How To Get Tough Mascara Stains Out Of Your Clothes

Let's set the scene: You're sitting at your vanity putting on your makeup, and your final step is the mascara. You get it on perfectly, and then you fumble the stick and it lands right in your lap. Or, even worse, it bounces down the front of your shirt leaving multiple mascara stains on your favorite blouse as you're trying to get ready for a date. Your face is pristine, but now you have to change your clothes — and contend with mascara stains that you want to keep from setting in. If you have to change your top, be careful not to get makeup on your new one, or you'll be cleaning multiple items of clothing.


While it can be easy to think your blouse or pants are now doomed to the trash or rag pile, we have some magical tips that may help you defeat that mascara smudge, so your clothing can head back to the closet for your next big event. Before you get too worried, employ the following tricks to battle the stains — the sooner you get on this task, the better your chances of recovery.

Not all mascaras are created equal

Before you start cleaning your mascara stains, it's important to check what type of mascara you're using. Water-based and oil-based mascara can be cleaned differently — water-based being the easiest to deal with. And, if you're using waterproof mascara — aka oil-based — you may want to get out the big guns because this is the hardest to remove. We suggest skipping this kind if you're prone to wearing your making on your clothing and not just your face.


To know which type of mascara you have, if your tube doesn't specifically say it's waterproof or water-based, think of how easy it is to get off when it's time to remove your makeup at the end of the day. If it comes off in one swipe, it's water-based, but if it takes more work to get it all off, it's oil-based. Oil-based mascara has a strong hold, water-based does not. Water-based mascara has a tendency to smudge, which is why it's less popular.

Read the care instructions on your clothing

Before you go any further, it's important that you know your garment. If it's dry clean only, you don't want to throw it in the washing machine. If it's a fabric that will stain easily from liquid cleaners, like silk, you'll want to be picky about which tricks you use to remove your mascara stain. Fabric matters just as much as the actual care instructions do. If you're not sure about your fabric when it comes to stains and water usage, do a little quick research before you move on to the cleaning tips. Water stains some fabric types because of the minerals in it, so you want to have a blow dryer on hand to help get out water stains if they should happen.


When it comes to at-home washing instructions, if it says to wash in cold water only, you don't want to wash it on the highest heat. There are times when you'll need to wash your cold-water garments in warmer water (we'll discuss that more later), but it would be useful to invest in specialty detergent to help protect your black and colored clothing in cases where stains trump the cleaning instructions (and they're safe to use all the time if you're stain prone or simply like washing your clothing at higher temperatures).

Start by scraping, not rubbing

So, you dropped your mascara wand and there's a clumpy mess on your clothing. Don't rub it! All rubbing will do is push it further into the fibers of your garment, making it so the stain is even more difficult to remove in the long run. Before you even move a step to try to clean the mascara off your clothing, grab a spoon or a butter knife. You want something you can use to scrape off as much excess mascara as you can from your garment. 


Scraping spills off of clothing is a craft, and you want to be sure you do it right. We say grab a butter knife or spoon because you don't want to use something sharp. You also want to scrape gently — too much pressure can damage your garment. While the scraping itself is just the first step in stain removal, the purpose is to make it so you can get to the fibers of your clothing for a deeper clean in the next steps.

Grab a makeup remover

Whether you're removing water-based or oil-based mascara, your makeup remover is a good place to start after you've scraped any loose stuff from your clothing. For water-based mascara, you can use a makeup remover wipe. Any old makeup remover will work in this case. However, if you're dealing with waterproof mascara, you will want to try a makeup remover that is made for removing things like waterproof eyeliner and mascara. If you don't have premoistened wipes, you can use your liquid makeup remover with a soft cloth — but don't start rubbing away right at the stain. There's a trick to this trick.


You'll need a paper towel, on which you'll place your piece of clothing with the stain side down. You don't want to rub directly on the stain with your cleaner, you want to put the stain facing the paper towel and then blot the back of the fabric — the idea is to push the stain from the clothing into the paper towel. Once you've removed as much of the stain as you can this way, you'll want to rub in some stain remover or laundry detergent then send it through the washing machine to see how much of the stain you removed. There's a chance you'll need to repeat the stain removal process or move on to a tougher fight if the stain is too deep in the fabric.

Try natural cleaning alternatives

There are some items in your kitchen and pantry that may help you get makeup stains out of your clothing, including those from mascara. If you've used vinegar and baking soda for cleaning hacks around the home already, you know these two ingredients have a powerful one-two punch when it comes to removing grease and stains from furniture, carpets, and even counters. Well, they can work wonders on your mascara stains and other clothing stains, as well. Just put some baking soda right onto the stain, then pour on some white vinegar. That bubbling action is helping the mixture get into the fabric. Use a fabric or stain brush to help brush the stain away.


While not specifically for removing mascara, lemon juice is great at whitening and brightening clothing. Once you've treated your mascara stain with vinegar and soda, consider putting a capful of lemon juice in the wash with your garment to help a little more. You can also mix the lemon juice right in with your vinegar and soda mixture to give it a little extra kick. You can also use just lemon and baking soda — it doesn't bubble, but it can still help pull that stain out and allows you to work with what you have on hand.

Or perhaps use rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol makes a good stain remover, and most of us have a bottle in the bathroom for emergencies. Instead of dousing the garment with alcohol, you really want to carefully spot-treat the stain, which can be done using a cotton ball soaked in isopropyl alcohol. The higher the percent, the less water is contained in the alcohol, and the quicker it dries — which is good when it comes to trying to avoid water stains on your clothing.


