Hel me nopt mess up my next pair of Dockers.
September 17, 2012 7:32 AM   Subscribe

What is causing the mystery stain to my Dockers in the washing machine?

This has happened to 3 pairs of my Dockers D3 pants over the past 3 months. Any and all possible explanations or advice for safeguards would be welcome.

Pants in question: Dockers D3 khakis, ~$30 from department store.

I'm using Dr. Bronner's as my detergent so there shouldn't be any harsh chemicals or other strange issues from the detergent.

Washing on cool water with like colors--no other new garments in the load.

The stain in question looks likes a light, white film that coats throughout the Dockers pants. It's almost light enough that you don't see it unless you look closely but still visible enough to basically ruin the pants. The stain does not respond to any sort of additional cleaning measures so far that I have thought of and remains through additional similar washing cycles. This has happened on light khaki and dark brown colors.

The stain in question does not appear on any other types of clothes that go in the load with it.

What is going on here? You can safely assume I have an elementary level of cleaning my clothes, i.e. nothing is too obvious to state because I could be doing it wrong.
posted by the foreground to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total)
I wouldn't dismiss the Dr. Bronners. Dockers probably puts a special coating on their pants so they can only be cleaned effectively by approved corporate partner detergents. Do you have an unspoiled pair you can test with conventional detergent?
posted by scose at 7:38 AM on September 17, 2012

Dr. Bronner's - while excellent stuff - is a soap, not a detergent. While soaps and detergents are interchangeable for a lot of cleaning purposes, they aren't interchangeable for all of 'em. Seconding scose that it may be the Bronner's - one of the things soaps tend to do is leave a film on certain surfaces (especially in hard water). If you absolutely, positively don't want to give up the Bronner's, might I suggest adding either an acid (a half-cup of vinegar, possibly) or a wee pinch of trisodium phosphate (TSP, available at Home Depot) to your wash to help with the film issues.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:47 AM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Can you take a photo?

Are you sure this is happening in the washer and not the dryer? Are you also sure this isn't ironing limescale?
posted by DarlingBri at 7:47 AM on September 17, 2012

That white stuff may be soap scum, from the reaction of the calcium and magnesium that are found in most water with the fatty acids in the soap.
posted by Ery at 7:49 AM on September 17, 2012

Have you tried an actual clothing detergent? If not, that would be my first step.
posted by crankylex at 7:49 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Pictures would be helpful here-- is the stain completely consistent over all of the fabric, or are there places where it's more intense (on folds, randomly, according to some particular pattern, whatever)? Is it on the inside, too, or just on the outside? Is the texture of the fabric changed at all-- like, could this be the effect of the outer fibers of the cloth being stressed and "fuzzing up"?

Without additional information, I'd probably nth the advice to consider a new detergent. I believe, IIRC, that khaki is a particularly delicate kind of fabric-color-- at least, I've definitely read warnings that disallowed the use of particular cleaners on khaki when other sorts of fabric were allowed. And if you google around, there are definitely reports of Dr. Bronner's fading clothing.

If you want to be super-scientific about it, you could probably write Dockers for a couple of free fabric samples of their khakis (yes, this is possible!), and do a single-sample test-run with different detergents-- that way, you won't risk being out another $30 if we're wrong.
posted by Bardolph at 7:50 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

BTW if this only happens on the outside, you can launder your pants inside out. Just FYI!
posted by DarlingBri at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2012

I'm betting it's the Dr.Bronner's. It's not really made to be a laundry detergent. It's likely laying-down a film of all those natural oils into your khakis...or it's stripping the finish off the khakis.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:53 AM on September 17, 2012

Most people I know who use Dr. Bronner's for laundry also add in baking soda or borax. They report seeing weird grease stains when using it alone. Those pants probably have some kind of wrinkle-free finish that may be reacting poorly to the castile soap by itself.
posted by bluefly at 8:12 AM on September 17, 2012

They report seeing weird grease stains when using it alone.

