Whole Living Daily

Ask Mindy: Natural Way to Remove Rust Stains?

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Got a green dilemma? Ask me! I'll be answering a new question each week.

Q: My dryer has been putting rust lines on my light-colored clothes. How can I remove them naturally? –Lynette Ringel

A: The challenge is how to remove it without destroying the fabric! Commercial rust removers are scary strong without necessarily being more effective. There’s a good reason that many rust removal products have "danger" labels. Because they are corrosive, like oven or drain cleaners, they can burn skin and eyes and cause internal burning if swallowed somehow. “Most cleaning products can irritate skin and eyes, but only corrosive products cause burning,” writes Philip Dickey, executive director of the Washington Toxics Coalition.

So, you’re smart to want a natural solution. Happily for our health and the environment, greener products based on plant-derived compounds are becoming increasingly available. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently added a  “biopreferred” product seal that certifies plant-based products.

Here are some nontoxic solutions you might want to try:

1. Pretreat the rusted areas for at least 30 minutes in one of the following.

  • A mixture of one part lemon juice and one part water, or one part hydrogen peroxide and one part water.
  • A chlorine-free bleach from Arm & Hammer, Clorox Greenworks, Earth Friendly Products, Ecover, Seventh Generation, or another responsible company. Chlorine bleach reacts with the rust particles and actually makes the stain worse, warns Martin Wolf, director of product and environmental technology for Seventh Generation.
  • A natural enzyme-based cleaner, such as Seventh Generation’s new Stain and Spot Remover.
  • A chlorine-free stain remover paste, such as Oxi by Clorox GreenWorks.

2. Add ½ cup baking soda to the wash cycle. A natural brightener, it will also help balance the pH level in your water. Rust can result from hard water.

3. Hang dry your clothes, (you’ll save energy!) and examine your dryer’s interior. If you find rust spots, scrub them with a nontoxic paste of 1/3 baking soda, 1/3 washing soda (available in laundry aisles), 1/3 water, and a squirt of lemon juice. If this doesn’t work, try a greener commercial rust removing product such as Chem Spec’s DFC Calcium Lime & Rust Remover, which is certified as less toxic and more environmentally sound by the Green Seal.

Warning: Even green and “nontoxic” cleaners can cause irritation to skin, nose and eyes. When cleaning with washing soda and commercial rust removers, wear gloves, eye protection (your regular glasses or sunglasses will do),  and a mask over your nose and mouth.

Mindy Pennybacker regularly answers readers' green-living questions. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.

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