Weird spots showing up on my cotton T Shirts after washing--HELP!

10 years ago

Hi all,

I wear a lot of cotton T-shirts. When I take them out of the wash, I notice that most of them seem to develop these weird "oily" spots all over them, that were NOT there before I washed the clothes. This drives me crazy. I end up having to put stain stick on the spots and re-wash everything constantly.

I have a Maytag Neptune MAH5500, which is about 5 years old. I've had no trouble with it and otherwise it seems to clean my clothing just fine. I've heard that fabric softener might be the cause, but I don't like fabric softener, so I don't use any ever.

I always use a name-brand HE detergent, mostly liquids, but occasionally I will use Tide powder. The detergent doesn't seem to matter; the spots appear no matter what. I always use the measuring cap, but I usually just fill it to the top. Is it possible I'm using too much?

I've tried adding borax, Clorox II, Oxy Clean etc. to the wash, but none of that helps either.

Am I doing something wrong?

Comments (67)

  • Cavimum

    "If you have an HE machine, you don't have control over when the detergent is added..."

    Not necessarily true. That might be your experience, but our HE front-load machine adds the detergent immediately through the soap dispenser.

  • PRO
    Closet Factory

    Interesting! I have been wondering for years about this... The spots are only appear on the dark colored cotton shirts in my house. I have used a couple different machines due to moving, but they just been there and following me wherever i go. What's weird is that they usually disappear after the second wash. I've been using all kinds of detergents, usually what's on sale at the time, and mostly top loading machines. If the washer would leak any kind of oil I think it would appear on the lighter colors too. I will experiment mixing the detergent with water by filling up the machine all the way first and then adding the clothes. Sometimes I saw light blue marks on my clothes from the liquid softeners so I stopped using them and it never happened again. Bottom line is I think it's the detergent not diluted enough.

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  • nerdyshopper

    I once had a GE top load washer that lost the seal on the agitator shaft. My wife kept accusing me of putting clothes with automotive grease on them in with the sheets. We found out the black grease was coming up the shaft and out from under the agitator. What a mess. The good thing was that we replaced it with a Whirlpool top loader that was built like a tank it lasted 19 years and would still be going if there wasn't a bad spot in the tub enamel where the hoses entered. Rusted out there. Got another one with a plastic tub and gave it to my son. It was still running after 25 years when his wife wanted a front loader. Wish I still had it.

  • Thomas Cawthorne

    I have had this problem also with my cotton shirts BUT the problem is i ONLY take them to the dry cleaners so how should I tell them how I want my shirts done?

  • bansmann
    I have had the same problem and it was driving me crazy!! Many of my cotton shirts got stained so bad I had to throw them away.
    Then..... I remembered my washer has a filter. Totally forgot.....
    When I opened it you will not believe what I found. Rubber bands, hair, sand and oil (or something looking like it). I believe I solved the problem. Check your washers..... maybe they just need a filter cleaning?
  • kaufm001

    I had a similar problem with front loading LG washing machine. I discovered that the inside of the door seal boot was very dirty (ugh!), spite using the "wash tub" feature routinely. It took over an hour to thoroughly clean but this solved the problem.

    A clue to this solution was that the stain easily came out with simply rinsing, so it was not oil. Inspection of the seal revealed the problem. If it is oily or not soluble in water, it may be due to a leaky transmission, but this is not the most likely cause.

  • sparky823

    Front loaders doesn't have a transmission. If you use liquid detergent your gunk in the door will be worse. Tub Clean does just that, cleans the tub but does little to nothing for the door/gasket. A rag and some bleach or cleaner with bleach is best for that--spray,let soak then wipe it off.

  • mamapinky0

    My neighbor lady has a kenmore FL'er...she's ditzy and hasn't a clue how to do laundry, she washes everything on quick wash, cold water, and liquid purex. Shes been complaining her laundry has streaks of brown and told me the door seal is completly black and wondered what it could be...this lady bought this matching set about 1-2 years ago..she can't seem to understand the cold water and liquid purex caused this along with not leaving the door open. she keeps running empty cold loads with chlorine bleach..I tell her that won't help the door seal, now its leaking at the door, go figure..she hangs clothes on the line now because quote** the bad smell in the washer is in the dryer now also** someone should probably tell her she's wearing moldy clothes, but it won't be me, she would get mad and never believe me she has a new washer before much longer and in 6 months will have the same problem.

