Why Are There Bleach Stains on my Towels?

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have been using my new front-load washer for over a year now, and all my towels are ruined. It doesn’t matter what color they are or were. They now all have large spots that look like I used chlorine bleach on them. Can you help? I have not changed the detergent or softener. I have always used Gain or Tide for cold water and Downey softener.

I would like to buy new towels but don’t want to waste my money!
Bleached in Blean

I think front-load washers often get blamed for mystery bleach stains when the culprit may not even be in the laundry room. While it is certainly possible that bleach from one load is, unfortunately, got into the next, there are simple steps you can take to reduce the occurrence of bleach stains from a front-loading washer.

How to prevent the bleach from one load from affecting the next load.

Wash your clothing from white to dark. If you run a load of whites with chlorine bleach, ensure the next load is light-colored fabrics and go ahead and fill the bleach dispensing cup with water to flush out the dispenser. The concentration of bleach should be low enough not to damage colorfast fabrics. If you want to be extra cautious, follow a white load with a load of rags or an empty load and add water to the bleach dispenser. Running an empty, hot load is actually good for your washer and should be done occasionally.

You also can switch to using oxygen bleach instead of chlorine bleach.

What else can cause mystery bleach spots?

Bleach and bleaching agents have crept into our cleaning and personal hygiene products.

Do you happen to have a teen or preteen in your household? If so, the culprit could be in their face wash or acne medication.

Speaking of unfairness, that’s the culprit in my house. How the heck am I 33 and still dealing with this crap? I quit if grey hair shows up before I grow out of acne.  I just quit.

If no one uses acne products, do you have whitening toothpaste? What about mouthwash? Any of these products can easily be transferred to your towels. The trouble is the stains don’t show up immediately. They often take hours before any noticeable change appears. It usually goes something like this, apply acne medication before bed, wipe your hands on the towel, then throw the towel in the hamper as you pick up the bathroom before bed.

The hamper is unloaded right into the washer without a close inspection. The washer then takes the blame. Rinse and repeat.

Before replacing your stained bathroom towels, ensure everyone in the home understands that these products can and do stain. Personally, I’ve given up on “pretty” towels for the foreseeable future and have just gone with functional ones.

2023 update – still using functional towels. We’ve got a much larger household. There’s a gaggle of teenagers up in here. No, there will not be pretty towels for a while yet.

how to remove stains from clothes
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Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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24 thoughts on “Why Are There Bleach Stains on my Towels?”

  1. “How the heck am I 33 and still dealing with this crap? If grey hair shows up before I grow out of acne, I quit. I just quit.”

    Periodically I look in the mirror at my 41 year old face with grey beard hairs and a few on my skull. I see my skin’s latest rebellion and think “SERIOUSLY FACE, WE ARE TOO OLD FOR THIS SH**”

  2. Yup, we had the same issues and I was going insane trying to figure it out. It turned out it was my husband’s face wash the whole time. We switched it and don’t have any towel bleaching anymore!

  3. I opted to just give up on the words ‘pretty’ or ‘matching’ when it comes to towles an dwash cloths. I opt for ‘being happy that its clean and in reach when i need it’ If I can get them out of the washer and into the dryer without the mildew smell i’m ecstatic! The other option was all white towels to be bleached at will….hmmm.

  4. Not really about bleach and stains but at my age, I take off my glasses when I look in the mirror. I don’t see ANY wrinkles or blemishes.

  5. I gave up on pretty coloured towels a long time ago – white ones are far easier. And with kids, having white towels means you CAN bleach them to get rid of the stains…

    Back to the acne and grey hair… I don’t have acne, but I do have grey hair. And a white streak that I developed in my early 20’s. There is a good reason why I started bleaching my hair back then. The white streak dosn’t take dye well. But I can bleach the rest of my hair to match…

  6. I saw my first pimples at around age 14, and I saw my first grey hairs at age 16. I’m 36 now. I’ve fully embraced the (quite a lot of!) grey hair I have, but the skim blemishes are worse than ever. Add to that the little black hairs around my chin, and I’ve been ready to quit for quite a long time now. I simply don’t know a solution.

  7. I got my first white hair at two and didn’t develop acne until a few years ago, I’m 27 now. Right now it looks as though I’m well on my way to full blown streaks of white hair. I’ll probably be completely white by forty, my father had slate grey hair in his thirties and his father was completely white by his twenties!

