Our clothes will periodically come out of our washing machine with brown splotchy stains. I suspect it's either rust or oil/grease getting into the drum. How can I diagnose what it is exactly, and prevent it from happening?

Edit: I have wiped down the top of the drum, both on the inside and above the drum where it meets the metal chassis of the washer.

I also removed and cleaned the fabric softner container, and removed the agitator and cleaned the inside and below the agitator (there was a ton of built up dirt). After removing the agitator, I cleaned that in the sink with soap, water, and baking soda. I cleaned by filling the drum with hot water (as if about to start a cycle), and then adding a cup of bleach and cup of baking soda, while leaving the door open. After letting soak for an hour, I scrubbed the place where the agitator attaches to the bottom of the drum and wiped down all the loose dirt.

I also stumbled upon an errant bobby pin, which I suspect has been the real culprit here. Will answer this question if the splotches disappear. Thanks to @ noybman for all the help.

  • 1
    could also be rust. How old is the unit? Is it front loading or top? Do you have well water or municipality water? Does your clean toilet water ever appear unclear?
    – noybman
    Sep 10, 2017 at 1:08
  • 1
    @noybman yeah I mentioned in my question that it may be rust. I don't know how old the unit it, I'm in a rental. It's top loading using municipality water, which is always clear and colorless
    – spacetyper
    Sep 10, 2017 at 1:33
  • Do other people use the unit as well? When the unit is empty, does the drum or agitator if it has one seem very lose? Do you use liquid or powder detergent? (front loader or top?)
    – noybman
    Sep 10, 2017 at 1:36
  • @noybman no other people using it. Not sure how to tell if the drum is loose. It's moveable but feels like that's normal. Agitator doesn't seem loose. We use liquid detergent that's clear.
    – spacetyper
    Sep 10, 2017 at 1:39
  • 2
    Take a damp thick rag, and run it alongside the inner upper part of the drum and the metal chassis above the drum. You should also feel a plastic/rubber assembly there where the rinse water comes from. Look to see if you get debris or rust on it from that *(be careful in case it is sharp). Also, look for a label on the unit, The model # and date of manufacture should be on it.
    – noybman
    Sep 10, 2017 at 1:42

2 Answers 2


Well the first need is to identify the stain. I was a dry cleaner for 40 years. Dry Cleaners have a "rust-go" or "erusticator" bottle. One drop on a brown stain will instantly disappear that little circle of stain if it is rust. It will not work on any brown stain except rust!

A source of rust in laundry comes from invisible iron in the water. Chlorine bleach will precipitate it out as rust. Many people have made worse stains by attempting to get brown stains out with bleach in the next wash....


  • While this may get the stain out of the clothes and is valuable info, the OP asked what he can do to prevent the stains from happening in the first place. Please feel free to edit in any tips you may have on that.
    – FreeMan
    Dec 6, 2021 at 12:48
  • 1
    Well preventing the stains involves knowing first what they are! If they are in fact rust it will not likely be from the machine. If it is from iron in the water, only limited prevention is possible. Number one, don't use chlorine and number two, install a softener with filtering media to not only soften hard water but also remove iron. Not a cheap or easy solution, unfortunately, and another washer will have the same problem.....the water can be tested for iron content: a city 30 miles from mine had high iron and customers came from there to wash in my laundromat to escape the high iron.
    – RazeR
    Dec 7, 2021 at 18:21
  • Try removing the agitator and look at the transmission seals, I have seen failing washing machine transmissions periodically put grease in the wash water. Water flows past the seal into the transmission pushing transmission fluid out. If this is true you need to replace the transmission and generally it is more cost effective to replace the washer. Check with your neighbors and see if any of them are having this problem to rule out the water source.
    – Gil
    Jan 3 at 4:07

Do you use the oxyclean powder? I would get these brownish spots randomly when trying to get my whites extra bright by using oxy powder and bleach. I'm not 100% positive that this is what was doing it but I stopped mixing the two and I stopped getting those spots.(the bleach would turn a dark burnt orange color when I would pour it into the water cantainibg the oxy, but only briefly)

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