6 Surprising Ways to Remove Old Rust Stains From Clothes

Rust stains can be very difficult to remove from clothes, especially if they’re not dealt with when still fresh. It becomes even more frustrating if the stain is on an expensive cloth or one of your favorite fabrics. Regardless of how the stain got on your clothing and how serious it is, there are some simple methods you can use to rid your clothes of nasty rust stains.

To remove old rust stains from your clothes, sprinkle some salt over the stain and saturate it with lemon or lime juice. Allow the mixture to sit on the stain for 15 to 30 minutes and give it a good rinse before washing it. For tougher stains, you may need to repeat the process to see clear results.

Apart from lemon, there are a few other effective rust stain removal methods. This article will take a deeper dive into how these methods work and provide you with a detailed step by step guide on how to use each one. So, read on to learn how to remove old rust stains from your clothes for good.

Rust stains on a T-shirt.

Tools Needed to Remove Rust Stains

Depending on which method you want to use to remove rust stains, there are some tools you’ll need. Some of them are household items, and you may already have them in your home:

  • Table salt
  • Lemon or lime
  • Soft and clean towel

Addition options or substitutes for lime and lemon are:

  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Boiled rhubarb
  • Cream of tartar
  • Commercial rust remover

Removing Rust Stains from Clothes

1. Remove Rust Stains With Lemon Juice

One of the most effective ways to remove old rust stains from clothes is to use a mild acid such as citric acid in limes and lemons. Not only does it work on rust stains, but it can also remove other stains on your cloth. If you don’t have whole limes or lemons, you may use the fruit juice.

This rust stain removal method is best used with white clothing and linen. If you’re using it on delicate fabrics such as silk, chiffon, wool, or rayon, it’s important to treat your cloth with care. Before applying lime or lemon to the affected cloth, test it out on a seam or inconspicuous part of the cloth, or apply it on an entirely different piece of clothing.

Here’s how to remove rust stains with lime or lemon:

  1. Cut a lemon or lime in half and rub it lightly on the stain. For more stubborn stains, you may need to rub both halves on the stain.
    • If you’re using lemon or lime juice, saturate the stain with the juice and rub it into the stain with your fingers.
    • For older and deeper stains, sprinkle some table salt over the stain before using the lemon fruit. You may also mix it with the lemon juice to form a paste.
  2. Allow the cloth to absorb the mixture for 15 to 30 minutes under direct sunlight, if possible. The sunlight helps the juice to penetrate the cloth and work better on the stain.
    • If the stain is severe, you may need to leave it for longer. The time should be lesser for delicate fabrics.
  3. After the rust stain has dissolved, rinse off the mixture from the cloth and wash it as you normally would.
  4. If you’re not satisfied with the result or there’s still some rust left, repeat the process.

2. Apply Baking Soda and Laundry Detergent

Baking soda is a powerful and versatile cleaner for removing all sorts of dirt and spots, including old and tough rust stains. The beauty of using baking soda as a cleaning solution is that it’s readily available in the store. Chances are you’ve even got some in your kitchen right now.

  1. To get started, prepare the affected area by brushing off thick and excess rust stains with a toothbrush.
  2. Rinse the rust stain under running cold water to moisten it and allow the paste to penetrate properly.
  3. To use the baking soda, you need to make it into a paste. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of baking soda to water and mix it to form a paste.
  4. Apply the paste liberally to the stained surface and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Now, apply regular laundry detergent directly on the stain. Alternatively, you can mix a capful of the detergent with the baking soda and apply the mixture on the stain.
  6. Leaving the solution on the stain, place the cloth in the washing machine, and wash it as usual.
  7. Remove the cloth from the washing machine and check if the stain has been removed. Repeat the process if you’re not satisfied.

3. Clean Rust Stains With White Vinegar and Salt

White vinegar is one of the most common methods of removing rust, and it’s no surprise that it works for cleaning rust stains. Using table salt with white vinegar creates a more potent solution and is especially effective for removing old rust stains or set in discolorations.