    I don’t mind the white hairs, I can’t be bothered to dye it. But the acne drives me crazy, it’s ruined all of my towels! I saw the warning on the bottle but didn’t take it seriously. Since most of my family is acne free I didn’t know “might cause staining” really meant “will defiantly ruin your stuff” and I ruined my good towels and a few sleep shirts as well.

  8. Lime scale removers also may bleach towels, and it, too, doesn’t show up immediately. Switch to white vinegar (in a squirt bottle) and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for lime removal. A quick swipe every day works wonders. :o)

  9. I find using a softener with towels makes them not so absorbent. Instead, a splash of vinegar in the rinse tray gets rid of excess detergent, keeping the towels fluffy. Hair dye has been a problem bleaching my towels, tho!

  10. We had the same problem, and determined that it was my husband’s shaving cream that was bleaching the towels. So frustrating!

    • After reading all the suggestions above I believe Reche may have the answere to my questions. I do not use any special soap. acne med, rarely use bleach, flush and wipe washer clean when I do use bleach and I am careful to not put laundry soap direcly on my cloths. The ONLY laundry where I get the bleach spots are no my towels. What I do do is wipe the shaving cream off my face every morning. And the pattern on the towels would be consistant with the shaving cream. Thinking this is the answer and plan to check it out further. Plan to write my initials on a town with shaving cream and see what happens.

  11. Thank you so much for the info. I was going crazy trying to figure out where this “bleach” stains were coming from, as I never use bleach for my laundry. Turns out it’s my acne’s fault. I can die peacefully now

  12. Thanks for all the information. i just exchanged 3 brand new towels to the store blaming the product and woke up this morning and saw the same thing happening again. Now I am looking into what else could it be. I do not use bleach at any time to avoid it getting into the other loads. I have a teenager who was the last person to touch the towel. Do anyone know if epsom salts cause stains?

  13. Well, guess what gals, I’m 57 and still dealing with persistent acne, of course grey hair and now black hairs showing up on my chin!!! I use Retin- A and acne cream regularly, so after reading all your posts I have finally found the culprit for all my bleached looking towels as I do not use bleach every. I think from now on it’s white towels for me

  14. We have had this problem, mostly on cotton towels and on some cotton clothing (mostly khaki pants). After a lot of investigation (stopped using bleach, stopped using various bleach-related products), I have come to believe this problem is due to defects in the clothing themselves. See this website discussion at The Laundry Doctor:
    It is frustrating, because it results in a lot of money and time being wasted.

  15. I’ve read all of the comments and suggestions regarding the “bleaching” spots on towels, and have also tried these methods.

    I have cleaned out (and removed) the dispenser in my top loader in case of any previous bleach residue from months ago), do not use liquid bleach, restrict towel use for my teens (who use acne cream), as well as my own towel use (rinsing out & drying dyed hair) to certain towels only, changed towel brands (3x), and most recently bought a single “new” towel” and washed it prior to use – to test out. Without prior use, and after the first wash, there were white spots on the towel. The towel was a very light green, but clearly the spots were white.

    I’ve come to the conclusion, that it is, in fact, the top loader and/or liquid detergent use. I still don’t have a solution. Should I use powder detergent? Any thoughts?


    • Powdered detergent will be far worse, in my experience. It’s unfortunate since they are often better products.
      My new washing machine doesn’t use enough water to dissolve powders even in hot water. It’s all the chemicals and optical brightness in the liquid detergents you tried it sounds like. If you don’t know what’s in you detergent that is bad, why don’t they want you to know? EWG lists many. of them. The brand I use lists the ingredients. Most liquid detergents are full of chemicals and fragrances bad for you and the environment. Frankly those detergents are so heavily overloaded with fragrance that I dont know how anyone can stand to wear clothes washed with them.. Good luck.

  16. I am so frustrated with this! I just bought new towels! They have never been used, so it is not any facial cleanser or toothpaste. I immediately put them in my washer (NO bleach), and sure enough there were stains! So for me, its not bleach or peroxide products! I used All detergent and Downey fabric softener. I was so angry when I noticed the stains, because this had also happened to a new set of sheets! So its NOT JUST towels!

    • I totally agree with you. I have washed brand new towels that were not exposed to bleach, acne medication , peroxide etc. and my new towels develop bleach stains. I am thinking it’s something in the fabric of the towel. so I am going to take them back to Macy’s and see how I make out.

  17. After buying a High Efficiency washing machine, I battled mystery “bleach” stains on two sets of new towels, even though I never used bleach. I then started using detergent for dark colors, and have no problems since.


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