Sunscreen is so good at blocking UV, but it may linger after use. Learn how to remove sunscreen from car interior, clothing, and furniture here.

You've gotten into the healthy habit of applying and reapplying sunscreen when you're spending a day outside. You've even started to wear sunscreen on exposed skin like your face and hands before heading out in the car because you know UV rays can reach your skin through windows.

The only problem? You're starting to notice sunscreen stains everywhere: your clothing, your car upholstery, and even your couch.

How can you remove sunscreen from your car interior and other upholsteries? We're here to teach you some useful tricks to deal with those stubborn marks and stains.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about getting rid of stains caused by sunscreen residue.

Why Does Sunscreen Leave Stains?

The FDA has approved 16 different ingredients that have been proven to block UV rays without posing harm to the skin. (If you're noticing a reaction to a specific type of sunscreen, talk to your dermatologist about possible allergies and ingredients to avoid.)

If you keep finding rust-colored stains everywhere, you're probably using sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or avobenzone. Both of these ingredients are chemical absorbers, which makes them great at absorbing UV rays. However, that also means that they absorb the chemicals and minerals in things like sweat and hard water, creating a rust-like reaction.

What if you're noticing white smears and streaks on dark fabrics and upholsteries? If so, it's likely that you use a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide-based sunscreen. These minerals don't stain fabric in the same way as common sunscreen chemicals, but they do cling to textiles and can prove difficult to remove. 

How to Remove Sunscreen From Your Car Interior

If you're only dealing with sunscreen residue in your car after a long day at the beach, breaking out the cleaning supplies may not be a big deal. If you leave behind sunscreen stains every time you drive, however, you may want to consider adding UV-blocking clothing to your wardrobe. Now, let's look at removing sunscreen from different types of car upholstery.

When working with most car upholstery, you can combine one cup of white vinegar with a 1/2 teaspoon of dish soap in a spray bottle and tackle the sunscreen residue with a microfiber cloth. Simply spray any affected areas, wipe down the fabric, and repeat as needed until the residue lifts. Wipe away any soap with a wet sponge and leave your car windows down for a few hours to air out that vinegar smell. 

Seeing sunscreen residue on leather upholstery might give you a scare, but rubbing alcohol can almost always do the trick. Pour the rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle to apply it in a light mist before wiping the area gently with a sponge or cloth. To keep the rubbing alcohol from making the leather brittle, follow this up by massaging leather cleaner into the affected areas.

How to Remove Sunscreen From Clothing

When you've got those rust-colored stains on your clothing or towels, there are two options you can try. The first is a DIY method using lemon juice and salt. Otherwise, you'll want to buy a stain lifter designed specifically for rust and follow the manufacturer's instructions. 

To go the lemon and salt route, lay out your stained garment and squeeze the juice of a lemon onto the stain, massaging it in with a toothbrush. Pour table salt over the entire stain and allow the garment to sit as is overnight. The next morning, brush away the salt and throw the garment in the laundry.

What if the residue on your garment was left behind by zinc? Apply a few drops of liquid laundry detergent to the stain and allow it to sit for ten minutes before rinsing it under cold water. You may need to massage the stain, but you should start to see it lifting. Repeat as many times as necessary until the stain lifts and then launder the garment as per usual.


How to Remove Sunscreen From Furniture

To remove sunscreen from furniture, you're going to follow a similar process as you would when removing sunscreen from your car. Keep in mind that outdoor furniture is often more durable than indoor furniture. If you have a sunscreen stain on an antique chair or velvet couch, you may want to consult a textile expert before moving forward.

For most furniture, that vinegar and dish soap combination will work wonders. Spray the solution on, dab it microfiber, then wipe away any residual soap with a damp sponge and dry with a clean cloth.

If you're worried about future stains, spray a furniture protectant on your freshly cleaned furniture. Keep in mind that these protectants tend to repel oil-based sunscreens, but may not prevent zinc from leaving behind streaks and smears.

Sunscreen Stain Bonus Tips

Before we wrap things up, there are a few bonus tips that will make cleaning your car, clothing, and furniture a little easier. Let's take a look at a few things to keep in mind as you tackle sunscreen residue.

Know What Kind of Sunscreen You're Using

As we've mentioned already, different ingredients produce different types of stains. In fact, zinc doesn't stain fabric as much as it sticks to it. Before you try one of these methods, look at your sunscreen's ingredients list to ensure that you're using the best approach.

Be Mindful of What You Mix

Maybe you prefer to skip the store-bought cleaners and opt for DIY combinations. If that's the case, make sure you know what ingredients to avoid mixing. Vinegar, in particular, can create a lot of toxic reactions when mixed with the wrong substances.

Look Out for Hard Water

Before you soak fabrics with sunscreen stains, make sure you're not using hard water. Hard water has a high concentration of minerals, which will react with the chemicals in most sunscreens and intensify that rust color. If your home has hard water, skip the soaking altogether.

Cut Down on Sunscreen Stains with UV Blocking Clothing

Now that you know how to remove sunscreen from your car interior and other fabrics, let's talk prevention. UV blocking clothing can block up to 98% of UV rays without any sunscreen residue.

Looking for UV blocking clothing but not sure where to start? Take a look at our sale items to protect your skin (and your textiles) at a discount. 

January 29, 2024 — Evelyn Barlia