Why Are My Towels Turning Orange? Causes and Solutions

It can be frustrating when you notice your white towels developing orange stains and discoloration. Bright, clean towels are essential for a well-maintained home, and orange stains can make them look dirty and dingy.

But don’t worry – by investigating the issue and using specific methods to remove the stains, you can make your towels look bright and white again.

What Causes the Orange Staining?

There are a few common culprits that can lead to orange stains on white towels:

Orange stains on white towel.

1. Hard Water Mineral Deposits

Hard water has lots of minerals such as iron, manganese, and calcium. When these minerals stick to your clothes, they might create orange or rust-colored stains. These mineral deposits can accumulate over time, especially in areas with really hard water.

2. Dye Transfer

Washing your white towels with brightly colored clothes can cause the colors to transfer. If the colors aren’t set well, they can mix with the towels during the wash and leave stains. In particular, red color is more likely to spread and stain lighter fabrics.

3. Residue Build-up

Residue from hair and body products like shampoo, conditioner, and soap can accumulate on towels over time. This leftover layer interacts with detergents and undergoes oxidation, resulting in discoloration.

4. Fabric Softener

Liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets contain chemicals that can turn white fabrics orange. The waxy build-up interacts with products in your laundry routine.

5. Bleach

Bleach often causes stains and discoloration. If you use too much bleach on towels, it can harm and make the fibers turn yellow. Bleach can also interact with minerals in water that is high in hardness.

6. Rust

If you live in a place where the water has a lot of iron or if your pipes and fixtures are old, rust particles may end up on your towels, causing them to get orange stains. Towels hung on metal racks that are rusty outside are also at risk.

How to Remove Orange Stains from Towels

After you figure out what probably caused it, you can deal with those tough orange stains using the most effective methods to remove stains:

For Rust

For light rust stains, mix 1/2 cup of baking soda with water to form a thick paste. Apply the paste directly to the stains, let sit for 30 minutes, then launder as usual. The baking soda will help lift and draw out the rust.

For heavier rust stains, use a commercial rust remover. Just follow the instructions on the product, apply the remover, and give it some time to work its magic before washing.

You can also mix lemon juice and salt to make a paste. The citric acid in the lemon fights the rust while the salt provides an abrasive scrubbing action. Apply the paste, let sit briefly, then scrub and rinse thoroughly before washing. The sooner you treat rust stains, the better chance of removal.

baking soda paste in a small bowl

For Dye Transfer

If the orange stains are caused by dye transfer, act quickly! Immediately blot the stains with a clean white cloth to absorb as much of the excess dye as possible. Avoid rubbing, which can further set the stain.

Pre-treat the area with an enzyme cleaner specifically designed to break down and remove dye transfer stains. Follow the instructions on the product, and give it enough time to completely lift the stain from the area.

Wash the stained towel separately from other clothes in hot water with a detergent. Avoid using bleach, which could further set the dye. With prompt treatment, enzyme cleaners can thoroughly remove transferred dye stains.

For Hard Water Stains

For orange staining caused by hard water mineral deposits, soak the towel in a vinegar solution. Take a bucket and mix 1/2 cup of white vinegar with warm water. Put the stained towel in the solution and let it soak for at least 30 minutes, or longer if the stains are tough

The acetic acid in distilled white vinegar will help dissolve and break down the mineral deposits. After soaking, wash the towel in hot water with detergent.


For Residue Build-up

If your towels have orange stains from a gradual buildup of residue, begin by washing them with hot water and laundry detergent. The heat and detergent can effectively break down and eliminate the accumulated residue.

Avoid fabric softener and dryer sheets when washing towels. The coating of fabric softener contributes to the residue build-up.

For an extra residue removal boost, add 1/2 cup baking soda to the rinse cycle. The baking soda will help neutralize and lift away any remaining oily residue. With regular hot water washing and baking soda rinses, you can remove residue stains over time.

For Bleach Damage

Unfortunately, bleach can often cause permanent stains and are hard to remove. But you can reduce and blend the damaged areas with a color-restoring product. Follow the instructions given on the product’s label to restore and evenly fade the orange bleached areas.

Laying the towel out in direct sunlight can also help naturally bleach and fade discolored areas. With patience and repeated sun exposure, the areas will lighten closer to the original shade.

Preventing Future Orange Staining

Once you’ve succeeded in removing the orange stains from your towels, follow these simple tips to make sure they stay clean and white:

  • Install a water softener if your stains are due to hard water mineral deposits. A water softener will remove the iron, manganese, and calcium from the supply.
  • Always wash white towels separately from colored fabrics. This will prevent any dye transfer issues.
  • Choose dye-free and color-safe laundry detergents and products. Avoid bleach and harsh chemicals that can damage fibers over time.
  • Check towels for any stains or discoloration before putting them in the washing machine. If you find any, treat them before washing.
  • Consider using white vinegar to make your towels brighter and get rid of stains when doing laundry.

By regularly washing and taking good care of your towels, you can maintain their bright white color and avoid any potential discoloration in the future.

When Should You Replace Your Dirty Towels?

At a certain point, it’s time to replace stained towels:

  • If they remain orange after trying removal methods.
  • When the threads start pilling the fabric feels rough.
  • If the towels become torn, frayed, or develop holes.
  • Once the orange color has spread across the entire towel.
  • When the towels no longer absorb water well or dry effectively.
  • If a musty smell develops even after washing.


In conclusion, discovering orange stains on your towels can be annoying, but there’s hope for restoring their bright white appearance. By identifying the cause and applying targeted stain removal methods, you can effectively tackle the issue.

By using the tips mentioned above, you can make sure that your towels remain fresh, clean, and colorful over time.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I stop my towels from discoloring?

Sort towels by color before washing. Don’t mix light and dark-colored towels. Use a gentle detergent without bleach. Follow the care instructions on the towel label.

Why are my towels discolored after washing?

Discoloration can occur due to mixing different towel colors, using too much detergent, or washing with items that bleed color. To avoid stains, make sure to sort your laundry properly and follow the washing instructions.

Can vinegar discolor towels?

No, vinegar does not cause discoloration of white towels. White distilled vinegar can help remove stains and discoloration because its acidic properties help dissolve mineral deposits, residue buildup, and rust stains. It brightens towels by removing soap scum and hard water stains.

Which is better for towels, vinegar, or baking soda?

Both vinegar and baking soda are helpful. Vinegar can get rid of smells and leftover substances, and baking soda is good for cleaning.


Leave a Reply