  • mtodd50

    Thank You so much for posting this. I have done laundry for years w no issues. I had the maytag with the waterspout. Years later came the HE machines and ruined my clothes w greasy oil spots. 2 samsung HE front loaders and 1 Maytag upright machines later still happening. So stressed. We have changed out our water pump and Im at a loss. I am going to turn up the hot water heater and try dawn to get the dried spots out. I am going to run a few loads without soap then use a tspoon. If this does not work I am going to sit down and have a cryfest. I feel crazy!!!! I have been going through this for several years and I am wore out with it. I have to carry any good shirts up to my moms and use her machine. She has a spout where the water runs down.

    Ugghh....I am going to figure this out one way or another! Thanks again for posting. Makes me feel less crazy. Lol

  • mtodd50

    It is not the dryer bcause I have hung my shirts up. I do not use alot of detergent but I am going to try a tsp instead of the cap! I am back at my moms washing clothes. Ughhh...:( No words. I have also tried the homemade detergent. :( Ima bout to get a scrub board and go back to the old fashioned way!!!! :(

  • mamapinky0

    1 teaspoon of detergent? That's it? I suggest you rethink that, too little detergent will cause a host of problems with your machines

  • girlann01

    I get the same all the time. I had a whirlpool front load and I was thinking it was the washer. It was 10 years old. I just got a brand new Samsung washer and my problems continue. I got the sweat hoodies out of the washer and they have oil stains all over! That is frustrating....

  • mamapinky0

    Are you using liquid detergent or fabric softener? ? Sometimes these can leave what looks like oil stains.

  • melidubb

    MWKBEAR - Did you ever find out about the clear/oil stain on the white cotton Tshirts? I am having the same problem on some white napkins and it's driving me crazy! Have tried Dawn, vinegar, OxyClean and baking soda - all to to avail. If anyone has a solution for removing the stain, please reply. The napkins are washed by hand so it's not a problem with the washing machine. I've become convinced the stains are caused by the HE detergent but cannot figure out how to remove them. Thank you for your help!

  • kaufm001

    As per my earlier comment, for us, this stain was due to scum that had accumulated inside the rubber door seal of the front loader LG washer

  • chattycat1

    i'm having the same staining problem. only since we moved into our new house a year ago, and bought a new HE washer/dryer. I've had the service guys out here twice and since they can't find any issues, the manufacturer say they won't do anything. I'm glad i'm not crazy!

    This has ruined several expensive shirts. I've only noticed it on light colored clothing (underarmour gear) and dri-fit golf shirts, and all our cotton. it's so frustrating.

    I don't know what to do next...i'm still under a year, so i'm going to see if Lowe's will exchange it....

  • melidubb

    Regarding the clear oily stains on freshly laundered fabrics...

    After much research, this is what I have found... The HE detergents designed for use with front loaders contain a silicone oil called "dimethyl polysiloxane" that is used to make the detergent less sudsy. The spotting occurs when the detergent comes in direct contact with cotton fabric before it has COMPLETELY DISSOLVED in the wash water. Cotton will immediately soak up the silicone, resulting in the oily appearing stain. I used liquid Tide HE. I don't know if powdered HE detergents have the same silicone as an ingredient.

    If you have an older non-HE machine, DO NOT USE HE detergent; if you use HE detergent, use as little as possible.

    In my case, the spotting was particularly bad because I was hand washing/soaking cotton/linen fabric in a large bowl. If the HE detergent was not dissolved, the fabrics soaked up the silicone and were stained.

    THE SOLUTION: Completely immerse the stained fabric in white vinegar and soak a minimum of 3 hours, rinse well and dry. This has worked for me but only on recent stains; no luck yet with older stains.

