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Why Is My Washing Machine Putting Brown Streaks on My Clothes?

Brynne Chandler

Brown streaks on freshly washed clothing can have a number of causes, from leaking oil to a rusty drum.

Why Is My Washing Machine Putting Brown Streaks on My Clothes

Modern washing machines may be a lot more convenient than the washboards and hand-cranked wranglers of the past, but they aren't always perfect and can sometimes leave stains and marks during the wash cycle. Older washing machines may require professional care or replacing to solve the problem, while newer ones might benefit from a little TLC. Brown streaks appearing on freshly washed clothing can have several different causes, so before you can solve the problem, you have to identify it.

Forgotten Objects in Pockets

The simplest cause of discolored clothing is pens, pencils, markers, makeup or coins left in pockets. Do a thorough search of garment pockets and of the washing machine's tub the minute you notice brown streaks on your clothes. Once you identify the culprit, you can look up how to remove that particular stain from your clothing. Run the washer empty to clean out its tub.

Overfilled Washer Compartments

The compartments for detergent, bleach and fabric softener in your washing machine have siphons in them to release the contents into the washing machine at the proper time in the wash cycle. If you overfill these compartments, their contents can leak into the tub and cause staining. Run the washer with no detergent, bleach or fabric softener until you're sure the water is clear and then rewash the clothing.

Leaking Transmission Fluid or Bearing Grease

These two problems are more likely to occur in older machines, especially the issue of leaking transmission fluid, but it's worth the time to eliminate either as the cause of your dark streaks. Transmission fluid generally leaks onto the floor underneath the washer, but it can also leak into the drum. Ball bearings help the washing machine's drum turn smoothly. These bearings are lubricated with oil to ease friction. If there's any sort of crack in the bearing casing, the lubricant can leak into the drum. Check underneath the washer for any leaked fluid, and consider having a professional check the internal workings. Remove grease from your clothing with a detergent designed to fight grease stains, or do a test spot on your garment with a grease-fighting dish soap and then hand-wash the damaged pieces in the dish liquid.

Rust and Other Contaminants

Many cities still use cast-iron pipes in their water system. Rust from older pipes can find its way into your washing machine through the water hookup, causing stains on your clothing. A plumber should be able to tell you if this is the case. If rusty pipes are causing the stains, installing a filtration/chlorination system should solve the problem. This system releases just enough chlorine into your water system to clear up rust and kill mold that can also cause stains. Make sure the filter is placed so that water going into your washing machine passes through it. Remove rust stains with a detergent containing hydrofluoric or oxalic acid, which works best on white or colorfast fabrics.


Never use a new detergent or stain remover without doing a test spot to make sure it won't harm your fabrics.