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How To Remove Water Stains From Fabric? (Complete Guide)

How To Remove Water Stains From Fabric

Water stains on fabric can be frustrating to deal with. Stains that set into fabric can be difficult to remove through regular washing. Fortunately, there are several effective methods you can use to get rid of water stains from fabric.

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn how to remove water stains from any type of fabric – from cotton and polyester to delicate silks and wools. We’ll go over natural cleaning solutions, chemical stain removers, and techniques like blotting and scrubbing. With a little time and effort, you can banish tough water stains for good.

What Causes Water Stains on Fabric?

Before learning how to remove water stains from fabric, it’s helpful to understand what causes them in the first place.

There are two main culprits behind water stains on fabric:

Minerals in Water

Hard water contains dissolved minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron. When hard water evaporates, it leaves behind mineral deposits on fabric. Over time, these deposits bind to fabric fibers creating unsightly stains.

Dyes and Pigments

Some fabrics contain dyes, pigments, sizing agents, and other colorants that can run when exposed to water. As the excess color bleeds out, it leaves behind a stain. This is common with cheaper fabrics as well as brightly colored and dark fabrics.

Additionally, factors like heat and sunlight can set stains into fabric by oxidizing them. The longer a water stain sits, the harder it will be to remove.

How to Remove Water Stains from Fabric

How to Remove Water Stains from Fabric

When tackling water stains, it’s best to start with the simplest cleaning solutions first. If those fail, gradually work your way up to more heavy-duty stain removal techniques.

Here are the best methods for removing water stains from fabric, arranged from mildest to most aggressive:

1. Blot with Clean Water

For fresh stains that haven’t set, plainly blotting with clean water can lift the stain.


  • Lay the fabric stain-side down on a clean towel or paper towels.
  • Dampen a clean cloth with cool, clean water.
  • Gently blot the stain, pressing down with the damp cloth. Avoid rubbing, which can grind the stain deeper into the fibers.
  • Check the fabric and continue blotting until the stain is lifted.
  • Once the stain is gone, flip the fabric over and blot the back side as well.
  • Allow the fabric to air dry fully.

This simple water blotting works well for light stains on washable fabrics like cotton and linen. Just take care not to oversaturate the fabric.

2. Cold Water Soak

For older set-in stains, a cold water bath can help loosen up the discoloration.


  • Fill a basin or sink with cold water. Avoid hot water, which can permanently set stains.
  • Submerge the stained fabric in the cold water.
  • If the fabric is bleach safe, add a 1⁄4 cup of non-chlorine bleach like oxiclean to the water. This will boost stain-fighting power.
  • Weight down the fabric with a plate or mesh strainer to keep it fully submerged.
  • Soak for at least 30 minutes up to a few hours until the stain appears removed.
  • Rinse well, check for stain removal, and repeat the soak if needed.
  • Once the stain is gone, wash as usual and let the fabric fully air dry.
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This cold soak method works well for stains on hardy fabrics like linen, cotton, polyester, and nylon. Don’t use this method on more delicate fabrics like wool and silk that can easily fray.

3. Vinegar Rinse

For fabric prone to dye bleeding, mineral deposits, or dinginess, white vinegar can remove stains and clarify colors.


  • In a basin or sink, mix 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts cold water.
  • Add the stained fabric and let it soak for about 30 minutes.
  • Rinse thoroughly with clean water.
  • Wash as usual and allow to fully air dry.

The mild acidity in vinegar dissolves mineral deposits, soap residue, and dingy buildup that can cause stains. It’s safe for most washable fabrics besides silk and rayon.

4. Baking Soda Scrub

For tough set-in stains, a baking soda paste can lift discoloration without damaging delicate fabrics.


  • In a small bowl, mix 1-2 tbsp baking soda with just enough water to form a thick paste.
  • Using an old toothbrush or cloth, gently scrub the stain with the paste. Avoid vigorous scrubbing that could abrade delicate fabrics.
  • Let the paste sit for at least 15 minutes to work on the stain.
  • Rinse with cool water until the baking soda residue is gone.
  • Wash as usual and allow to fully air dry.

