What Can You Do When Your Washing Machine Leaves Stains?

By: Marie Willsey  | 
washing machine
Your washing machine is supposed to clean your clothes, but what if it's getting them dirty in the first place? Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Key Takeaways

  • Washing machines can leave stains on clothes due to issues like a dirty drum, old or moldy gaskets, damaged drive belts, worn-out ball bearings, chipped enamel rusting or improper distribution of fabric softener.
  • Solutions include cleaning the drum with white vinegar or bleach, replacing the gasket or drive belt, fixing chipped enamel and adjusting the distribution of fabric softener.
  • If troubleshooting the washing machine doesn't solve the problem, the dryer might be causing the stains, necessitating similar inspection and maintenance efforts.

Day in and day out, we mindlessly depend on our washing machines to handle the tasks they were designed to do. Usually, this workhorse appliance tackles the job of cleaning our laundry, from filthy jeans with ground-in grass and mud stains to wet towels and more delicate garments, in steadily reliable style. Dirty laundry goes in, clean clothes come out — almost like magic!

But magic gets dark sometimes. What if your washing machine suddenly starts leaving stains on your clothing that weren't there before? If it's an oily or greasy stain, the problem could be an issue with your particular model. Check the website for your washing machine's brand to see if a history of problems exists, then follow the instructions to resolve the situation or contact the manufacturer for more information.


No model defect to blame? Here are some issues that may be causing your clean clothes to come out dirty:

The Drum Is Dirty

It could be that the washing machine drum has collected greasy residue from previous loads. Try cleaning the drum by running an empty cycle with a cupful of white vinegar or bleach instead of detergent, or look for products specially designed for this purpose. Then, wipe out the drum and around the door seal with a clean, dry cloth, and use a cotton swab to clean around the drainage holes.

The Gasket Is Old and Possibly Moldy

Is your clothing coming out with black streaks on it? This could indicate a problem with the gasket on your washer, especially if your machine is a front-load washer. Mold often grows when water doesn't dry around a faulty seal and it will leave a stain when clothing touches it. Try cleaning it with white vinegar, but if that doesn't fix the problem, you may need to have the entire gasket replaced.

The Drive Belt Is Damaged

Another issue might be a damaged drive belt, though not all washers have drive belts. If yours has one, it is what rotates the drum during washing to distribute detergent, bleach and fabric softener. If the drive belt is damaged, the drum won't rotate properly, causing detergent and other washing agents to drop in one spot and cause staining. You will need to have the drive belt replaced.

The Ball Bearings Need Replacing

The drum in your washer rotates freely and easily because of the bearings and if they are old and beginning to wear down, you could see black marks or rust appearing on clothing. If you begin to hear a metallic screeching sound accompanying these marks, it is probably your bearings and you will need to call someone to replace them.

The Enamel Is Chipped and Rusting

If the stains are reddish, it might be rust that has formed due to chipped enamel on the drum or in the dispenser. Many washer manufacturers offer drum replacement options. If you like fixing things yourself, try sanding and then painting the chipped spots with a rust-resistant paint.

Your Fabric Softener Is Distributing Improperly

Another source of mysterious stains could be fabric softener clinging to greasy spots. To solve this problem, reduce the amount of fabric softener that you use or try not to pack too many clothes in each load. The fabric softener needs to disburse evenly over clothing to work properly, so experiment to find the correct load size and amount of additive that result in the desired amount of softness without any spots.

If you're tried all of these solutions, and your laundry is still coming out of the wash with inexplicable spots, your dryer could be the culprit. In that case, try the same model troubleshooting tips you performed for your washer, clean out the inside drum and door seal, then call an appliance repairman.


Frequently Asked Questions

Can regular washing machine maintenance prevent stains from occurring?
Regular maintenance—including cleaning the drum and gaskets and inspecting for wear and tear—can prevent many common causes of stains from washing machines.
What's the best way to remove rust stains from clothes if the washing machine is causing them?
You can remove rust stains from clothes using specific rust removers or household remedies like lemon juice and salt before washing, but preventing rust formation in the machine is crucial.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Affresh. "Affresh Washer Cleaner." (May 3, 2012.) http://www.affresh.com/our_products/affresh_washer_cleaner
  • Appliance Express. (Dec. 3, 2020) https://applianceexpresstx.com/washer-repair/why-is-your-washer-leaving-marks-on-your-clothing/
  • Appliance Parts Pros. "Washer leaves dark oil spots." (May 3, 2012.) http://forum.appliancepartspros.com/washer-repair/281889-frigidaire-gallery-washer-leaves-dark-spots-clothes.html.
  • Energy Star "Clothes Dryers and Washers: Best Practices." (May 3, 2012.) http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=clotheswash.clothes_washers_performance_tips
  • Mamapedia.com. "My washer is leaving wet marks/oil marks on my clothes." (May 3, 2012.) http://www.mamapedia.com/article/why-is-my-washer-leaving-what-looks-like-wet-marks-oil-marks-on-my-clothes.
  • Paxton, Rachel. "Mysterious Water or Bleach Spots on Clothing." Creative Homemaking.com. (May 3, 2012.) http://www.creativehomemaking.com/cleaning/water-spots.shtml.
  • Solos, Heather. "Spots in the Wash." Home Ec 101. August 22, 2007. (May 3, 2012.) http://www.home-ec101.com/spots-in-the-wash/.
  • Vogue.com. (Australia) "Please help: my washing machine is ruining my clothes." (May 3, 2012.) http://forums.vogue.com.au/showthread.php?t=279955.