    I hope this information is helpful and works for you.

    mwkbear thanked melidubb
  • mwkbear

    As I mentioned before, based on the comment earlier in the chain, that also referred to this silicone oil stuff, I switched to a homemade powdered detergent. I made sure to do a thorough tub and seal cleaning on my LG HE washer, and once that was done and I started using the homemade detergent, the stains disappeared. If you are having the issue, I'd suggest you try that solution. Switching washers probably won't work, unless you go back to an older-style top loader.

  • mamapinky0

    Bear, how long have you been using the homemade soap mixture?

  • mamapinky0

    Reading above Bear I think you have been using the homemade close to 2 yearsI'm here to tell you this stuff is made with soap not detergent, and it may have saved you some garments but given time it will build up on all your washer parts and damage the machine. Its also extremely hard to get rid of even doing a clean machine cycle..if it was me ud choose the stained clothes. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

  • melidubb

    Wow! I wish I'd seen the earlier comment about the silicone/HE detergent... It would have saved me lots of time!!!!!!!!!!!

  • mwkbear

    Mama: I've been using the homemade soap for over two years now. You only use two tablespoons for most loads and possibly a third tablespoon for really dirty laundry. There have been no issues at all with my washer, and I have friends who have used this formula in their washers for years with no issues. So, sorry, but I'm not planning to walk around with giant oil stains on my t shirts any more, or spend hundreds of dollars on new clothing or dry cleaning. Yes, it is made with some Fels Naptha soap, but there is a small amount in there, so I'm not terribly concerned.

  • mamapinky0

    If its made with the standard on line recipe, washing sod a, borax, bar soap...the back of the washing soda and borax box say something bout adding 1/2 cup along with your detergent to boost when this is all added together and a few T. Are added to a load of laundry, than there's only grams of each product being used.

    Your machine may appear fine to your eyes, but when is the last time you pulled it apart and checked all the parts that come into contact with solution. I'm not trying to rain on your parade, but this mixture is not a detergent, and another thing it requires a surfactant to clean clothing, you have one the Fels, however your not using enough to be beneficial. This mixture can indeed work, but the amounts of each product needs to be much much higher. The soap also requires a lot of hot and very soft water, the rinse also requires hot or very warm water with the first rinse having the addition if a water softener, there should be at least 3---4 being better rinses. Soap scum is very difficult to remove. This should also not be used in an automatic machine...a wringer washer is best suited for this.

    Modern da y detergent has a chemical to help prevent mineral and soil depisits on washer parts, this is very important to maintain a healthy machine, I have yet to see any of the online recipes addressing this.

    As for the clothing, it won't take long for there to be soil/soap scum trapped in the fibers causing clothes to become dingy and have odors.

    There's a reason grandma was so happy when synthetic detergent hit the market. Just think about what I've said, don't take it personal, I told my son the same thing when he thought he found a cheaper alternative to modern day detergent.

  • mwkbear

    It's not personal, but I'm just saying I don't see the issues you are talking about. For my whites, I am still using chlorine bleach once in a while, and for the t shirts, they have been washed many, many times and look fine. I was concerned about the stain reduction at first, but it works just as well as the detergent I was using before. As far as all the "wonders" of modern detergent, that may be so, but one of them seems to be to make my clothing come out worse than when it went in, and that's not helping me any. If I have a choice between wearing clothing that looks like I don't know how to feed myself properly, or having to buy a new washer a year earlier than normal, I'll choose the latter.

    I tried many, many other alternatives before I settled on this one. I literally tried every brand of detergent I could find in the store or on line; all the major brands, all of the "eco friendly, natural" brands as well. I tore my hair out for over two years trying to fix the issue, and it finally resolved itself only after I made this switch. I did even go so far as write to Proctor and Gamble, but only got a Tide coupon and some mumbo jumbo about raising the water temperature in my house. I did that, and I also bought a new LG washer that heats the water itself and has a steam cycle. Nothing worked. I'm just offering this as a solution that I found effective. YMMV.

