Your Foolproof Guide to Removing Self-Tanner Stains

Here are all the expert tips and products you'll need.

Someone tanning next to a pool
Photo: Moment Images/Getty Images

Stain removal is a skill that validates bragging rights, but the true test of excellence in our book? Getting self-tanner out of crisp white sheets. For being two things we love, particularly in the summer season, they have an oil-and-water relationship.

But before you toss your chic decor out the window because you can't give up your self-tanner, you should know there is a way to treat the spots.

Many self-tanners claim they won't leave behind stains, and we've tested plenty that has lived up to the word. But if your self-tanner falls short and leaves behind the evidence, don't panic.

Here, we spoke with Tide senior scientist, Jennifer Ahoni, as well as Theresa and Corinna Williams, co-founders of Celsious laundry mat in Brooklyn, New York, and Clorox's in-house cleaning and laundry expert Mary Gagliardi (a.k.a Dr. Laundry) to get all the expert tips to de-tan your sheets.

VIDEO: 7 Common Laundry Mistakes You're Probably Making

What Causes Self-Tanner to Stain?

First, you should know the popular tanning ingredient, dihydroxyacetone, isn't what causes stains, according to Gagliardi. This ingredient is colorless. What causes the stain is the other ingredients combined with the oils in the formula, or any colorants used to give the product color. Opting for a clear or colorless self-tanner could be the answer to all your woes.

The Williams sisters from Celsious also note that how much product you use and how long you let it dry can also contribute to the likelihood of the product transferring onto your sheets. When you're short on time, they recommend opting for a long pajama set or dark clothing and bedding.

"Remember that sweating increases transfer, so set your room temperature to cool and brush on baby powder before getting into bed to decrease sweating," they recommend.

How Do I Remove the Self-Tanner Stains From My Sheets?

Let's say you follow all of those directions, but your favorite tried-and-true tanner still transfers, then what? Don't panic, there are solutions.

"Self-tanner stains aren't too hard to tackle, but make sure you deal with them as soon as possible!" The Williams sisters tell us. "Like any other stain, you don't want to let it sit for too long. The longer you wait, the lower your chances are of actually lifting it."

Follow the steps ahead to return your sheets to all their clean, bright, and white glory.

Step One: Pretreat the self-tanner stain

All of the experts we spoke to suggest pre-treating the stain. Tide scientist Ahoni suggests starting by brushing any excess residue from the stain that sits on the surface of the fabric. Followed by a rinse in warm water before pre-treating with liquid detergent (Ahoni recommends Tide Hygienic Clean Duty 10x), which she recommends leaving on for 20 minutes. If you have sensitive skin or require unscented products, try Tide's Hygienic Clean Unscented Liquid Detergent.

For whites, Gagliardi suggests using a product like Clorox Ultimate Care Bleach and then washing immediately in the hottest recommended water with detergent and a cup of the aforementioned bleach.

The Williams sisters recommend treating the stain with a soap-based product, like their Wunderbar Stain Stick, to break up any oil particles while running cold water on the reverse side of the stain. They also note that working from the outer edge of the stain will prevent spreading. You can even use a soft-bristle toothbrush if the stain is deeply set.

Step Two: Wash the self-tanner-stained item

Without removing the detergent used to pretreat, pop the item in the washer on warm cycle (if washing instructions permit) says the Williams sisters. Then add in a color-safe oxygen brightener (they suggest their Supersalt product), which is a great alternative to bleach.

"In addition to being harsh on your lungs, chlorine bleach is harsh on fabrics and can lead to premature fiber breakage (holes)," the Williams sisters tell us. "Counterintuitively, it can also cause whites to yellow over time, when exposed to too much bleach."

If you need something a little stronger, Ahoni recommends a color-safe bleach without the chlorine, like hydrogen peroxide.

If the stain isn't removed after the first wash, do not (I repeat: do not!) put it in the dryer, this will only set the stain, says Ahoni. Repeat the above steps by soaking the item in warm water and the oxygen brightener overnight. (You can always perform a short test patch if you're worried about ruining the fabric.)

Step Three: Rinse and repeat

Continue washing until the stain is removed. The Williams sisters say that as long as there's progress between washes, the treatment is working and you can continue until the stain is no longer visible.

Step Four: Last Resort

If you've tried everything to no avail, the co-founders of Celsious suggest applying 100 percent vegetable glycerine directly to the spot before washing again.

Step 5: Finally dry the item

Now that the stains are removed you are permitted to dry the item.

If all else fails and the stain is unable to be removed, hope is not completely lost. The Williams sister suggests tie-dye as a fun and creative way to mask the stain and salvage your sheets or clothing item.

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