Dr. Bronner's is a mix of various tropical, vegetable, and essential oils, so I'm not surprised at this. These oils can play havoc with fabrics.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:24 AM on September 17, 2012

Are you sure it's a stain, and not the dye getting washed out?

I also agree that Dr. Bronner's is not a good choice for clothes. Detergents were invented because soaps did things like this to clothing. Dr. Bronner's is great for some things, and I'm sure it is all natural. But all natural soap means it contains basically lye, oil and salt.
posted by gjc at 8:53 AM on September 17, 2012

I am not sure that it's not occurring in the dryer, but I thought the washer was more likely. Don't have access to take pictures right now but the stain looks like a scaly, light white marking that gets all over the khakis, but only the khakis. It doesn't affect any other clothing.

So it looks like it might be the Dr. Bronners, eh? I started using it because the last conventional detergent I was using was making me feel itchy and Dr. Bronner's advertised itself as detergent for one of its many uses, if I recall correctly, but you all seem right in indicating that is the most likely culprit. The weird thing is, as I mentioned, it only seems to affect the Dockers...

Anyone have recommendations for a gentle laundry detergent, then? Thanks for your feedback.
posted by the foreground at 9:32 AM on September 17, 2012

We use All Free & Clear. I always run an extra rinse cycle to make sure all the detergent has been removed from the fabric, that might help with the itchiness you were experiencing.

As for it only affecting the Dockers, the last few pairs my husband bought definitely have some kind of fabric treatment to make them more stain resistant, I would bet that the treatment is not playing nicely with the Dr. Bronners.
posted by crankylex at 9:48 AM on September 17, 2012

If you're near a Trader Joe's, they have a decent laundry detergent that's fairly gentle and also, reasonably priced.
posted by Lynsey at 10:09 AM on September 17, 2012

I am not sure that it's not occurring in the dryer, but I thought the washer was more likely.

It could be the dryer. In the past, I've noticed that stain resistant/wrinkle-free clothing sometimes doesn't do well at very high heat (well, super high, like an iron), but they've gotten a lot better recently, so it could still be the soap.

You could try Dreft detergent.
posted by bluefly at 10:15 AM on September 17, 2012

I used to have this happen with my khakis, and I was using a regular detergent (Tide or something, nothing fancy like Dr. Bronner's). The problem was that I was adding the detergent after I had loaded in my clothes, and wherever the detergent splashed directly onto the pants I got weird super-light-bleached blotches that you could only really see in direct sunlight.

The solution was to get in the habit of: (1) start washer filling, (2) add detergent, (3) wait until washer was almost ENTIRELY full of water and detergent was well mixed-in, and only then (4) adding in clothes.

I'd say it's worth a try if you really want to stick with the Dr. Bronner's but then again it's not exactly cheap to experiment with full-cost pants. However, I'd definitely recommend getting in the habit of adding detergent before clothes even if you switch to a real laundry detergent. Also, if you're dealing with stiff and itchy clothes after washing with real detergents, lower the amount you use to between one-eighth and one-half of what the bottle recommends. (And actually read the label! A lot of people just fill up the whole cup, when in reality the bottle recommends filling to a line that is WAY at the bottom of the cup.)
posted by iminurmefi at 10:20 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's the wrong soap and it's messing up your pants. All Free and Clear is the way to go. As a bonus you can use it on almost everything else (floors, sinks, dishes, etc).
posted by fake at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2012

A blacklight will show the soap scum, if it's really the detergent.

Given the anti-stain coatings on a lot of men's clothes these days, the combination of that with Dr. Bronner's Crazy Soap suggests a thick coating of goo. Switch to real detergent.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:50 AM on September 17, 2012

Thanks, everyone! I'm going to switch to real detergent and also utilize the directions outlined by iminurmefi. Hoping that will clear this situation up. Pun intended.
posted by the foreground at 12:50 PM on September 17, 2012

My clothes got itchy and crunchy when using cheap detergents. Switching to Tide and Downey Liquid makes my clothes noticeably softer.
posted by gjc at 7:07 PM on September 17, 2012

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