  1. Place the stained cloth on a towel under direct sunlight, with the stained surface facing up.
  2. Pour white vinegar directly on the affected area, fully saturating it.
  3. Add a pinch of salt to the surface and use your fingers to rub it into the stain. You may also create a mixture of white vinegar and table salt and apply it on the rust stain.
  4. Allow the mixture to sit and work on the stain for 15 to 30 minutes. You may need to leave it for longer if you’re dealing with older and tougher rust.
  5. Dampen a clean white towel with water and use it to blot the stain. Avoid rubbing or scrubbing the mixture into the cloth.
  6. Leave the cloth out in the sun until all the rust stain is gone and launder it as normal.
  7. Repeat the process if necessary.

4. Use Boiled Rhubarb or Rhubarb Juice

Another non-chemical method of removing rust is using rhubarb. Unlike lemon, baking soda, and white vinegar, this method is unconventional and relatively unknown, but it’s a powerful solution and is especially effective for removing old and deep rust stains on clothing.

  1. Start by boiling a few stalks of rhubarb in a pot large enough to accommodate your stained clothing. Turn off the heat after 20 to 30 minutes of boiling.
  2. Remove the rhubarb stalks from the pot and allow the water to cool slightly, somewhere around room temperature.
  3. Place the stained clothes in the water and allow them to soak for a few hours or until all the rust stains are removed.
    • The exact time you’ll need to leave the clothes in the water will depend on how tough the stains are.
  4. Don’t leave your clothes for too long in the rhubarb water as you risk having their colors changed. Although rhubarb does not dye clothes on its own, it is often used to set dyes on clothes, so it doesn’t fade quickly.
    • If you’re afraid of your clothes getting discolored, pour the rhubarb water over the clothing and let it sit for a while.
  5. Once the rust stains are lifted, or loose enough to be blotted with a soft cloth, remove the cloth and give it a thorough rinse before washing it in the washing machine.

5. Make a Paste With Cream of Tartar

If you’ve never heard of cream of tartar, it’s easy to think it’s something you add as toppings to waffles. It’s not entirely your fault; even the name doesn’t give much of a clue what it is. Cream of tartar isn’t at all creamy; rather, it’s a white, powdery substance that comes out as a byproduct during winemaking.

Cream of tartar is mostly used for cooking and baking, but its acidic and mildly abrasive properties make it an effective option of removing rust stains. You’ll find cream of tartar in the spice section of most grocery stores. If you already have a can of cream of tartar at home, here’s how to use it to remove rust stains:

  1. Make a paste by mixing 6 teaspoons of cream of tartar with 2 liters of water. For a more powerful solution, mix it with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and add some drops of hydrogen peroxide.
  2. Apply the paste directly to the affected area and let it sit for 30 minutes. For deeper stains on clothing such as jeans, leave the paste on for at least 1 hour.
  3. Thoroughly rinse the stained area with water and launder as normal.
  4. Repeat the process if there’s still some stain left on the clothing, allowing the paste to sit for longer.

6. Use Commercial Rust Removers

If none of the methods above work, or you’re looking for something stronger, your best option may be to buy a commercial rust remover. Most rust removers are made with oxalic or hydrofluoric acid that reacts directly with the rust stain. Applying one of these products to your cloth will loosen the stain so that it can be easily removed or washed away.

However, commercial rust removers can be very toxic and can burn your skin or the cloth you’re applying it to. You may need to put on rubber gloves to protect yourself when using it. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions before using it on any fabric. To avoid ruining your cloth, test the solution on a small, hidden area of your clothing before applying it to the stain.

Typically, using a rust remover to remove rust stains would be similar to this:

  1. Apply the solution directly to the stain. Familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s instructions as usage directions can vary.
  2. Allow the rust remover to sit on the stain for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. When you’re satisfied with the rust stains removed, place the clothing under running water and give a thorough rinse as any acid remaining will ruin the fabric.
  4. Wash the clothing as you normally would.

