How to Remove Rust Stains from Fabrics


Karen asked: how to remove rust stain from cotton dress? Also how to removed rust from cargo pants. I washed jeans and the metal toggles that hold the tags from rolled up cotton pants stained the fabric. The dress was a hand-me-down so unsure of how rust got on dress. Many thanks for you help. -Karen.

Rust stains come from a variety of sources and often go unnoticed until it is too late. Here are a variety of methods with some that work on stains that may have already set. Work your way through the list to find one that works for your particular stain.

Lemon Method

You Will Need:

  • Lemon
  • Towel
  • Sunshine

Steps to Remove the Rust Stain:

This method works best for white clothing. Colored clothing can fade or become discolored when placed in the sun with lemon juice.

  1. While applying some pressure with your hand, roll the lemon on the counter. This will start to release some of the juices inside.
  2. Cut the lemon in half.
  3. Rub the lemon over the rust stain. Squeeze the lemon as needed to thoroughly saturate the stain with lemon juice.
  4. Take the garment and a towel outside.
  5. Lay the garment on top of the towel in the direct sunlight.
  6. Allow it to set in the sunlight until the rust stain has disappeared. The sun and lemon juice together will bleach the stain out of the fabric. Be advised that it might also lightly bleach the fabric too – so test this method first.

Rust Remover Method

There are a variety of commercial rust removers available that will remove rust stains from fabrics and upholstery as well.

You Will Need:

  • Rust remover (available in the laundry aisle or automotive section)

Steps to Remove the Rust Stain:

  1. Read the label for any precautions prior to use.
  2. Apply a small amount of rust remover to the stain. Follow any instructions provided on the packaging.
  3. Allow it to soak if necessary.
  4. Rinse with clean water.
  5. Launder the garment as usual.

Rhubarb Method

Though not a common method, rhubarb offers another “green” method to remove rust stains. This works well if the piece has large rust spots that are too difficult to clean individually.

You Will Need:

  • Rhubarb
  • Water
  • Large pot

Steps to Remove the Rust Stain:

  1. Choose a pot that is large enough to hold water and the affected garment.
  2. Fill the pot ½ to ¾ full with water.
  3. Add rhubarb stalks to the water.
  4. Bring the water to a boil and allow it to cook for 20 minutes.
  5. Remove the cooked rhubarb, but do not dispose of the water.
  6. Place the stained garment in the rhubarb water and allow it to soak.
  7. Once the stain is gone, remove the garment from the water and wash as normal.

Vinegar and Salt Method

You Will Need:

  • White vinegar
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Towel
  • Sunshine
  • Cotton balls or Soft cloths

Steps to Remove the Rust Stain:

Often times, the rust stain is not noticed until after the piece has been washed and dried. Here is a method that can be used on old and new stains.

  1. Moisten a soft cloth or cotton ball with white vinegar.
  2. Blot the stained area to moisten it completely.
  3. Cover the stain with a thin layer of salt.
  4. Rub the vinegar and salt together onto the stain with your fingers.
  5. If possible, lay the piece on top of a towel in direct sunlight.
  6. If there is no sunlight available, allow the two to dry on the piece as it sits.
  7. Wash the garment as usual.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Don’t dry the garment until the stain is completely removed. The heat from the dryer will set the stain and make it harder to remove.
  • For sensitive fabrics, such as wool and silk, it will be best to have the item professionally cleaned to remove the stain. If you attempt the above stain removal methods on a delicate item, be sure to test a small area first.
  • Other items that can be used include naval jelly and cream of tartar. Rub naval jelly on the garment or wet it and apply a layer of cream of tartar. Allow the piece to sit and then launder as usual.
  • If the stain is simply rust “dust” from brushing up against a rusty surface, it will likely come out with a regular wash.
  • Many rust removers are not skin friendly – wear rubber gloves for protection.


  1. Bev says:

    What are you to do if you don’t have any sunshine?

  2. Jesses says:

    I can’t wait to try all of these! My husband wasn’t paying attention and threw his dirty, rusty cloths on top of mine! I loved some of those shirts and really want to try and fix them before throwing them away; I’m going to try everything mentioned on this article. Wish me luck!

  3. Melanie says:

    You could try using a UV light.

  4. Yolo says:

    This helps.

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