How to Get Detergent Stains Out of Clothes: Tips & Tricks

The soothing sound of swishing suds in the washing machine. Breathing in the invigorating scents of fluffy, freshly laundered towels still warm from the dryer. Laundry—when done with intention—can be a peaceful, almost therapeutic experience. 

Yet, when you find detergent stains on your supposedly clean clothes, the zen of laundry loses its luster. What do you do when clothes emerge from the wash dirtier than when they came in? 

Keep reading for all the ‘why’s and ‘how’s of how to get detergent stains out of clothes and prevent them from happening moving forward. 

What Causes Detergent Stains?

When you run your clothes through the washer and dryer, you expect them to come out looking clean and smelling fresh. So when your favorite well-worn denim has a strange discoloration or white, splotchy streak even after going through the full wash cycle, you should investigate the cause of the laundry detergent stains. You might already have tried and true methods for how to wash colored clothes, denim, and white shirts to ensure you get the best wash every time, but detergent stains can happen unexpectedly. 

Whether it’s too much soap interfering with the rinse cycle or the wrong kind of detergent leaving spots that don’t dissolve, here’s some of the most common reasons your laundry emerges from the washing machine less than clean.

#1 Overloading Your Washing Machine

When you fill your washer to the brim with every piece of dirty laundry in your house, it’s likely that your laundry isn’t getting completely clean. Your linens need room to move within the soapy water, rubbing against each other to help loosen and remove ingrained dirt and grime. Putting too much in a washing machine load will leave you with half-clean clothes, and it will lead to you having even more laundry than when you started. 

#2 Using Too Much Laundry Detergent

When you’re faced with an extra soiled load of dirty laundry, you might think adding extra laundry detergent will make getting those tough stains out, like grease stain or oil stain. 

In fact, the opposite is true.

Too much laundry detergent in your wash load will have the reverse effect, making your washer work harder without the squeaky clean results.

Note: Excess detergent doesn’t just affect your clothes—it can have damaging effects on your washer, your septic system, and the environment, especially if you’re using conventional laundry detergent.1

#3 Using Powdered Detergent

While mixing homemade laundry detergent is gaining popularity for people looking to avoid the chemicals and additives in many commercial liquid detergents, the powdered detergent does have a downside. When it comes to liquid vs powder detergent, powder detergent relies on its ability to dissolve in the wash water to disperse its cleaning agents. When it doesn’t dissolve completely, the laundry soap can leave  stains and streaks on your clothing even after going through a complete wash cycle. 

#4 Fabric Softener Residue

If you’re using liquid fabric softener or disposable sheets, your clothes may develop a residue build up and fabric softener stains, making them less effective. While they leave clothes feeling soft and fresh in the short term, they can negatively impact certain fabrics and even affect the flame-resistance of children’s pajamas. Oversized laundry loads could also lead to oil like stains on your clothes when the fabric softener doesn’t have enough room to rotate around during the cycle.2

#5 Hard Water 

While minerals may make your drinking water taste gourmet, hard water isn’t the best for your laundry. Hard water will reduce the efficacy of laundry detergent, requiring more soap to get the same clean as when using soft water. It can leave filmy buildup in your washer and shorten the lifespan of your appliance. You may also find clumps of detergent stuck to your clothes due to the way the soap reacts with the minerals in the water.3

#6 Dirty Washing Machine

Washing your clothes in a dirty machine sounds counterintuitive, right? Even if your washer interior appears clean, there could be filmy buildup interfering with the wash and rinse cycle, leaving your clothes drab or streaked with detergent remnants. 

Plus, the detergent residue can lead to trapped bacteria, increasing the chance of harmful mold growth.4

Tips & Tricks For How To Remove Detergent Stains

When you’re folding your freshly cleaned laundry from the dryer and notice the dreaded detergent stains, worry not. There are simple steps you can take to get those unsightly stains out of your favorite blouse or trousers:

  • Spot clean – If you notice a small localized stain, a simple spot cleaner might do the trick. Try our Fragrance-Free Laundry Spot Cleaner for a plant-based, gentle clean that could clear the detergent stain without having to do a complete soak or re-wash. 
  • Soak & scrub – Fill a bucket, sink, or tub with warm water and white vinegar and allow the soiled clothes to soak for at least an hour. Use a soft-bristled brush for stubborn stains and to make sure the detergent residue is fully released from the fabric’s fibers. Other easy cleaning combos from your kitchen that can help to loosen and remove detergent stains with the aid of some elbow grease include:
  • Liquid dish soap or bar soap
  • Baking soda paste
  • Lemon juice and salt
  • Rubbing alcohol 
  • Bleach for whites