The mild abrasiveness of baking soda can break down stuck-on stains without risking fabric damage. It’s gentle enough for delicate fabrics like wool and silk.

5. Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleach that can lift all sorts of stains, including water stains.


  • In a spray bottle, mix equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water.
  • Mist the stained fabric lightly with the solution.
  • Let it sit for at least 15 minutes to work on the stain.
  • Rinse with cool clean water.
  • Wash as usual and allow to fully air dry.

Test hydrogen peroxide on a small seam or hidden area first since it can potentially lighten fabric color. It’s also best avoided on silk or other delicate fabrics where bleach could cause damage.

6. Color-Safe Bleach

Oxygen-based color-safe bleaches like oxiclean can break down stubborn water stains without bleaching or damaging delicate fabrics.


  • Fill a basin or sink with cool water.
  • Mix in color-safe bleach according to the package instructions.
  • Add the stained fabric and soak for 30 minutes up to a few hours.
  • Rinse thoroughly with clean water.
  • Wash as usual and allow to fully air dry.

For severe stains, you can also apply color-safe bleach directly to the stain and let it sit before rinsing. This works well for tough stains on fabric like linen, cotton, nylon, polyester, and spandex. Avoid using on silk or wool.

7. Dish Soap

Basic dish soap is surprisingly effective at breaking up greasy oil-based stains – including set-in water stains that contain mineral oils.


  • Apply a small dollop of basic dish soap like Dawn directly on the water stain.
  • Gently rub the soap in using an old toothbrush or soft cloth.
  • Let it sit for 10-20 minutes before rinsing. This allows the soap to fully penetrate and dissolve the stain.
  • Rinse thoroughly until all the soap residue is gone.
  • Wash as normal and allow to fully air dry.

The degreasing agents in dish soap can surprisingly lift all sorts of tough stains without damaging delicate fabrics. Just be wary of using strongly scented varieties.

8. White Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide

You can combine the cleaning power of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to make a super-strength stain removing solution:


  • Mix equal parts white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle.
  • Lightly mist the solution over the fabric stain.
  • Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes to fully lift the stain.
  • Rinse thoroughly with cool clean water.
  • Wash as usual and let the fabric fully air dry.
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This dynamic duo works wonders to dissolve mineral deposits, lift dyes, and break down other discoloration without resorting to harsher bleach. Avoid using it on delicate fabrics like wool and silk.

9. Lemon Juice and Salt

For a natural stain-fighting duo, try mixing lemon juice and salt. The citric acid in lemon juice lifts stains while the salt provides abrasive scrubbing power.


  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice into a small bowl.
  • Sprinkle on a generous amount of table salt and mix into a paste.
  • Using a soft toothbrush or cloth, gently scrub the stain with the lemon-salt paste.
  • Let it sit for about 20 minutes before rinsing clean with water.
  • Wash as usual.

The natural acidity in lemon juice dissolves mineral deposits that cause water stains without damaging delicate fabrics. It can even brighten dingy whites.

10. Liquid Laundry Detergent

Rubbing liquid laundry detergent directly on a stain and letting it soak in can help loosen set-in water stains.


  • Apply a small amount of liquid laundry detergent like Tide directly to the stained area.
  • Using your fingertips, gently work the detergent into the fabric.
  • Allow it to soak for at least 30 minutes. Overnight is even better for tough stains.
  • Rinse thoroughly with cool water.
  • Wash as usual and air dry the fabric.

The cleaning agents and enzymes in liquid laundry detergent help break down stains when applied directly to the fabric. Just be sure to rinse thoroughly, as detergent residue can attract dirt over time.

11. Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach spray like Oxiclean can penetrate and lift all types of set-in stains from fabric, including water stains. It’s chlorine-free, so it won’t damage or fade colored fabrics.


  • Apply oxygen bleach spray directly to the stained fabric according to package directions.
  • For tough stains, let it soak in for up to 8 hours before rinsing.
  • Rinse thoroughly with cool water.
  • Wash as usual and allow the fabric to fully air dry.

Oxygen bleach is especially effective at removing built up mineral deposits that can yellow and stain fabric over time. It also helps lift odors. Just take care not to oversaturate delicate fabrics.

