I think that every one of us has experienced that sinking feeling when we realise that we’ve landed in or spilled something that will undoubtedly leave a stain. Whether that’s red wine on a tablecloth, grass streaks on knees, or a smear of mustard, ketchup, chili, and sauerkraut on your shirt from the filth-dog you bought for lunch, there’s a deep resignation at the fact that that stain’s never going to come out.
There are a few tricks to getting out stubborn stains, but remember that the earlier you catch it, the easier it is to get out. If you forget about the stain for a few weeks, or put the clothing item through the wash without specifically treating the spot, it’ll be a lot harder to get rid of. One thing to remember: whenever you try to get a stain out, always blot it (press at it) gently—never, ever rub at it to get it out. If you do, you’ll just grind the stain deep into the cloth fibres and it’ll be there forever.
Did you manage to turn your knees green while working in the garden? Or did your kid decide to slide down a hill on their face? Either way, you’ll have to get those green streaks out of your clothes as soon as possible. Grass one of the more difficult stains to contend with, but it’s not impossible to get it out.
Never use ammonia to remove a grass stain, as it’ll just set the stain instead and make it permanent. Rubbing alcohol is a far better choice, as it’ll help to dissolve the chlorophyll’s lovely green pigment. If you’re using rubbing alcohol (aka isopropyl), daub it into the stain full-strength, let it air-dry, rinse it with alcohol, and repeat. Then work some liquid dish detergent into the stain and launder the piece as you usually do. Repeate the process as needed until the stain’s out.
You can also use regular white vinegar in lieu of rubbing alcohol, but it may not work as effectively.
Red Wine Stains
As soon as you spill wine, flush it with water or club soda, blot out as much as possible and then douse a bunch of salt on the stain: the salt crystals will soak up the wine, thus removing the worst of the staining properties. Launder the item as usual as soon as possible.
If you’re dealing with an older wine stain—like, on a shirt or dress that you tossed into a corner and forgot about—stretch the fabric over a bowl and pour boiling water through the stain. It should loosen things up enough to remove the stain particles, and then launder it as usual.
Whether you’re dealing with the aftermath of a nosebleed, or an unexpected early period, blood is always difficult to get out of clothing.
For fresh blood stains, blot the item with a cold, wet washcloth, rinse it thoroughly with cold water, and then let it soak in a very cold saltwater bath for several hours. If that doesn’t get the stain out, you can treat it with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, then rinse with cold water again, and put it through a laundry cycle as usual.
For old, dry blood stains, use the peroxide technique first—you can even repeat it a couple of times if necessary. Milk also seems to do a lot of good on older blood stains; just be sure to immerse the entire stain in milk and let that steep for a couple of hours before throwing it in the laundry.
*Note: when dealing with blood stains, do not throw the item into the dryer until the stain is out, or it’ll set permanently.
Engine grease, cooking oil… regardless of what kind of oil you’re dealing with, this is one of the most difficult stains to get rid of. Grease tends to burrow its way into fabric fibres, and it’s difficult to coax it out of there once it’s comfortable. If you can catch the stain when it’s fresh, you have a greater chance of removing it, so act quickly if/when this happens.
If you get a little bit of oil onto your clothes, blot the spots with paper towel or tissue to get as much out as possible, and then grab a stick of chalk if there’s one nearby. The chalk needs to be white—the kind that’s used for blackboards—and you’ll use it in strong strokes working from the center of the stain outward. Be sure to cover every last bit of the stain, and then launder the item as quickly as possible. If there’s no chalk within easy reach, you can do the same trick with a bit of dish detergent as well: the liquid kind, not the powder that’s used in dishwashing machines.
In a pinch, you can also use talc/baby powder or baking soda in lieu of chalk or detergent, but they won’t work as well.
The tannins in coffee and tea make rather spectacular stains if you don’t catch spills immediately. If you manage to douse yourself in coffee (or leave a ring on your favourite tablecloth), blot out as much liquid as you can and run the stain under cold water immediately afterward, then put the item to soak in cold water for a few hours. If the stain hasn’t lifted sufficiently, you can sponge it gently with detergent, soak it again, and then wash it as you usually do.
*Note: if your coffee had cream in it, then it’s a combination stain—cream has a fair bit of oil in it, so you’re going to have to deal with things on two levels. First you’ll blot out as much liquid as possible, do the liquid detergent bit, and after sponging that away, hit it with chalk. Repeat if necessary.
If you use deodorant or antiperspirant, you’ve likely had to deal with those charming white stains around the armpits of some of your clothes. Strangely enough, rubbing those stains with dryer sheets seems to lift them out really well. Of course, the dryer sheet trick only really works for fresh stains; for older ones, soak them overnight in a 2:1 solution of white vinegar : water, and then launder as usual.
If you’re dealing with yellowish underarm stains on white clothing, make a thick paste of baking soda and water and spread that all over the stain. Let it sink in and dry overnight, and then pour full-strength white vinegar over it in the morning. That should foam up gorgeously to remove most of the stain, and you can then rub a bit of laundry detergent into the area and wash as usual. You can repeat the baking soda step a couple of times until the stain’s completely gone.
*Note: the baking soda trick also works for “ring around the collar” on men’s light-coloured dress shirts.
Another fabulous combination stain, lipstick is a tricky beast to get rid of. Ideally, you’ll want to wipe it away with one of those wet wipes people use on babies’ backsides, but if you don’t have one of those handy, you can use a washcloth dipped in rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol.
If you’re dealing with stubborn pee-stains, hopefully it’s because the puppy you’re house-training has had a couple of slip ups, and not that your housemate came home completely hammered and mistook your closet for the ‘loo.
If you come across a urine patch while it’s still wet, blot up as much as possible with a clean cloth or a handful of paper towels. Hey, use a ShamWow if you have one—those things are genius.
Infographic by Partselect