It is usually somewhat difficult to remove lipstick from clothing, but people facing stains and smears usually have the best luck acting fast, paying attention to the clothing label, and being willing to try a number of different remedies. Most lipsticks are made from a combination of oil, wax, and pigment, which often means that there are actually three different kinds of stain at work. People who notice the problem right away can often prevent serious damage with as little as soap and water, though prompt laundering is almost always required to make sure that nothing is left behind. Older stains may need more aggressive treatment, but in all cases it is very important to read the clothing label before scrubbing away. Attempting home stain removal on delicate or specially treated clothes can ruin them.
Determining the Type of Fabric
The very first thing a person who notices a lipstick stain should do is to figure out what sort of fabric is affected, since different removal techniques are better suited for different fibers. Cotton and synthetic materials like nylon and spandex can typically be handled more aggressively than can linens, for instance. Fur, leather, and suede often require extra care, as do materials like silk and organza.
As a general rule, clothes that can go in the washing machine without a problem are usually fine with a range of stain treatments. Those that require washes on the “delicate” cycle or that must be dry cleaned should usually be left alone, since even treatments as simple as soapy water can harm delicate fabrics. People who stain these sorts of garments should usually try to scrape off as much of the lipstick as they can, but should then seek professional help.
A woman applies lipstick.
Assessing the Damage
In general, fresh stains are easier to remove than those that have dried on or that have been set, as when a tube of lipstick is accidentally run through the washing machine with a load of laundry. Most stain experts recommend beginning by isolating the affected area, and trying to remove as much of the wax and oil as possible. Blotting with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel often works well for this step. People should be careful not to rub the stain in, though, which means that a gentle hand is usually best.
Blotting with makeup remover may help get lipstick off clothing.
Very fresh stains may lift with a light application of soap and water. Dabbing at the stain with a small circular motion is usually better than vigorously scrubbing it. A person who rubs too hard risks making the stain even deeper. If soap doesn’t do the trick right away, further measures are usually required.
A number of household items can make removing stubborn lipstick stains a lot easier. Basic makeup remover is often a good place to start, though again light blotting, with a cotton ball or clean white cloth, is usually best. Sometimes letting the remover soak into the stain for a few minutes can help, too.
Rubbing alcohol and petroleum jelly often work the same way. Like makeup remover, these products typically bind to the lipstick’s pigmentation and oils, which can loosen them from the fabric and make them easier to wash away. Another option is hairspray. Most aerosol hair sprays will actually help lift stains out of cotton and synthetic fabrics if sprayed on at close range and then blotted with cold water. This “trick” works best for very fresh marks, though, and should not typically be used on fabric that is brightly colored because of the risk of fading.
It is important for people to wash their clothing shortly after any of these treatments, as all can leave unsightly residues if left too long. Most stain experts say to launder a treated stain within a few hours for best results, following the garment’s regular washing instructions.
There are a number of commercial stain-removing products that can also work well on lipstick. Sprays, rubs, and soaking solutions are available from most supermarkets and home improvement stores. There are usually a lot of options, which can make choosing the right product much more difficult than finding something that may work. Reading the manufacturer’s instructions on the label is a very important part of this process. Not all stain removers are designed for the same thing, and many are optimized for different fabrics. It is uncommon to find a specific lipstick stain remover, but most products designed to remove waxy residue or that promise to combat oil or grease stains are good places to start.
Most commercial products are designed to be “pre-wash” treatments, which means that the stained garment will usually need to be laundered relatively soon after the application. Carefully reading the instructions is really important here since different products have different specifications when it comes to soak time and water temperature. Some “on-the-go” stain removers can help lessen the appearance of lipstick stains on clothes when the wearer is unable to take them off and wash them, but the faster the better when it comes to laundering in most cases. The longer the stain has to seep into the clothing, the harder it will be to get out.
It is often possible to repeat a stain treatment, or to try something new altogether, if the stained garment comes out of the wash still blemished. Once it has been run through the dryer, though, things tend to get more difficult. The heat of the dryer can “set” stains on some fabrics and make them permanent to the point that even a professional may not be able to help with removal.
Clothes that are delicate, fragile, or hard to clean should usually be taken to the dry cleaner’s as soon as a stain is noticed. Professional cleaners often have specialized ways to remove lipstick from even the most delicate fabrics, though they usually have the most success when the stain is relatively fresh and when it hasn’t already been treated with anything else. People who have lipstick on their clothes should usually point out the blemishes, too, to be sure that they are noticed and properly addressed. A dry cleaner who doesn’t realize a garment has been stained can make that stain much harder to remove if he or she goes about the cleaning process without first treating the affected area.
Preventing Stains in the First Place
People who find that they frequently encounter lipstick stains might be wise to take a few extra precautions. Putting on makeup after getting dressed is one easy solution; if this isn’t possible, draping a handkerchief or light cloth over the face before putting the head through a shirt or dress might also help prevent staining. Checking all pockets before laundering clothes can also help catch lipstick tubes that may have been inadvertently forgotten, which can prevent disaster in the washing machine.