Whether on our clothes, furniture, or carpet—stains are an inescapable part of life. And, unfortunately, there isn’t a universal fix for removing all of them. In other words, fabric labels are there for a reason. Paying attention to these will assist you in the removal of a specific stain and will be the determining difference between preserving or purchasing clothing. In a pinch, this handy stain removal guide will work, but for the more difficult spots that require more specialized solutions, we compiled a quick guide for you.
The method for removing stains depends on the fabric of the item. For cotton or poly-cotton mixes, apply dish soap and cover the stain completely, rubbing the soap into the fabric with your fingers. Be sure to wash it as directed on the label if you’re using a washing machine. For more delicate fabrics, such as knits, silks, and linens, try using a specialty stain remover or an enzyme pre-treater. Only wash it in the water temperature as noted on its label. If your item is “dry clean only,” you may be able to treat the stain yourself or (if strapped for time), visit your local dry cleaner.
When spillage occurs, treat the stain immediately. This doesn’t require fancy cleaning products. First, try running the stain under cold water and blotting it with a towel or paper towel. You’ll want to use white towels so you don’t transfer any color to your clothing item.
If that method doesn’t work, try pretreating the stain by applying dish soap or liquid laundry detergent to it and letting it soak in for about 15 minutes. Then, wash it according to the label. Check for the stain again after it’s clean.
Do not put the garment in the dryer if the stain is still there. Dryer heat can set the stain, making it much more difficult to remove. If the stain is still there after the garment dries, try treating it for that specific kind of stain; here is an A-Z guide on how to handle different types.
Food, grease, and oil: Keep a piece of white chalk in your laundry space and draw over the stain making sure to separate the other side of the garment so you’re not pushing the stain through. For a larger stain, sprinkle cornstarch and a drop of dish soap over the spot. After a few minutes, shake off the cornstarch and wash according to its label.
Coffee and tea: Soak the stain in 1/3 cup of vinegar mixed with 2/3 cup of water. Hang the garment to dry and launder as usual.
Blood: Blot and soak with cold water right away. Then, treat it with a bleach alternative. Or, pour white vinegar over the stain and allow it to soak in for 15 minutes. Launder immediately in cold water.
Fruit and juice: Run under warm water and treat the stain with white vinegar. If the fabric is white, treat with hydrogen peroxide, then launder.
Sweat: Mix baking soda and water to create a paste and apply to a clean toothbrush to dissolve perspiration. Soak it in 1/4 cup bleach alternative and warm water in a small bucket for at least a couple of hours before laundering.
Wine: Blot with club soda or cool water before laundering. Should your houseguests inadvertently spill red wine on your furniture or carpet, this stain remover works wonders when immediately applied to the spill.
Ink: Dab with a cotton ball dipped in alcohol, then wash as normal.
Mystery stains: Saturate the stain with white vinegar, then rub it with a paste made from equal parts vinegar and baking soda. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar and laundry detergent to a bucket of warm water and soak the garment overnight. Rinse and wash. If that doesn’t work, try this more thorough approach to stubborn stains.
You can attempt the same quick and easy stain removal technique mentioned earlier—blotting the stain with a wet white towel or paper towel to lift the stain immediately. If that doesn’t work, you can usually rent carpet cleaners from your local hardware store or purchase one, which might be a good idea for regularly shampooing your carpets anyway (especially if you have pets). If your carpet contains wool, don’t use ammonia as a stain remover as it can cause discoloration.
The first thing to do if you spill on a sofa or fabric furniture is—you guessed it—treat the stain immediately. Blot the spill with a wet white cloth, as opposed to scrubbing or rubbing, as not to create an even worse stain. If you want to treat old stains or revive dingy-looking upholstery, vacuum the furniture first, then perform a deep cleaning according to the fabric content.
Life’s messy. Some stains magically disappear, and some will wreak havoc on your wardrobe. If you’re spill-prone, it might be a good idea to keep this guide handy—and always carry a stain remover stick.