Banish stubborn summer stains for good – how to combat 7 common hot weather spills, smells, and stains

Summer is here – and with it comes a whole bunch of pesky stains to contend with. Our guide shows you how to banish them fast

(Image credit: Future)

Summer might come with lots of benefits – dining out in the evening, friends over for barbecues, long days at the beach, but it isn't without it's downsides – and one of these is having to find ways to remove stubborn summer stains.

There are certain products we all tend to pull out when the sun appears that really can ruin clothing  – plus all those barbecues and nights round the campfire can leave your outfits reeking of smoke and cooking odors. 

Happily, armed with the golden rules of stain removal and our guide, you can be sure that your summer won't be ruined by ugly sauce stains or burnt burger odors –we asked the experts how to get rid of all kinds of smells and smudges fast.

How to get rid of summer stains

There are lots of different methods for removing stubborn stains and odors from clothes, but what works for one may well prove useless for another. This is where is pays to learn how to set up a stain station so you're more likely find you have what you need to hand.

We've asked the experts for the advice on how to get rid of stains that tend to be specific to summertime, from sunscreen to ice cream.

Miele washing machine in a chic farmhouse style laundry room with striped wallpaper and flowers in the sink

(Image credit: Miele)

1. Sunscreen

We all know that we should really be slathering on the sunscreen no matter what the weather, but summer tends to be the time when we really jump to action when protecting our skin from the rays.

Whether you have ended up covering your kid's summer dress in sunscreen as they try to squirm away from you and your bottle of Factor 50 or been a little careless in the morning rush and are now desperately wondering how to get a stain out of a white shirt, don't panic.

'Sunscreen stains usually appear as a yellowish hue on white clothes,' says Delah Gomasi, CEO and Director of MaidForYou. 'To remove this particular stain, you'll need a rust remover, considering the stains from sunscreen are usually made up of oxidization properties. You'll want to soak your clothing in a mix of water and a commercially available rust remover for 30 minutes and then add it to your washing machine. This should remove the stain in its entirety from your clothes.'

Iron OUT Rust Stain Remover Powder from Amazon can be used on laundry as well as showers, toilets and tubs.

Ken Doty, cleaning expert and chief operating officer at The Maids International has another solution to try out: 'Pretreat with liquid detergent for 30-45 minutes and wash as normal. If the sunscreen has the chemical avobenzone, you can use hard water and water softener.

2. BBQ sauce

No self-respecting summer dinner gathering should be without a good selection of condiments – and BBQ sauce is one of them. While it might be an essential, it can also result in some pretty unsightly stains if it ends up on your shirt rather than your plate of ribs. Thankfully, it shouldn't be too tricky to remove with a few laundry room essentials.

'Condiments and sauces are much easier to remove from clothing than other stains,' reassures Delah Gomasi. 'All you need to do is add a few drops of dish soap and scrub with a soft brush. Rinse and repeat until the stain has faded. Don't worry if you still see it after you've scrubbed, you'll still need to put your garment in the wash to really get rid of the stain.'

'Remove any excess stains and soak the clothing in cold water for about 10-20 minutes,' suggests Ken Doty. 'Spray or soak the clothing in an anti-stain detergent, let it sit for 10 minutes, and then rinse with warm water before washing as usual.'

Cloralen Stain Remover from Amazon contains vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to help tackle tough stains.

3. Ice cream

Ice cream might be a non-negotiable treat at this time for year (or any other time of year for that matter) but, as temperatures rise, the more likely it is that you will end up wishing that you perhaps hadn't got so excited over those ice cream recipes once your summer outfit is covered in dairy stains – they are not as easy to budge as you might think. 

"Ice cream stains are not as easy to remove from clothing as you'd expect," warns Delah Gomasi. "We typically recommend that our clients use a stain remover like Shout Laundry Remover from Walmart. It's an inexpensive stain remover that works exactly as advertised. You'll need to cover the stain with the stain remover product. Leave it for 3-5 minutes to work its magic. Then wash your laundry in a warm to hot wash and leave to dry in the sun."

Before you try this, though, it is wise to give them a good soak in cold water.

'Since dairy stains are often protein based, removing them via cold water is the only option,' says Ken Doty. 'Pretreat with cold water and wash as regular."

4. Juice spills

Picture the scene. You're enjoying the results of your well-planned pool deck ideas, relaxing on a sun lounger and reach out for your glass of icy cold juice. Refusing to sit up from your horizontal position you attempt to take a sip before tipping the whole lot down the front of your crisp white coverup. Deep breaths, all is not lost.