  • Tina Jackson

    I have had the same problem and I thought it was my well water.I am beyond frustrated.

  • lisabu

    I, too, have had this oily looking staining on certain colored cotton/jersey materials...mostly t-shirts. Have you noticed it is only on the front around the belly? That is where mine typically is, so I thought it was food grease/oil from cooking. Also, it is only mine, the cook. I was thinking that it must be a certain type of cotton that was attracting the oil. I tried Dawn, to no avail. Will try the vinegar. I used to use the fabric softener, but have stopped. I typically wash in cold and dry on low. My stains do not go away with multiple washings...probably due to the lack of heat??

  • cheitland

    Hey mwkbear! Would you share the link to your laundry detergent recipe? I have to try this. I too have been at my wits end with the spots. I always suspected it was the detergent. Stupid EPA and their regulations.

  • mamapinky0

    You do know what using soap will do to your clothes and your machine?

  • mwkbear

    Again, I've been using this for two years now. My machine is fine. My clothes are fine. One thing I will say, is that some recipes use soap like "Dr. Bronners", and other ones use the Fels Naptha. I've had much better results with the Fels Naptha, so I'd recommend you stick with that. I also will add chlorine bleach to the whites every few weeks or so. This also helps deodorize my washer.

    @Cheitland: The recipe is all over the internet, it's basically the same. Here's one example for you: . I would leave out the Purex; it's not necessary. Also, if you really want to use a fabric softener, I use white vinegar which works very well and also won't leave the oily stains.

    As mentioned in the article, you only need to use 1-2 tablespoons of the powder per load in an HE front loader, so make sure you measure it and don't just dump it in. If you have a horribly soiled load, you could use 3 TB, but don't use more than that. Also, it really doesn't work well in cold water, so I always wash in hot water, or the extra hot "Sanitary" cycle in my washer.

    Finally...if you are trying to get rid of the mystery stains, you need to start with a clean washer. Run one, and possibly two "tub cleaning" cycles to clean the detergent residue from your washer before you start experimenting. Make sure to wipe down the door gasket too, and be sure whatever gunk you have built up from the commercial detergents, is cleaned as best as you can. Good luck!

  • ruthmbrooks22

    I have had men in this morning to my AEG washer because of oil type stains on my clothes (cotton underwear in particular). It has never happened before and the washer is 10 years old.

    There was nothing wrong with the washer! The man in charge was extremely competent and told me how 10 years ago they had a spate of queries about the same thing and it turned out to be a particular brand of detergent that had been sold by a well known supermarket.

    He said my problem was dye transference even though the stains were not coloured. Liquid tablets (that I use regularly on a low wash) are not a good idea because they contain some sort of oil - can't remember the name but it has been mentioned in other comments - which can remain in the bottom of the machine and deposit on another wash.

    His advice was to do a `maintenance' wash every month - high temperature and a small amount of bleach squirted into the empty machine - and all bacteria would be killed. Also use a `stain grabber' and the `oil' will cling on to that and not the washing. I do use these small sheets but only when I think perhaps coloured dye will leach from from garment to another, but from now on I shall use them all the time.

  • Stacey Torsiello

    I feel I have the same situation but with lighter colored shirts. I wear light blue shirts for work and it happens with them all the time. I work in a professional setting and when people see me with spots all over a blue shirt it looks horrible. I don't have a HE washer. It's an older washer. I don't use special detergent or special softner. I use Ajax laundry detergent and grocery store brand dryer sheets. It happens when I put shirt out to dry or in the dryer.

  • mamapinky0

    Bear..I take it that you've pulled your machine apart and checked all the parts where water and solution comes in contact? That's a big job

  • ruthmbrooks22

    I mentioned before that you must try using colour grabber sheets (they are small and come in a pack of at least 20 and are not expensive). I'm sure you must have similar where you live.I've had no further problems since using them every time. Good luck.