Look for Professional Cleaning Solutions

If you don’t want to risk causing further damage to your favorite clothing, you may be better off taking your rust-stained clothes to a dry cleaner. In some cases, the rust stains can be almost impossible to remove. If the stain doesn’t come off after a few tries, look for professional cleaning services to restore your clothing.

Some dry cleaners have more advanced tools that can get even the toughest stains out. When dropping off your cloth with your dry cleaner, point out the rust stains to them. Sometimes, washing a rust-stained cloth the normal way can make the stains and spots even worse. It’s also a good idea to take delicate fabrics like wool and silk to the dry cleaner for treating.

More Tips on Rust Stain Removal

Rust stains are best removed when detected early. Sometimes, all you need to remove fresh rust stains is mild soap and warm water. If the stain is old or has set in, lemon, white vinegar, rhubarb, or baking soda can do the trick. After removing the stain from the cloth, wash it in the machine at the recommended water temperature for the fabric.

Also, some fabrics are not machine-washable if they are too delicate or too large to be washed. In this case, you’ll need to hand wash it with a mild detergent after removing the rust stain.

Drying out your clothes in the sun can help fade out the stain further. After washing the treated cloth, leave it out in the sun to completely fade out the stains. Depending on the type of fabric, you may dry your clothing under the sun for up to 1 hour or more.

If sunlight isn’t available, you can simply air-dry it. Avoid using a hot dryer as the high heat will set any stains left on the cloth, making them even harder to remove. Only use the dryer if you’re sure all the rust stains have been removed.

Also, never use bleach on rust stains as it can set the stain and cause permanent damage to your clothing. Avoid detergents or any product that contains bleach. Be sure to check the ingredients list of any product you’re using.

Here are other tips to keep in mind:

  • Treat any rust stain immediately after you discover it. Leaving a stain for longer will make it harder to remove.
  • To get the best results, you may need to repeat all or parts of the rust removal process.
  • Cold water is best for rinsing out the rust stain and the solution before washing it.
  • If you’re using a detergent or commercial rust remover, look for one that suits your fabric type.
  • Check for specific care and washing instructions by the manufacturer of the garment or fabric.
  • For extremely delicate garments, drop them off with a professional cleaning service.
  • Avoid leaving your treated clothes to fully dry before washing them.

Preventing Future Rust Stains on Your Clothes

While many of the methods mentioned above are effective in getting rid of rust stains, it’s always a good idea to prevent it from getting on your clothes. If it’s a recurring problem, you need to track down its source to avoid another repeat. First, it’s important to understand that rust stains occur when your clothes come in contact with corroded surfaces.

The most common culprits are your metal furniture, walls, and cars. These sources are easy to track down. As soon as you find the problem source, deal with it immediately. You can remove rust from most metal surfaces with white vinegar, lemon or lime, potato, and baking soda. For severe rust, you may use oxalic acid or purchase chemical rust removers.

Rust stains can also come from the sink, cloth pegs, hangers, and the washing machine itself. If none of these appear to be the source of the rust stains, the problem could be from your water source.

Water sources that contain iron-oxidizing bacteria can cause discolorations on bathroom and kitchen fixtures, which will eventually get to your laundry. Simply wiping down and cleaning these fixtures can help reduce the accumulation of rusts, but the long-term solution would be to treat the water by installing a water softener or chlorinating filter.

Rust stains can also be as a result of rusty pipes or containers. If this is the case, replacing the pipes may be the best possible option.


It’s not entirely your fault that rust stains got on your favorite shirt. Fortunately, there are several effective methods you can use to get rid of rust stains. Using cut lemon or lemon juice is probably the easiest and effective method to remove old rust stains from clothing. If you don’t have lime or lemon, baking soda and white vinegar are good substitutes.

Because old rusts have had enough time to penetrate the fabric, you may need to treat it several times before you get your desired results. For deeper and stubborn stains, soak the stained cloth in rhubarb water or apply a paste made by mixing cream of tartar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide.

If all else fails, go for a commercial rust remover or seek help from a professional dry cleaner.

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