your laundry. Iron deposits in your wash water will affect your clothes similarly to rust. They’ll turn orange leaving you with dark spots on your clothes after washing.

Bleach and Stain Removers

Who would have thought bleach and stain removers could cause dark stains on clothing? Well, technically, bleach doesn’t cause stains as such. What it does is remove the color from fabrics, leaving blank areas that look like stains.

Bleach has the power to take all the dye out of your clothes and return them to their natural color. Most of the time, this leaves white spots. But if the underlying shade is dark, you’ll get dark splodges.

As some stain removers contain bleach, you get the same kind of effect. You have to be careful about the garments you treat with bleach and stain removers. Even to the point of not washing bleach-intolerant clothes with those you have treated with bleach.

Not Emptying Your Pockets

Pockets are useful additions to garments that allow you to carry all sorts of bits and bobs with you on your travels. Whether you’ve found a penny and picked it up or left some doggy kibble in your jeans, it tends to stay there.

Even while the garment is in the washing basket. If you don’t empty your pockets before your clothes get to the machine, those bits of kibble, the leaky pen, the odd washer, and those screws you were using last week will all end up in the drum.

Coins and screws are usually made from metal. Ink is used as a dye. Kibble can have some vibrant food colorings in it. All of which can cause dark stains on your laundry.

Not Sorting Your Laundry

We’ve looked at overfilling your washing machine as a cause of dark spots. But, filling it to the right level can also cause dark spots on your clothes.

There’s more to do the laundry than knowing how much clothing to put in the machine. You also need to know what garments you can fill your washing machine with.

Not all laundry items can be washed together or at the same temperature. If you mix a light-colored shirt with a pair of new blue jeans, your shirt will turn blue. Or worse, it will pick up blue splodges and look covered with irregular polka dots. This is known as a color run. Dye from one garment transfers to another.

Another common cause of dark spots on your clothes is oil. If you wash an oil-stained garment with other items, that oil will spread through the water onto everything else in the drum. Causes a plethora of dark stains throughout your wash.

Can I Remove Dark Spots From Clothing?

Can I Remove Dark Spots From Clothing

Yes, you can. Dark spots on your clothes are stains and can be removed. However, it isn’t always going to be easy. There are a couple of things you’ll need to work out first.

Before you treat the stain, you’ll need to identify what caused it. Treating stains with the wrong remedy can make them worse. So make sure you know what you are dealing with before you start.

You’ll also need to figure out if the garment has been dried in a dryer. Stains are more difficult to deal with once the garment has been machine dried. The heat sets the stain into the fibers of the fabric. While it isn’t impossible to remove stains from dried clothes, it’s going to be more of a challenge.

Always check your washing as you remove it from your washing machine. Catch those dark stains while they are still wet. This will give you the best chance of getting rid of them.

How to Remove Dark Spots on Clothes After Washing

How to Remove Dark Spots on Clothes

We’ve looked at the different causes behind dark spots on clothes. In this section, we’ll take a look at how to remove the spots. As mentioned above, it’s important to figure out what caused the stain before you start treating it.

You will also need to read your garment’s care label. Make sure the fiber content is a suitable match for whatever stain-removing remedy you want to use. If your care label shows, the garment is not colorfast, treat it separately from everything else.

Detergent and Fabric Softener Stains

As long as you find these stains before you dry your garment, it should be an easy fix. Check each item as you remove it from your washing machine. Keep all the ones with signs of staining to one side.

For Wet Laundry, You Will Need the following:

  • Your stained clothes
  • Your washing machine
  • Distilled white vinegar

Step 1

Put the stained clothes back in the washing machine. Add one cup of distilled white vinegar and set your machine on a wash cycle suitable for that load of laundry.

Step 2

Add a further ¼ cup of vinegar to the fabric softener compartment of your washing machine. Turn the machine on and let it complete the cycle.

Step 3

Remove the clothing from the machine and check for signs of staining. They should all be gone. Dry the garments as you would normally.

For items that have been dried before you spot the stains, you’ll need some extra help from some laundry-boosting products.