  • mamohr1

    I can't thank you all enough for your feedback! My husband and I have been going CRAZY with the same problem. Assuming the problem was fabric softener, we stopped using it ages ago...but the problem continued. After reading your comments, we did the following:

    1. Pre-treated all clothes that had existing spots with Oxy Clean Gel Stick
    2. Made sure all of our HE detergent (FYI, our top-loader is 20+ years old!) was well dissolved before placing our clothes in the washer.
    3. Washed in warm water instead of cold.

    It was like a miracle! Not only were there no new stains, but the old stains were gone, as well. Thanks to everyone in this community for your valuable input!!

  • dannysmine12345

    I've noticed all sorts of stains appearing on many of my shirts, both white and coloured . I have actually tossed out several tops because of these stains, thinking that I was somehow splashing myself with something on a regular basis, putting it down to being a klutz. It has been driving me crazy.

    It's good to know that I'm not the only one with this problem.

    Will have to try the handsoap thing and see if it works.

  • H.a. Carter III

    can no one come up with a commercial detergent HE that does not have the silicone oil that can be bought off shelf??? Dont want to make my detergent. This is a real problem and must be changed detergent people!!

  • dannysmine12345

    The funny thing is, I never had this problem until just the last couple of years.

    Same old fashioned top loading washing machine, and have tried different detergents and fabric softeners. So I'm thinking, that this must be something new that is being added to these products.

  • enduring

    Are all the problems from using liquid detergents? I have not seen that clarified in the above posts. I wouldn't think silicone could be added to a powder detergent, but I could be wrong. So, is everyone with this problem using liquid detergent? I'm curious, I always use powder and have never had an issue. DH white t-shirts are never spotted when coming out of the wash, though plenty of spots going in. I never pre-treat them either. Just 140f degree wash, TOL powder detergent, and STTP.

  • mamapinky0

    I think silicone is in pretty much all HE detergents now, liquid and powder. If its leaving oil marks its because undisolved detergent is on the clothes. I would make sure water is in the machine before adding detergent if your having this problem. would be a serious undertaking to make homemade *detergent and than you would still need to find a way of preventing oversudsing. If your talking about the online recipe called homemade laundry detergent... its not detergent. And within a few months you will have worse problems than you do now.

    Does Sears detergent have silicone? Seems I remember it doesn't but I could be wrong.

  • mamapinky0

    Also I don't think Seventh Gen. Laundry Detergent uses silicone. I think it uses coconut oil as a anti foaming agent which could be true of the other more natural detergents, you could check some of those. BioKleen, planet, Ecover..just to name a few.

  • william castle

    I've had this problem practically my whole adult life and I'm 42. I've had top and front loaders with the same problem. It's ruined alot of clothes. I'm going to try dry/powder detergent.. wrap it in a towel and put it in the bottom of the load in my top loader I currently have. By the time the water fills and it starts to agitate it shouldn't have a chance to settle on anything and cause stains. I'll post with results at some point.

  • mwkbear

    Another six months have gone by now, since my last post. We do laundry loads 3-4 times a week. Still no issues with the machine or the home made detergent. No "over sudsing" or issues with spots on the t shirts.

    I'm glad to hear that other people have had success with other methods of preventing the spots, such as pre-mixing the commercial detergent before adding it to the washer. The towel idea is interesting too. I'm not sure if that would prevent the clothing from getting clean though?

    Oh, and in our original quest to find a detergent that wouldn't spot, we did try Seventh Generation and Mrs. Myers and I believe one other "green" detergent, but they all seemed to cause the issue. The only thing we didn't try, was to mix the detergent ahead of time, with hot water in a plastic container, for instance, and then pouring it in the drum of our Front Loader before putting in the clothing. I wonder if that might make a difference too. Might be worth trying, although to be honest, the homemade stuff seems to work just as well for spot removal, odors, etc.

  • Elizabeth Malloy

    Hello. I have been trying to figure this out for months now. I have a Samsung washer/dryer and use cold or warm water. I struggle with these stains, not on all clothes so trying to understand. They will not come out no matter what I do. Do any of you have a water softner? I wonder if the salt or soft water has anything to do with reacting to the detergent. We all use different methods of drying, detergents, and appliances. I also wonder If it is a chemical that is sprayed on the clothes unevenly??

