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Updated: Nov 3, 2023

People often wonder since the Soap Nuts are brown if that causes staining. The answer is no – the soap berry color does not cause brown marks on clothes. If the bag containing the soap nuts is wedged in an overstuffed machine, some of the tannins can bleed through the bag causing a small but easily removed spot that is yellow or beige in color (see easy removal suggestions at bottom). There are, however, many causes of brown spots in laundry, and none have to do with soap nuts. I’ve outlined the top causes of brown spots in laundry with some tips on how to treat these stains below

  1. If anyone in your family uses any lotion or medicine that contains benzoyl peroxide, this can cause brown spots on certain colors and fabrics when they are washed. Commonly this can be on towels or wash cloths that get added to the laundry hamper and can sometimes deposit or transfer onto colored clothes. This can also get on sheets if the lotion or medicine was applied before going to sleep.

  2. Weak concentrations of chlorine bleach can cause brown spotting on darker clothes. This can happen from residue from previous loads, and sometimes concentrations of Chlorine from city water.

  3. Sometimes if you are using washing powder in other loads and it isn’t dissolving completely, that can cause brown spotting. If you think this may be the case, try cleaning out the dispenser and put powder directly in the bottom of the machine before adding clothes when you do use powder.

  4. Brown spotting can also be caused by rust or oil within the machine. If you think this may be the case, you can use a rust remover and the spots should come out (see below).

  5. There are bacteria that chemically reacts with older iron pipes. While any newer homes contain PVC piping, city water is often supplied using iron pipes. When house or city lines are disrupted by maintenance work (or an earthquake) sometimes this rust/bacteria can be shaken loose and cause spotting on clothes.

  6. Areas of drought can cause dark brown sediment to settle in pipes which can transfer to clothes.

  7. Check the rubber seal on the door of the machine, sometimes a rusty object lodged in there (like a coin) can transfer rust (or a rust color) to clothing.

  8. Brown marks can also be a sign of the inner bearing seal in the machine being split or corroded, the spots you are seeing are actually grease from the bearings. Treat as a grease stain (see below).

  9. Brown marks can be a sign of sludge buildup in the machine which may mean the drain pump is not functioning properly. If you have an HE machine, you may need to clean your pump filter.

  10. Mold can cause brown or dark stains on clothes. (see below to treat).

  11. A stray marker or crayon in the machine can cause stains.

To help prevent spotting in general, never overload the washer and make sure the clothes and soap have plenty of room for proper agitation.


For Plant-based stains:

If you believe you have brown stains that are of plant origin, a soak in white vinegar or a simple over the counter enzyme stain remover will do the trick. The use of an oxygen laundry booster will also help. Let air dry completely and check the stain before putting it in the dryer. You may have to re-treat.

For Mold Stains:

Soak in Oxygen booster for several hours and then launder. The oxygen will kill the mildew and the washing will remove it. Let air dry completely and check the stain before putting it in the dryer. You may have to re-treat. Putting items in full-sun outside will also help to bleach away the stain.

Grease Stains:

Treat grease stains with a grease remover, like dawn dish soap. Rub it in gently and let sit at least 10 minutes before washing. Check the stain after you wash before putting it in the dryer, and if necessary, retreat with dish soap again. You may have to hang dry the garment to make absolutely sure the stain is out. The dryer can set that stain in forever. Another method for mild grease stains is to rub chalk on the stain or sprinkle with corn starch and let sit. Chalk and/or corn starch will absorb the grease out of the fabric and then will wash off.

Rust Stains:

If you need to remove rust stains from clothes, make sure you do not dry them when you notice they have come out of the dryer. Heat will set the rust stains and makes them nearly impossible to eliminate from any type of clothing. Rust stains cannot be removed with normal washing. Use a commercial rust remover such as Iron-Out or Rit rust remover. These items contain hydrofluoric or oxalic acid compound that loosens rust from most fabrics. Make sure these clothes are thoroughly rinsed because any acid remaining will deteriorate clothes. In addition, these rust removers are only intended for colorfast material or white clothing.

To Clean your machine and pump filter, check out our blog post here for easy directions.


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