There is no way around it, clay is messy and sticky. That’s part of its fun. But it is less fun trying to get clay out of clothes. Perhaps you are a potter who uses clay at work or as a hobby. Or perhaps you have a kid who is making a clay project at school. You may even have a kid who likes to play sports in a muddy field full of clay. Either way, it helps to know how to remove clay stains.
An effective way to remove clay from clothes is to pre-treat the fabric with detergents before further washing. The detergent softens the clay, making it easier to wash off the clay deposits in the fabric. Salt and vinegar can be brought in to get rid of more stubborn stains.
Read on to find out more about getting specific types of clay out of certain clothes effectively.
Mistakes to Avoid when Trying to Get Clay Out of Clothes
Before I get into the things that you should do, it is also important to know the things not to do.
Make these mistakes and you might not be able to get rid of all the clay in your clothes.
- Never try to brush off the clay by hand, unless it’s a significant chunk. You risk pressing the clay deposits deeper into the fabric this way.
- Don’t try to wash the clay from the fabric when it’s still wet. Leave the clay to dry first, slowing down the spread of the stain.
- Know the kind of material that you are dealing with. While some solutions work, they might ruin the fabric in the end.
- Always pre-treat clay stains before you go in for the final removal. Skip this step and you might mess the fabric up for life.
- Any stain removal approach should be done before washing the clothes. These stains can be challenging (to impossible) to remove afterward.
- You don’t need the strongest detergents or chemicals in the room. Most often than not, the stain looks far worse than it is.
- Cold water is usually best to rinse off the stains for the first time. The heat from hot water could cause it to set.
- After washing, never put the clothes in the dryer if the stains are not fully out. That’s a fine way to make the stains permanent otherwise.
- Don’t assume a stain removal process will work for you just because it has worked for someone else. Test the process on a small part of your material first before applying it to a larger region.
Remember the above pointers and you have a better shot at success.
That said, here’s the next thing to do:
Pre-Treating the Clay-Stained Clothes for Easy Removal
It’s important to remember to pre-treat clothes with clay on them.
Clay particles are soluble and can continue to get deeper into the fabric when exposed to water. Since you’ll need water to wash the stains off, that puts us at a crossroads.
That is where pre-treatment comes into the mix.
Here’s what you should do:
- Step 1 – Make sure the clay is dried completely on the fabric before you attempt this step. Brush off the flaked clay particles so that you have less of the material to worry about removing.
- Step 2 – Pour some mild fabric detergent (liquid detergents are preferred) into a bucket, mix with enough water and soak the fabric for 30 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, you can pour the liquid detergent (or mixed powdered detergent) directly onto the stains, allowing it to sit for five minutes.
- Step 3 – Gently brush the stains out of the affected parts using a hard brush (for pieces of denim and related material) or an old toothbrush (for milder cotton and related material).
For really stubborn stains, you can leave your cloth(es) soaked in the detergent overnight. I don’t recommend pouring the detergent directly onto the stain and leaving it for too long as that might impact the material.
Once you’re done with the pre-treatment process, you should have most (if not all) of the clay particles out of the cloth already. What remains is the stain, which we get out below.
General Guidelines for Getting Rid of Clay Stains
If you have done the above steps right, you can load the fabric into the washer (with similar clothes) as you would when washing normally.
You can get more success (especially with mildly stubborn stains) by leaving some liquid detergent directly on the surface of the stain before loading it into the washer. That improves the rate at which the detergent attacks the stains, rather than using a higher concentration of detergent for all of the clothes inside the washer.
Some people prefer to wash by hand so that they don’t stain other clothes in the washer. That is not something to concern yourself about – but that does not mean you cannot wash by hand either.
When loading into the washer, it is recommended that you:
- Use the normal wash cycle for your clothes. Going above that will wear out the fabric faster.
- Set the machine to the hottest wash temperature that the cloth(es) fabric can handle. Make sure other clothes you’re loading can handle the same temperature.
As a reminder, observe the clay-stained clothes before you throw them into the dryer. Once you dry the clothes, the stains might be set for life, unless you use some unsafe chemicals that would negatively affect your cloth’s fabric.
Is It Harder to Get Some Types of Clay Out Than Others?
If you have read my guide to different kinds of clay, you know that they have different features (especially for the potters here). In the same way, they stain clothes differently and may require different modes of removal.
I’ve discussed some of the clay that we commonly come across daily – and how to remove them from your clothes if you ever get stained.
How to Get Pottery Clay Out of Clothes
For clay that doesn’t come directly from the earth, you would think that it wouldn’t stain clothes. That is not true.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wear stains on your clothes like a badge.
Here’s what you should do:
- Step 1 – Get as much of the solid clay off your clothes as possible. Where they are already sticky, apply some ice cubes to make removal easier.
- Step 2 – Apply rubbing alcohol to a soft, lint-free cloth or cotton ball. Use that to blot/ clean out the modeling clay stain from your cloth.
- Step 3 – Repeat the process (non-aggressively too) to continue getting more stains out of your cloth.
Where the steps above do not get rid of the stain completely, follow the steps recommended under the “General Guidelines” for a better chance of success.
How to Get Red Clay Out of Clothes
Red clay is the one that looks like it will never come off. Depending on how much red clay you got into, and the nature of the material (type of fabric and its color, most especially), you might want to consider tossing the cloth outright.
Don’t do that before you try these:
- Step 1 – Leave the clay to dry off on the fabric
- Step 2 – Pre-treat the fabric (as outlined above)
- Step 3 – Wash the garment as usual
Now, red clay can be stubborn so it doesn’t come out the first time.
When you look at the level of the stain involved, you can choose to:
- Rewash the fabric immediately; or
- Soak for a little while longer in suitable detergent.
Both methods work and they should be alternated to see which brings the best results. Don’t go too hard on the cloth lest you wear the fabric out faster than normal.
Whatever you do, inspect the cloth to confirm that you are okay with the stain removal level before you dry it off.
How to Get Red Clay Out of Sports Clothes
I’m adding this in here for people who have kids that play field sports. A lot of sports fields have grounds that contain clay.
When you don’t know to get clay out of their uniforms, it becomes a hassle.
Granted, some of these kids have team managers that handle the laundry. When it falls on you, though, know these:
- Most baseball fields have red clay;
- Tackle the stains as soon as possible, but let them dry first; and
- Home supplies are the best way to treat baseball uniform stains.
Since we have that out of the way, you can do the same thing with red clay above. When you’re done with that process, wash the uniform according to the fabric instructions.
Alternative Methods for Clay Removal from Clothes
Rarely, the methods above alone do not work.
I recommend sticking with them till they give you the results you seek on stain removal.
In the instance that they don’t work as well, here are some alternative approaches:
- Alternative Approach #1 – Cover the stain with a paste made from ammonia and washing powder. Allow the paste to sit on the stain for 10-15 minutes. Launder the clothes normally.
- Alternative Approach #2 – Mix white vinegar (one cup) with salt (three spoons). Apply the mixture over the stain and allow to sit for an hour. Rinse the mixture off (with cold water) before washing the clothes normally.
Where all else fails, these alternative approaches will get the job done for you. Let’s hope you never have to call on them.
It is not rocket science to get clay out of clothes but you might be better off avoiding it altogether. When work, play, or accidents take you to where the clay deposits are, though, you can rest assured that you’re now ready to deal with the situation.