Spots On My Tshirt: What are they and how do I get them off?

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Dear Home Ec 101:
It seems like all my colored T-shirts come out of the washer with a few faint stains on the front. It looks like I spilled a drop or two of water on me when I put them on. It’s on them all, no matter what load they went into or what they were washed with. Sometimes I can spray and wash the area, and it comes out. They almost look like grease spots. Could it be a liquid fabric softener? Other ideas? I don’t want to continue to ruin shirts or look like I spilled water down my front when I leave the house.
Just call me,
Spotty in Sparta

Dear Spotty in Sparta:

You hit the nail on the head. The problem very well could be your liquid fabric softener.

How to Prevent Spots from Fabric Softener

Liquid fabric softeners are notorious for leaving spots on clothing. If you have a top-loading machine, you could be overloading it with clothing. The softener needs room to be sloshed evenly over the clothing. If you are using a front-loading machine, significantly reduce the fabric softener you use. If you use a high-efficiency water-saving machine, you are using too much fabric softener and need to reduce the amount. Over the next few loads, reduce the amount of softener you use until the spots no longer appear while you still maintain the fabric feel you desire.

Use an Alternative to Fabric Softener

I just add white vinegar to the rinse cycle, but I’m one of those sensitive types whose skin doesn’t tolerate much. For what it is worth, many appliance repair people also recommend sticking with white vinegar, as it doesn’t leave the problematic residue that fabric softeners can.

How to Fix Fabric Softener Spots

Now let’s rid your shirts of existing spots on your t-shirts. Rub the spots with dishwashing liquid. Yes, good old Palmolive or original Dawn will be fine. Whichever you choose, be 100% sure it does not contain any bleach. Please note we are not saturating your entire garments with liquid soap, just rubbing a small amount directly into the spots. And re-launder without detergent. Dryer sheets can also cause spotting, but they will be clear, much like a grease spot.  Rub these with a wet bar of soap, such as Ivory, and wash as usual.

Where to Learn More about Spots in the Laundry

We cover a lot of laundry questions here at Home-Ec101 in the Wash It section.

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12 thoughts on “Spots On My Tshirt: What are they and how do I get them off?”

  1. Thank you!!!!! I have been troubled by this for a long time. I stopped using dryer sheets, just in case, and it seems to have helped, but I was never sure what caused the spots. It seemed to me the spots were more numerous on my husband’s mor expensive T shirts, so I sent one and wrote a letter to the manufacturer asking for answers. All I got was a new shirt. Thanks again

  2. I don’t use softners or softner sheets and every piece of clothing we own is being ruined by these grease stains. I have no idea what it is but I can only assume its from dryer. And I know, with kids, stains are highly likely but even their brand spanking new clothes are coming out with these stains (as well as my clothes and the hubby’s) Any ideas? At this point, I’m ready to just buy a new dryer because by the time I pay for a service call, labor and parts, it costs the same (if not less to replace!!) Crazy!! Any ideas??

  3. I have had this same problem for months and have learned, through some research, that many spot removers (ie: Spray and Wash) leave these stains. It says on the product not to use it on khaki colored clothing. I have ruined more paints than I know what to do with.

  4. I have an idea! I have an idea!!! Another great fabric softener to use is good old-fashioned ammonia! Probably don’t want to use it if you just washed with bleach, unless you rinse out all the bleach first then use the ammonia in a 2nd rinse cycle. I forgot where I read about doing this, but if you add about 1/2 – 1 cup ammonia (I haven’t actually done this in a while, so I don’t remember how much I used) to your rinse water, YES, your laundry room & house will stink like crazy, and so will the clothes, BUT, after the clothes go through the dryer, the smell is completely gone! Your clothes will be brighter, softer, and have a very fresh scent. No ammonia scent at all! The best reason for using ammonia in your rinse water is to break down the mineral build up from hard water. Do this when your whites get dingy & funky. I used to think bleach was the best thing to use for dingy whites, but not true if the dinginess is caused by mineral buildup from the water. Works great! Smells great!

  5. Hello. I’m desperate for an answer to this. Two of my brand new colored T-shirts now have spots. We don’t use liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets. We use Arm & Hammer liquid detergent which we add to the water before putting the clothes in. It does look like wet spots on my clothes. It only seems to happen to cotton knits, like T-shirts, and only shows up on bright or dark colors, like fuchia or navy blue. Help!

  6. I'm not sure where the spots come from but when I get them, I brush pinesol on the spot and rewash. The spots are gone 95% of the time. Once in awhile, I'll have to do it twice to remove the spot.

  7. When I get greasy spots I spray diluted Dawn on the spots and rinse ONLY the spot in hot water. Sqeeze out excess water and throw in the dryer or hang dry. Works most of the time and I don't have to waste water rewashing clothes. As for pretreaters bleaching khakis i use only Spray and Wash Max. I can treat and throw back in the hamper and i have yet to have them get bleached out. If that doesn't work i had an employee at a store tell me to use Dawn detergent because it is gentle.

  8. My boyfriend also gets these spots, and only on the front. His washer & dryer are older, and he does use fabric softener sheets. My w&d are both newer front loading machines and I never notice any spots on our clothes at my house, and I have a 12 year old son who gets plenty dirty! (and I use liquid fabric softener in my wash, no sheets in the dryer!)

    My theory is that because these spots are only on the front, that it begins with getting some type of greasy food on the shirt, and in the washer or dryer, the detergent or softener sheet substance is attaching itself to the grease to make the spot. That would explain why the spots are only on the front – just a theory. He also doesn't pre-treat his clothes with anything like Shout or Spray-n-wash like I do, so that could explain why he's getting the spots and I'm not.

    I've been tasked to "do my magic" on his problem shirts – wish me luck!

  9. I use shampoo on all my "grease" spots and it works great. I never had this problem with liquid softener until I bought a new top loading washer.

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