To use this trick, you want to do the same thing you did with the makeup remover — start by placing some paper towels down, put the stain against that, and then blot from the back of the stain with the alcohol to push it into the paper towel. Out of rubbing alcohol? Have no fear — you can use any clear hand sanitizer you have lying around since its main ingredient is isopropyl alcohol. Just avoid using any colored hand sanitizer that might leave more stains on your garment than you started with.

Try dish soap

Dawn dish soap is known for its ability to battle greasy residue, so it makes sense that it would be worthwhile when it comes to fighting a stuck-on mascara stain, especially if it is waterproof mascara. That oily base needs something powerful to lift it from your clothing fabric.


Before you pour on the blue dish soap, be sure all of the loose gunk is off your clothing item so you're not rubbing more stain into the fabric. We also suggest using dish soap after you've tried some of the other hacks and you're down to mostly a greasy stain that is stubborn. At this point, squirt a little dish soap on the spot and rub it in good — you can use your fingers for this, as you just want to be sure the stain is covered in the soap and that the soap is getting into the fabric. Let it sit for about five minutes, then toss it in for a trip through the washer.

You could use stain remover (and a stain brush)

If it's a stubborn stain and you want to go at it with something made specifically for stain removal, buy some stain remover for laundry — there are all sorts of options, but you'll want one that says it fights grease and oil if you're dealing with waterproof mascara stains. Follow the instructions on the stain remover for the best results. Some will require you to have your garment sit for a few minutes before you launder it. There may also be specific washing instructions, like temperature or machine setting. You also want to be sure your stain remover is safe for your fabric.


You may also want to invest in a laundry stain brush to ensure you're getting detergents and stain removers deep into the fabric to remove those stains. These brushes are made with soft bristles that also don't damage the fabric of your clothing. If you use a brush that's not made for this task and it has stiff bristles, it could damage fibers that will lead to a future hole you'll need to mend.

Consider bleach as a last resort

When it comes to the potential for damaging the fabric of your clothing, bleach is another thing you want to be careful with. Bleach should always be your last resort, you don't want to soak your clothing in it too long, and you don't want to use it too often on the same clothing items. Bleach is strong and eats away at your fabric. If you're using bleach too much on whites, they can start to yellow, too.


Be sure to use color-safe bleach for colored clothing items. If you don't, you'll end up with whitish-yellow splotches on your clothes. While bleach is sure to lift stains if you want to try something a little safer, use OxiClean, which is another stain remover. You can spot clean with OxiClean or add it to your laundry loads to brighten your colors, whiten your whites, and get rid of stains.

Pick the right water temperature

When you're washing your pretreated stained clothing, it's important to use the right temps in the washing machine. Hot water better removes stains, but not all clothing can be washed in hot water. Hot water fades colored clothing and anything black or dark. While whites can get whiter in hotter water, there's also a chance of cotton and other fabrics shrinking some. This is why we said it's important to know your fabric.


If you got mascara on whites, and they've been washed enough that they're preshrunk, toss it in the hottest setting your washer has. If you got mascara on a colorful piece of clothing that specifies cold washing, try warm — as long as you're not doing this regularly, your clothing should be okay. Warm water may not be as potent as hot, but you also don't want to ruin your clothing trying to get a stain out.

Don't use shaving cream, hairspray, or club soda and salt

There are all sorts of hacks out there for getting stains out of clothing, but some of them won't work as well as you hope and could make things worse. Plus, you always have to consider what the stain is. In the case of mascara stains on clothing, we suggest skipping the hairspray, shaving cream, and even the mixture of club soda and salt that people swear by. Let's look at why.


While club soda and salt are great to get stains out of a t-shirt, if you're wearing something fancy, there is a chance this mix could be damaging. If you're rubbing salt into your fabric, that could be damaging, as well. As for hairspray, the idea of spraying something sticky onto your clothing to remove a stain makes no sense. Sure, they said it would work to get ink out of your jeans, but put the hairspray down unless you want to fight a sticky stain on top of your mascara smudge. Shaving cream has been used to treat stains in the past, but shaving gels these days are not all the same and could leave you with a dye stain.

Do a test patch before you take it to the dry cleaner

If your garment says dry clean only, you may still be able to try some of these stain-removing tricks. You'll want to try a patch test with some water on an inside piece of your clothing where it won't be seen if it leaves a permanent spot. If the water dries and doesn't leave a stain or anything, you're safe to spot-treat the stain at home. 


Of course, you don't have to risk it and possibly damage your clothing more. Dry clean items can be taken to the cleaner with stains, you just want to make sure you show them the stain, let them know what the stain is, and also fill them in on how long it's been sitting and if you tried any at-home removal hacks ahead of time. When you pick your garment back up, be sure to check that the stain is removed before you head home, so if it's stuck on, you can discuss some ideas with your cleaner on what steps to take next.

Don't put it in the dryer yet

We have one last, very important thing for you to keep in mind when it comes to stain removal. It's important not to heat dry your clothing until you're sure the stain is fully removed or it can cause it to set in. A set-in stain is nearly impossible to get rid of, and no one wants that.


Instead of tossing your garment in the dryer, hang dry it. If it's a warm breezy day, and you have a yard or porch for it, hang your clothes outside for a quick natural dry. If you can't put them outside because of the weather or you just don't have the space, hang them inside in a space with airflow — you can even turn a fan on to help them dry faster. Once the stain is totally gone, you can dry your stuff as you normally would again.