    Glad to know there are so many people looking at this.


  • alex ruffnready

    ive noticed it no matter what type of machine i use- ive used the ones at the y then i moved and still happening - use a full cup of liquid soap and no softener- only seems to happen on my older t shirts-- but maybe its becasue im not letting the soap suds up before i put in the clothes-- idk-

  • mamapinky0

    A full cup of liquid detergent? ? What kind of washer and detergent are you using Alex?

  • Ron Roveda

    Asked my daughter in law about the brown spots. She has had the same problem, and after a lenghty history on her machines, she has concluded that it is something inherent in HE machines.

  • Pat Long

    I've been frustrated for years also by the oily spots that show up on my knit tops after laundering. Some very nice knit tunics have been ruined! I tried everything, including making my own laundry detergent. And I don't have an HE washing machine. Then somewhere I read that it comes from getting splashes of dish water on your clothes when washing dishes. That made sense to me since the spots are only on the front and right about a sink level. So, I started wearing aprons (or at least changing tops) when I do dishes and have had no more problems. Additionally, I've found a treatment for removing the oily spots from knit tops that were soiled in the past. Try to find some Lestoil cleaner  Put the Lestoil full strength on the oily spots, then gently rub in with a toothbrush. Let soak in overnight and then launder as usual. Sometimes it will take two treatments and laundering. Good luck!

  • Rebecca Marcengill

    On fabric softener containers it says if there’s a oily spots on your clothes then to use ivory soap to get out. So I need to start getting a bar of Ivory soap because I’m tired of re-washing my clothes and spraying them with shout. Also to keep blacks blacks don’t wash them in warm water wash them in Coldwater. Warm and hot water make blacks dingy and gray. Whoever made that comment about washing blacks in warm water I wouldn’t recommend that I’ve always use Coldwater I just don’t dry my blacks. Also they have detergent may just for black clothes. No me I only get that when I see it on sale I never buy at full price because I’m not going to pay full price for something like that. Now remember that Ivory soap will get the oil spots out just rub the soap on the area with some more warm water and it should come out.

    Also do not use warm water to wash your black clothes please. No I’ve never tried the vinegar method but I buy detergent that is supposed to help make black stay longer and whites wider you know that mumbo-jumbo stuff they feed you. But I do not dry my black clothes I think drying with the washing is what makes the black clothes dingy. So I air dry my blacks.

  • Chris Sourp

    This is my two cents. Same thing, splotches on only my white cotton t-shirts. And noticeable when held to the light just right. The wifey and I theorize that it could be a crappy dye job from the MFG. Most shirts are made in some third world country with no quality control. Cheap white dyes are used and the real color of the shirts are looking like splotches. The dye is washing out. Especially where the detergent is poured on. My theory only. To me, nothing else makes sense. I love white t-shirts ( I live in Arizona) and 80 percent of them are now splotchy. Dang it !

  • Mike Arnett

    Spots only occur on the fronts of our t-shirts, never the backs or sides, so I think it has to do with getting grease on the front either from cooking or eating. Have you ever seen the spot a tiny crumb of potato or corn chip leaves on a brown paper sack overnight? My solution: pre-treat all visible spots with Stain Stick. Works most of the time, and seems to always work the second time around if there is a spot or two after the first wash. It's a pain, but compared to the trouble of making my own detergent, I'll continue doing it. I tried using spray pre-treatments, but once you spray you can't tell what spots are from the spray and which need to be treated. I have a top-loader and use Costco Free and Clear, but have tried Tide and other detergents, as well. Makes no difference. I use a dryer and fabric softener sheets. I tried no sheets and different brands--no difference. I typically pour the detergent down into the bottom of the tub so it goes into the area below the tub with the holes it, but don't wait to put clothes in until the bottom is covered with water, so it's possible some of the unmixed detergent is getting on the clothes. But as I started off with, if the spots were being caused by the detergent, they wouldn't be just on the fronts of the shirts.

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