For Dried Laundry, You Will Need:

  • Your stained clothing
  • Your washing machines
  • Oxygen bleach
  • Large bowl

Step 1

First, make sure your garment can be treated with oxygen bleach. Wool, silk, leather, and wood are easily damaged by oxygen bleach, so do not use this method on those materials.

Soak your garments in a bowl with a solution of oxygen bleach and warm water. Check the packaging on the oxygen bleach for the correct dosage. Leave them overnight.

Step 2

Remove your clothes from the bowl and put them in your washing machine. Don’t add any detergent or softening liquid. Run the machine on your usual cycle.

Step 3

Check your clothing for signs of stains when the cycle has completed. If they have all gone, dry your clothing. For stubborn stains, repeat the process.

For wool and silk, you will need to use a laundry soap like Fels Naptha. Dampen the affected area and gently press the soap into the stain. You don’t want to rub as you could damage the delicate fibers. If you don’t have Fels Naptha, dish detergent will do the same job.

Then you simply rewash the item as you would normally. The soap, or dish soap, will lift the residue from the garment and the stain will wash away.

Rust or Iron Stains

To get rid of rust and iron stains, you’ll need a little help from two useful household acids. Lemon juice and distilled white vinegar. For particularly stubborn stains, you might have to resort to a commercial stain remover.

You will need:

  • Your stained clothes
  • Lemon juice
  • Bowl
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Table salt
  • Washing machine
  • Your regular detergent

Step 1

Add 2 drops of lemon juice and a pinch of salt to the stain. Leave your garment to soak the lemon juice for at least 30 minutes. If you can do this in sunlight, it will speed up the drying process. As lemon juice is a natural acid, it will also speed up the bleaching process, which will help lift the stain.

Step 2

Put your garment into a bowl of tepid water and ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar. Submerge the clothing under the surface. This step is needed to rinse out the lemon juice and salt.

Step 3

Wash your garment as you would normally with your regular detergent. When the cycle has been completed, check the garment for residual staining. If any persist, repeat the process. Or apply a commercial stain remover and rewash. When you’re happy all traces of staining has been removed, dry your item.

How to Prevent Dark Stains on Clothing After Washing

Dark stains on clothes after washing can be more than a little annoying. With some planning, though, these dark spots can be prevented. All you need to do is invest some time in the care and maintenance of your washing machine.

Clean Your Washing Machine

It’s a part of life that things get dirty as they clean something else. That dirt doesn’t just disappear. It accumulates somewhere else. When it comes to the laundry room, that somewhere is your washing machine.

It doesn’t matter what kind of machine you have, whether it’s standard or one of the modern HE machines. They all get dirty. The good news is washing machines are incredibly easy to clean.

How often you use your machine will determine how often you should clean it. Heavy users, or regular loads of heavily soiled clothing, should consider cleaning the machine at least once a month. For lighter users, once every two months should suffice.

Cleaning your machine is the same, regardless of how often you do it. Simply run your machine on a hot cycle. Don’t put any clothes in there. Laundry will hinder the cleaning process.

Instead of detergent, use a small amount of bleach to clean out the inner regions of your washing machine. This will kill off germs and bacteria that help cause dark spots. Be careful, though. If you have a septic tank, you don’t want to use bleach. Use 1 cup of distilled white vinegar as a natural and safe alternative.

If rust stains are a problem, run your machine empty but rather than use bleach, use 2 cups of lemon juice. The citric acid will eat away the rust deposits and evict them from your machine.

For front-loading washing machines, you need to pay attention to the large glass door. While it’s great for looking through to watch the clothing tumbling through the water, it collects a lot of residues. Particularly from detergent. Make sure you give the door and the rubber seal a quick wipe-down after every use.

Not only will this help to dry the door and reduce mold, but it also stops water from collecting in the grooves of the seal. Keeping this area dry minimizes the risk of mildew and icky black goop getting washed into the clothes.

You can also leave the washing machine door open ajar. This lets air in, which also helps get rid of moisture.