"Soak the item cold water and apply a non-chlorine bleaching agent ," says Ken Doty. "Then wash as regular in accordance withe the clothing's care instructions." 

Single Seventh Generation Professional Non Chlorine Bleach from Amazon removes stains without leaving any harsh chlorine odors. 

5. Grass stains

Whether the kids have been having fun somersaulting in the back yard or you wore white pants to a picnic, grass stains can be a real pain.

'For grass stains, we follow the exact same process we do for ice cream,' says Delah Gomasi. 'We use a laundry stain remover to blot the stain, then we let the product sit for 3-5 minutes before scrubbing the stain and then putting it in the wash on a normal cycle.'

Ken Doty has an alternative solution to try out: 'Simply pour your detergent directly on the stain and scrub with a toothbrush. Let the detergent soak for 10-20 minutes and wash as regular without removing the detergent first.'

7. Fake tan

Depending on where you live, the sun might not always make an appearance – or perhaps you are just trying to do your skin a favour by keeping out of the sun's rays. Whichever is it, it is still nice to get a bit of a sun-kissed glow before popping on a pair of shorts – thank goodness for fake tan. That said, clothes, bed sheets and towels can all suffer at the hands of this miracle worker.

Whether you are now trying to find out how to stop pillowcases from turning yellow after a nighttime tanning session or have a discolored collar to deal with, this one is for you.

'It is imperative to quickly treat the stain as oil-based blemishes can be very hard to remove,' warns Ken Doty. 'Rinse the stain under cold water until it begins to fade. Then, add a mixture to the water in the form of dish soap or fabric detergent. Wash as usual once the stain begins to fade. Don't add the clothing into the wash until the stain is effectively removed.'

7. Smoky odors

Not a stain this time but a smell. There are few greater pleasures in life than gathering around the grill to try out a few barbecue recipes with friends and family, or cuddling up around a campfire as night falls. 

Less pleasurable, however, are the lingering smoky odors that seem to become lodged in clothes, even after they have been washed. 

'Pretreat the fabric with a detergent specifically designed for ashes/soot and wash as regular,' suggests Ken Doty. 'If no detergent is available, simply treat with water and vinegar and let set before washing as regular.'

'This is a method we typically recommend for cigarette smokers, but it usually works for less repulsive smoke-based odors like those your clothes get from sitting next to a fire or BBQ,' says Delah Gomasi. 'For soiled clothes from cigarette smokers, we always recommend a strip wash. A strip wash is the most thorough wash you can do of your clothes and we always do it in a bathtub. We let the clothes soak in a mixture of water, borax and washing baking soda at the hottest temperature possible. We then scrub the clothes once the water starts to cool. Once the water has returned to its coolest temperature we ring the smelly clothes and air dry in the sun.'

Make Luonix Washing Soda from Amazon a laundry cupboard essential.


How do you remove stains with vinegar?

Vinegar is brilliant for much more than flavoring food – it also works as a great stain remover. 

Cleaning with vinegar is a great idea for all kinds of fabrics and surfaces. Both grass and juice stains react well to vinegar. In the case of grass stains, try soaking the garment in undiluted vinegar for 30 minutes before washing as normal. For juice stains, soak clothing in a mixture of 1/3 vinegar and 2/3 water, then wash as usual. 

What is the best way to deal with sweat stains?

We might not like to admit it but at some point or another all of us will have found sweat stains on our clothes – but is it possible to get rid of them?

Once again, vinegar could just save the day. Mix equal parts water and distilled white vinegar, work the mixture into the stain and let it sit for as long as you can. Rinse the garment then wash as normal. 

If it still won't budge, you might like to try making a paste of baking soda and water. Apply to the stain, let it sit for around 20 minutes then machine wash. 

While you may well be desperate to get rid of annoying summer stains, you do need to be sure you won't ruin your best outfits with any methods that will be too harsh. 

Make sure you familiarize yourself with common laundry symbols and test your stain remedy on an inconspicuous area of the fabric first. 

Natasha Brinsmead

Natasha has been writing about everything homes and interiors related for over 20 years and, in that time, has covered absolutely everything, from knocking down walls and digging up old floors to the latest kitchen and bathroom trends. As well as carrying out the role of Associate Content Editor for Homebuilding & Renovating for many years, she has completely renovated several old houses of her own on a DIY basis.