How To Get Makeup Stains off Your Towels

Did you know hotel and motel owners have a very hard time getting makeup stains off towels?  

However, at home we do too, and sometimes despite careful washing I wind up with makeup stains on my towels. Usually, it’s mascara or eyeliner residue since I wear the waterproof stuff. Sometimes it’s lipstick or good old foundation.

Neither of us would knowingly leave makeup on our faces after washing, but still it shows up on the towels and washcloths sometimes. For a while, I was so frustrated with makeup stains on bath linens that I considered switching to dark ones. I’m quite fond of the look of fluffy white towels, though, so I decided I needed to learn how to get makeup stains off of towels rather than replace mine. Here’s what I learned.

In all cases, removing your makeup properly will go a long way to preventing stains on towels. I’ve found that using a homemade makeup remover wipe or two before I wash my face does wonders for keeping those stains away. Still, sometimes I forget or do a poor job. That’s when these steps help.

1. Don’t delay. If treated right away, mascara stains usually come out with a dab of liquid dish detergent, some vigorous rubbing, and a warm water rinse. The liquid dish detergent works better than soap because it’s specifically designed to cut grease. Mascara is made of oils, waxes, and dyes — all of which dish detergent are created to dissolve.

2. Soak set-in stains. If the stain has been there for a while, soak it overnight in a bowl filled with 2 cups warm water, 1 tablespoon liquid dish detergent, and 2 tablespoons Napisan Vanish or similar. Wring the cloth out and rinse it well under warm water, then inspect it for any remaining stain before laundering.

3. Don’t dry until the stain’s gone. Repeat the steps above until the stain is gone, then launder the towel or washcloth in hot water using a quality laundry detergent containing stain-fighters. (Or add Napisan to the wash cycle.)

1. Spray on shaving cream. Shaving foam (not the gel kind) does a brilliant job of removing oil-free liquid foundation from towels — just spray it on both sides, rub it in well, and rinse under warm water. Repeat this process as needed until the stain is gone.

2. Soak overnight. Oil-based liquid foundation or foundation powders need a different approach. For these stains, make a strong soaking solution by combining 2 quarts hot water, 1 cup baking soda, and 1/4 cup liquid laundry detergent. Let the stained fabric soak overnight then wring and rinse it well. Launder in the hottest setting and add 1/2 cup bleach (or Napisan, but not both) to the wash cycle. Make sure the stain is gone before drying and repeat steps if needed.

I’m not going to lie: lipstick stains are the worst. Like mascara, lipstick is a combination of substances. In this case, its colour-intensive pigments, oils, and waxes specifically created to stay put. To get lipstick stains out, you need to treat all three substances.

1. Dissolve the pigments. Stack three white paper towels on your counter then put the stained fabric on top. Dip the corner of another paper towel in rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit in NZ) and then, dabbing but NOT rubbing, carefully blot the stain. Rotate corners of the moistened paper towel so you’re constantly working with a clean area. Continue until the lipstick stain begins to fade.

2. Cut through the oils and waxes. Once the pigments have begun to lift away, squirt a grease-cutting liquid dish detergent on the spot right on top of the remaining rubbing alcohol. Gently spread it with your finger but do NOT rub it in. Allow the detergent 15-20 minutes to work, then hold the fabric stained side down under a stream of hot running water to remove any remaining residue.

3. Repeat if needed before laundering. Continue to repeat steps 1 and 2 until the stain is completely gone. Launder the fabric immediately, and add Napisan or bleach (not both) to the wash cycle along with your laundry detergent.

Last Ditch Efforts

Although these steps have helped me get makeup stains off of towels and washcloths 99% of the time, there’s always the occasional stubborn stain. Usually, it’s one I didn’t find before laundering and the dryer made the stain almost permanent. When that happens, I give these last ditch steps a try just to see if I can avoid tossing the towel or washcloth away.

• Wonder Soap or Sunlight Soap. Both can do a great job, follow directions and give it a go.

• Acetone-based nail polish remover. This is another substance that can cause irritation and sometimes leaves behind an odour unless you wash the fabric repeatedly. That said, it worked when nothing else removed the stains from a 24-hour lipstick I used to wear.

• Ammonia. If you’ve ever used household ammonia then you know why this is the very last step I try. The stuff smells to high heaven but, wow, does it work! Before using ammonia, be sure you’ve thoroughly laundered (but not dried) the stained towel to remove residue from all other stain-removing efforts. Next, combine 1 quart hot water, 1 tablespoon ammonia, and 1/2 teaspoon bleach-free liquid laundry detergent. Soak the stain in this for 20 minutes, scrub with an old toothbrush, rinse, and launder. You should be good to go.

Lastly once you have followed the above stain removal techniques hang your affected towel/s on the clothesline. It is amazing that once the towel is drying the stain seems to disappear.  I highly recommend the SwiftDry Clothesline as it dries my clothes very well. Order yours here now.

I hope the above information helps you with ridding your towels and garments from make-up stains.


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