Next, check your dispenser drawer. Give this a thorough washing every month. Simply remove it from the machine and wash it in warm soapy water. Dish soap will cut through the detergent and fabric softener residue, leaving the drawer free from debris.

For top loaders, make sure to clean the central agitator. A slight gap at the bottom can collect all sorts of icky deposits. Even the top of the agitator can become covered in soap residue.

Don’t forget about the drainage holes in the drum. A quick wipe with a cotton swab will remove any trapped goop and leave them clear to take away the wash water. Taking the stain-producing soap deposits with it.

Treat for Hard Water

If you know you live in a hard water area, have your water tested for iron. That way, you can take steps to reduce the amount reaching your laundry. Less iron in the wash water means fewer orange stains.

There are laundry additives you can use to prevent the iron from damaging your clothes. A popular and well-tested product is Iron-Out. Available from most big box stores and online outlets, this is an affordable solution to your iron problem.

Follow the Directions

Laundry detergent and fabric softeners have instructions for their use printed on the packaging. These are more than just tips. The manufacturer will have tested the product and these directions indicate how you should use the product for the best results.

Follow the directions. Not only will they tell you how much product to use for each different wash load, but they will also tell you which fabrics the product is safe for. Using the correct detergent and softener in the right dosage will work wonders in preventing dark spots on your laundry.

Regular Servicing

Just like your car, your washer is a machine. It needs a tune-up from time to time. Regular servicing by a washing machine technician can keep your machine working at its best for longer.

Washing machines should be serviced at least once a year. That way, worn-out parts can be replaced before they start causing a problem, like the rubber seal on front loading doors, for instance.

Sometimes a wipe over with a damp cloth isn’t enough to remove historical soap scum residue. The only answer is to replace the seal. Swapping the seal for a new one eliminates the residue and gives your washing machine a fighting chance at keeping your laundry free from dark spots.

Treat Existing Oil Stains

Oil stains have a nasty habit of spreading in water. It’s not a substance that dissolves, so it’ll float about on the surface, waiting for the next unsuspecting garment to come along.

Worse still, it can linger in the machine between washes, ready to pounce on the contents of your next load. Because of this, you need to get rid of the oil before it gets anywhere near your washing machine.

To do that, you need to treat the stains before you put them in the drum. Otherwise, you run the risk of oil stains on all your next loads.

Remove any excess oil from the garment with a paper towel, then add baking soda to the area to lift off the oil residue. When you wash the item, wash it on its own. And remember to run the machine empty to clean it afterward. You want any trace of oil gone before putting any more washing in there.

Is My Dryer Causing Dark Spots on My Clothes?

To find out if the stains are being caused by your dryer, check your washing after every load to eliminate your washing machine as a culprit. If the stains appear after being in the dryer, then there is a distinct possibility the dark spots are dryer-related. This is particularly true if you use dryer sheets.

Dryer sheets need to move freely in your dryer’s drum, so they come into contact with the whole load. If the dryer is too full, they get trapped. When that happens, too much fabric softener is released into the same area. This causes dark spots on your clothes.

If you use dryer sheets regularly, there may be a build-up of residue inside the drum. To fix that, you’ll need to clean your dryer. Wipe the drum with a damp cloth to remove the leftover goop from the dryer sheet. Adding a drop of dish soap to the cloth will help, but remember to use another cloth to remove the dish soap from the drum.

You should also clean your filters and have your dryer regularly serviced by a professional technician. This is even more important than for your washing machine. A badly maintained dryer can be a fire hazard.


Dark spots on clothes after washing can be caused by several things. Fabric softeners and laundry detergents are the main causes. Follow the directions on their packaging to make sure you use the right amount. This will lessen the stains caused by their residue.

Other reasons for dark spots include rust, iron in the water, and things you leave in your pockets. All can be fixed simply by taking care of your laundry. Always empty your pockets before washing your clothes. And make sure to use Iron-Out to reduce the iron in your water.

Have you suffered from dark spots on your clothes? What caused them? How did you solve the problem? Let me know in the comments.