What Are These Spots On My Khaki Shorts?

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have been puzzled by this mysterious pink / red stains on my khaki shorts for years. Whenever I get new khaki shorts, it will get these red / pink stains on them whenever I wash them. I don’t use bleach or fabric softener. I only use powdered detergent, cold/warm water and that’s it. Whatever I do, it will only create new red/pink marks across the khaki shorts. What is truly bizarre is that I tried not washing one of my new khaki shorts I bought and the stains still appeared! It looks like it has something to do with the water in the home I live in. It only occurs on my khaki shorts and not anywhere else. I need help with this as I have google searched for months without any answer. I’m afraid to buy new khaki shorts now.

Shorted on the Shore

spots on khaki shorts

Heather says:

The stains you describe sound like bleach stains. Bleaching agents -not necessarily chlorine bleach– can appear in many innocuous forms in our modern lives. However, acne creams, whitening toothpaste and mouthwash are the usual culprits. Some dyes are less able to resist these bleaching products, which is why you will only notice this on some fabrics. After giving this some thought, my guess is splatter from vigorous toothbrushing landing on the bathroom counter or the shorts, themselves. Then, all it takes is a lean in for a close look in the mirror and voila, bleach stains on khaki shorts. The would appear either as a dot or a smear depending on the contact method. In all likelihood you wouldn’t notice the tiny spatter or rub for several hours until that pink / orange / reddish spot appeared.

Learn more: How To Use Bleach Safely

To prevent bleaching stains like these in the future, be extra careful with your bleaching products. Try to get in the habit of wiping off your bathroom counter and washing your hands thoroughly after applying acne creams or medication.

how to remove stains from clothes
Click the picture for more tips!

For what it’s worth, some people’s sweat seems to oxidize the dyes of some fabrics leaving mysterious stains. However these stains would be in very specific areas, prone to sweating. Since you mentioned spots rather than blotches -these would appear where the shorts crease when sitting- my money is on one of the previously mentioned products.

On an unrelated note, getting to the bottom of these mysterious bleach stains has felt like an episode of House the Domestic Edition and heck, I’ve been cranky enough to play the lead.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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11 thoughts on “What Are These Spots On My Khaki Shorts?”

  1. Wow…I've had the same problem with colored (dark red, gold and brown) bath towels. I use Kirkland's scent free laundry detergent and wash on warm, no bleach additives I'm aware of. My towels have yellowish blotches on them and I've never been able to figure out how they got there.
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  2. In college, I briefly used a benzoyl peroxide face wash. I had a new sleep shirt. I washed my face, went to bed, and woke up with bleached places on the shoulders of the t-shirt. Once I figured out that it was caused by the face wash, I promptly threw it out. (The face wash, not the t-shirt!)
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  3. I have had the same problem with face washes. Pillow cases is where I noticed the dreadful spots! Tossing my face creams wasn't my first pick so I just make sure my face is extra dry before coming in contact with fabrics. That seems to do the trick!

  4. I also had noticed the bleached splotches or spots on clothing….but for another reason all together.

    I have a washing machine that spins the clothes. It is a top loader but it works like a front loading machine. I thought the bleach dispenser must not have been working correctly. When the technician came out he taught me that the washing machine needs to be WASHED! Hahaha! Doesn’t that just sound funny?!?!?!?

    Well, anyway; apparently there is a sump-pump and running the Wash Cycle on the washing machine once a month flushes out the pump and the lines so the excess bleach build up is washed away. The CRAZY thing about this is that the owner’s manual says to use a cup of bleach when washing! LOL!

    I did not use bleach. I purchased the tablet product called Afresh. (Its annoyingly expensive!) I think it is basically an oxy-clean peroxide type product. However, it is like medicine that releases all day…it SLOWLY disperses throughout the entire wash cycle. It takes about an hour to complete the wash cycle.

    I also have to clean the fabric softener off the drum….but that is for another topic…phantom grey stains!

    • Thank you! I have been getting these random mysterious bleach stains that range from orange to cream depending on color of clothing. I have the same kind of machine. About 8 months old? I never cleaned it like that. Over the weekend I noticed an odd faint smell like a sulfur in the tub of the machine. I do use the bleach tray for my whites. I wonder if this is my problem! Going to go buy some Affresh before I wash any more! Just found it ruined my son’s school uniform shorts that weren’t cheap. So thank you!!!

  5. My dish detergent warns: do not use with ammonia. ?? Turns out, it contains a whisper of bleach. Who knew?
    My favorite mystery stain is the oil spatters that don’t show up on my t-shirts till I go out into the sunlight….. in public! Then I discover I am wearing an irrevocably stained shirt. Yuck!

    • Hi Fritz, unfortunately bleach stains are actually the removal of the dye of the fabric, not the addition of another substance that can be stripped away.
      Short answer? No.
      You can try to cover it with a fabric dye pen but the chances of matching a worn item perfectly are slim.
      Best of luck.


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