  • Rinse or re-wash – After your clothes get a refreshing soak and massaging scrub to lift and release the detergent stains, rinse them thoroughly with cool water. You can also try putting them through the washing machine again for a cycle sans soap. 
  • Use caution when drying – Stubborn stains are more difficult to remove once they’re dry. Inspect your clothes for any lingering detergent residues before transferring to the dryer to avoid setting the stains and adding extra work with another repeat cleaning. 
  • Try laundry stripping – If your laundry situation is looking dire, you could try a more aggressive detergent stain removal method known as laundry stripping, which involves an overnight soak in hot water and borax to strip away chemicals, residues, and lingering dirt and grime.5

  • How To Prevent Detergent Stains

    The best way to rid detergent stains is to not have them in the first place, right? 

    With that in mind, take preventative measures to keep your linens fresh and your clothes free of detergent stains and residue. If you're concerned about unnecessary spots, smudges, and stains from your laundry soap, try these helpful tips to keep detergent stains away.

    Use Liquid Detergent

    Often, the main culprit of white residue on your freshly laundered linens is powdered detergent. Rather than having to worry about adjusting measurements and making sure you’re not using too much or too little for correct dissolution in the wash water, try switching to a liquid laundry detergent. 

    With a plant-based liquid laundry detergent, like our Charcoal Rose Laundry Detergent, you’ll experience a fresh, crisp clean without harsh chemicals or additives that can clog up your clothes and your washing machine. 

    Keep Laundry Load Sizes Manageable

    As much as you want to squeeze every last sock into the wash load to get your laundry done in one shot, overloading the machine will just leave you with a washer full of dreary, semi-clean clothes. 

    When the ratio of clothes to sudsy water is off balance, there isn't enough space for the garments to move and churn about. The agitation is part of what helps remove dirt and grime, so if your clothes are packed in like sardines, they don’t stand a chance to get fully clean. 

    Go Light On Detergent

    Many commercial detergents are sold as concentrated or ultra-concentrated, which means a little goes a long way. While it might be tempting to fill the cap to the max to tackle all your dirtiest loads, extra soap leads to excess suds that your washer will have a hard time clearing out. Even better, use a bio-based laundry detergent that’s easy on your washer, your water, and your clothes. 

    Avoid Too Many Laundry Extras

    Fabric softeners and sheets often do more harm than good, leaving layers of film on your clothing that can lessen the effectiveness of the washer and dryer. 

    When drying, wool balls are an excellent alternative to dryer sheets, fluffing and removing static without shedding plastics and fibers. You can even add a few drops of essential oils to the dryer ball if you want to give your clothes and bedding a natural boost of floral or citrus scent. 

    Clean Your Washing Machine 

    Another reason to love your tried-and-true, stain-removing friends, white vinegar and baking soda—they’re helpful in keeping your washer free from pesky buildup. As a rule of thumb, your washing machine should get a good cleaning monthly. Try running a clothes-free load with vinegar or baking soda, adding a couple of clean washcloths or towels for extra scrubbing power as they churn around in the tub. 

    Keep Your Clothes Fresh, Clean, and Stain-Free With Archipelago

    Make your washing machine work in your favor and keep your clothes clean and clear by taking preventative steps to avoid unsightly detergent stains. Cutting out excess laundry products and using plant-based laundry detergent vs regular detergent will help keep your clothes stain-free and your mind clear of sudsy worries. 

    At Archipelago, our home cleaning products give your clothes and your space a sparkling, complete, plant-based clean, so you can spend time enjoying your home oasis instead of scrubbing and scouring a tough stain. 


    1. Sciencing. Environmental Impacts of Detergent.
    2. The Spruce. What Dryer Sheets Do to Your Clothes and Dryer.
    3. SF Gate. How to Do Laundry with Hard Water.
    4. Better Homes & Gardens. How to Clean a Washing Machine for Fresh Clothes and Linens.
    5. Real Simple. What Is Laundry Stripping and Should You Do It? What You Need to Know.
    6. National Parks Service. Laundry Practices and Water Conservation.
    7. The New York Times. Stop Using So Much Laundry Detergent.
    8. Whirlpool. How To Get Detergent Stains Out Of Clothes.