12. Wood Bleach

Sodium percarbonate found in wood bleaches like Oxcon can remove all types of water stains and discoloration without using harsh chlorine bleach. It’s designed not to damage or fade fabric.


  • In a bucket or basin, mix wood bleach powder with warm water according to package instructions.
  • Add stained fabric and soak for at least an hour. Longer soaking up to 8 hours may be needed for severe stains.
  • Rinse very thoroughly with clean water.
  • Wash as usual and allow the fabric to fully air dry.

The active ingredients in wood bleach break up stains via oxygenation without using corrosive chlorine bleach that can damage delicate fabrics. It’s safe for most fabric types besides silk or wool.

How to Avoid Future Water Stains

Once you’ve conquered those pesky water stains, it’s a good idea to take preventative steps to avoid future stains:

  • Use a stain protector spray on fabrics prone to water marks. This creates a protective barrier that allows stains to be washed away.
  • For dress shirts and blouses, use sweat shields in the underarms. This prevents deodorant and sweat stains.
  • Immediately rinse fabric after getting it wet to avoid giving stains time to set in.
  • When washing laundry prone to dyes bleeding, use a color catcher sheet in the wash cycle. This prevents shed dye from resettling on fabric.
  • Wash laundry in cool or warm water, never hot. Heat can set stains.
  • Clean up spills and splashes as soon as they happen before moisture has time to soak in.
  • Avoid over-drying fabrics. Excess heat can bake stains into fabric and set them permanently.
  • Use an ironing water filter if your home has hard water. This prevents mineral deposits from transferring to fabric while ironing.
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With the right mix of stain-fighting techniques and preventative steps, you can keep fabrics looking like new for longer!

Common Questions About Removing Water Stains from Fabric

Still have questions about getting water stains out of fabric? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

1. What is the fastest way to get rid of water stains?

For speedy water stain removal, an oxygen bleach like Oxiclean is the quickest-acting solution. Simply mix it with water, soak the fabric for as little as 30 minutes, rinse, and wash as usual. The oxygenation breaks down stains fast without using harsh chemicals.

2. Can you remove water stains from cotton?

Yes, water stains can absolutely be removed from cotton fabric. Cotton is durable and can withstand stronger stain removal methods. For light stains, blotting with water or lemon juice may suffice. For heavy stains on cotton, soak in oxiclean, scrub with baking soda, or use vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.

3. How do you get rid of water marks on polyester?

To remove water marks from polyester, soak the fabric in a solution of 1 part vinegar and 3 parts water for about 30 minutes before rinsing and washing as usual. You can also spot treat tough stains on polyester with liquid laundry detergent or an oxygen bleach. Avoid chlorine bleach, which can damage polyester.

4. How do you get water stains out of silk?

Treat water stains on silk delicately. Avoid harsh chemicals. Instead, blot fresh stains immediately with cool water and a soft cloth. For set in stains on silk, dab on diluted lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide, letting it sit briefly before rinsing off. Wash gently by hand with a mild detergent. Air dry and steam or press silk to prevent water spots from reforming as it dries.

5. Can you remove water stains from wool?

Yes, you can remove water stains from wool but it takes gentle care. Avoid soaking the wool or using harsh chemicals like bleach that damage fibers. Instead, blot fresh stains with cool water and treat set-in stains with a vinegar and water solution. Let it sit briefly before rinsing wool by hand with cold water and mild soap. Lay flat to dry.

In Conclusion

With this comprehensive guide, you now have all the tools to banish frustrating water stains from any fabric – whether that’s bedding, clothes, upholstery or more. While stubborn stains may require some trial and error, the stain removal methods detailed above can safely lift water discoloration without damaging delicate fabrics.

Remember to always start with the gentlest approach first and work your way up to stronger chemical solutions if needed. Properly caring for fabric by blotting spills quickly, washing in cool water, and avoiding excess heat will also keep stains from forming in the first place.

With persistence and the right technique, you can keep your fabrics looking like new and prevent water stains from building up over time. Just take it step by step, and you’ll achieve fresh, stain-free results.

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