Your Guide to Stain Removal

July 12, 2016

Toxic, chemical spot removers aren’t a good solution because the one-fix-for-all-stains approach is usually a failure. Plus, synthetic stain removers can harm natural fibers, such as silk,  wool and cotton; some synthetic stain removers are flammable; and many people are allergic or sensitive to their harsh ingredients. In fact, many aerosol stain removers contain neurotoxic petroleum solvents. They will permeate your home while you are working with the stain, causing toxic indoor air pollution. There are safer alternatives.

By understanding the chemistry of a few stain-removing materials, such as vinegar, baking soda, and simple digestive enzymes, you can solve most stain problems. I was able to clean up the stains on all of my T-shirts, except the one with an old chocolate stain.

  • The sooner you attend to a stain, the better. But think twice before just throwing stained clothing in the laundry. The heat of the water and dryer can set many stains, so you need to analyze the stains before doing laundry.
  • First, scrape, blot, vacuum, or otherwise remove as much of the stain as you can. Never rub in the stain.
  • Then, identify the stain. This is important for the chemistry of stain removal because you need to use the right treatment at the right time. Once you have determined the best treatment, pretest on the fabric to make sure that the fabric won’t be harmed by the treatment.
  • Warm or cool water is the safest for stain removal because hot water and heat can set stains.

Try these simple tricks for specific stains:

Beer: Vinegar.

Berries: Vinegar.

Blood: Soak in cold salt water or just cold water; use a hydrogen peroxide soak for stubborn stains.

Chewing Gum: Put in freezer for a few hours; once cold, peel off gum.

Chocolate: Soak in detergent and launder. If stain remains, soak in an enzyme-based stain remover.  The enzymes will eat up the dairy products in the chocolate. If you still have a stain after trying enzymes, try soaking the spot in 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.

Cigarette Smoke: For yellow stains, try washing soda or sodium perborate.

Coffee and Tea: The stain in caffeine drinks is from the tannin and from milk and sugar, if that has been included. Spot-clean tannin stains with vinegar. If dairy products have left stains, soak in enzyme-based stain remover. For old coffee and tea stains, rub with glycerin before laundering or try sodium perborate.

Crayons and Candle Wax: Freeze the stain, remove the residue, and pull off the wax. Next, heat an iron, cover the wax stain with an absorbent cloth, and melt the wax onto the cloth.

Decals and Price Stickers: Rub with vegetable oil.

Egg: Enzymes.

Feces: Enzymes.

Fruit: Lemon juice or vinegar.

Grass: Enzymes.

Grease: Detergent; it’s best to blot the stain. Sometimes olive oil can be used to remove oil, but be careful not to create a new stain. Also, try cornstarch or citrus solvent.

Grout Stains: Hydrogen peroxide.

Ice Cream: Enzymes.

Ink: Soak in milk, vinegar, or citrus solvent.

Leather Stains: Saddle soap (which is soap and polish combined).

Lipstick and Makeup: Use a few drops of oil or glycerin, being careful not to spread the oil farther than the stain. Scrape off. Pretreat with detergent, and then wash in hot water. Also try a biodegradable stain remover like White Wizard.

Medicines, Herbs (Turmeric), Chemicals: 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.

Mildew: Vinegar.

Mold: Vinegar.

Mustard: 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.

Oil: Glycerin.

Perfume and Essential Oils: Vinegar or baking soda.

Perspiration: Enzymes. Or soak item in salt water. Lay clothing in the sun for a few hours. Clean with shampoo (the chemistry of shampoo is designed to remove body oils).

Petroleum Oil: Washing soda.

Protein Stains: Enzymes or shampoo.

Ring around the Collar: Shampoo.

Rust: Borax paste.

Tomato Sauce: Vinegar.

Urine: Enzymes; alternating between vinegar and baking soda.

Vomit: Enzymes; alternating between vinegar and baking soda.

Wax: Freeze the stain, remove the residue, and pull off the wax. Next, heat an iron, cover the wax stain with an absorbent cloth, and melt the wax onto the cloth.

Wine: Pour boiling water from a height of 3 feet; may be more effective if you rub salt on the stain first.