Fantastic Make-It-Yourself Laundry Pretreaters That Work

It doesn’t take much to ruin a favorite clothing item with stubborn stains that happen quick-as-a-flash: a bubbling pot of spaghetti sauce, bacon grease splatters, an active toddler wanting to share her food, or just working and playing outside. Life happens! Calamity strikes in any number of ways.

Laundry Pile With Soap & Liquid Solution The good news is that most disasters are easy enough to remove. All that’s needed is a smart plan, a little bit of elbow grease and a brilliant cleaning agent of some sort (several of those are shared below for you to browse through).

Listed first are methods and tips I’ve collected over the years followed by a bunch of effective remedies and strategies detailing how to get the job done. Good luck!

Stain Removal Methods & Guidelines


  • Treat as soon as possible since they’re easier to get rid of while still new (same day is optimal).
  • Test on a hidden or unseen area of the clothing, observe color fastness in a visible section.
  • Avoid hot temperatures on the following: blood, egg and milk.
  • Follow directions of commercial cleaners, be aware of every precaution noted.
  • Do not process garments in a dryer until you have successfully dealt with the spot, heat can set it which makes things harder to eradicate.

Tip: Check clothes as you arrange them in the washer and again while placing them in the dryer. Catching issues before items are laundered can help prevent permanent markings.

Use Hot Or Cold Water?

Many come out quickly when flushed or soaked with heat, but some will set permanently. How to know what temperature is needed? When in doubt, choose cold. If they are: Blood, Milk, Eggs…these should never be exposed to heat, always work with cool liquid for these cases.

Homemade Solutions To Make

Here’s a great pretreater I love that whips up nicely…keep a jar handy and you’ll never buy harsh chemical products again.

DIY Soap Jelly: The Best Stain Remover!

Glass Jar or Bottle
Laundry soap bar (Sunlight Lemon, Fels Naptha or a basic non-perfume product like Ivory)

  • Shave the bar until the flakes fill half of the jar.
  • Fill with hot water (boiling if the glass can handle it without shattering). Cover with lid.
  • Allow time for the shavings to saturate and soften up, shake hard until all dissolved (or stir well).
  • Once dissolved, allow to cool completely, this mix will form a jelly.

Troubleshooting Tip: If the batch doesn’t gel nicely, it’s still usable…simply reheat and add flakes. If results are too thick, fix by adding a bit more water.


  • Soften stubborn soil by working this jelly in with a soft brush. Scrub gently to avoid damaging fibers.

Quick Tip: I’ve also utilized straight liquid dish detergent successfully (Blue Dawn Original is a good choice). Squirt a bit onto the area, gently rub in with fingers, then toss the garment in the pile for washing later. I think this is an especially easy option since it can be applied as soon as the damage is noticed and left on the piece until ready to wash (no more forgetting).

DIY Formulas

Here are some more remedies you can try making. After treating process, rinse then launder as usual (checking that mark is gone before putting in dryer)…

Recipe #1

1 cup hot water
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide

  • Combine ingredients, store in spray bottles. Used as a spot treater. Soak overnight.

Recipe #2

2 quarts water
1/2 cup ammonia
2 TBS laundry detergent

  • Combine ingredients, pour into spray bottles. Apply as needed, soak overnight.
  • Do not commingle w/bleach.

General Solution

1 tsp Liquid Dish Detergent
1 tsp Ammonia

  • Saturate piece under a cool running tap then dab mixture with a sponge over area. Let sit for a few minutes, rinse out. Reapply if necessary.

All-Purpose Bleach Treatment
(for whites and colorfast washables)

  • Soak clothing in a batch of 1/2 cup bleach per gallon of hot sudsy water (except for blood, egg or milk based spills–use cool instead).

How To / Strategies

Greasy Blotches:

  • Place the piece soiled side down on a clean, dry white towel.
  • Sponge the back of the stain thoroughly with solution, working from the center out.
  • Air dry. If there’s still discoloration present, repeat.

Quick & Dirty:
(use only if heat will not damage garment and the problem is not blood, eggs or milk)

  • Place a large bowl in the kitchen sink, position linen across the bowl with the problematic spot in the middle. Bring a full kettle to a boil, pour through the cloth (and directly over the area) from a height of 1 1/2 to 3 feet. This technique has the best success when tackling fresh soiling.

Basic Cleanup Procedure:

  • Douse the fabric under a cool tap.
  • Scrub with bar of soap (laundry or Ivory). Rinse.
  • If it persists, apply bar again, soak item in a mixture of water & detergent (for about an hour or overnight). Rinse.
  • If not 100% yet, rub soap bar again, gently lathering with a scrub brush until it’s gone. Do not do this if the fabric is delicate or will be damaged by the brush.
  • If it still persists, try a more aggressive removal method by saturating in a commercial cleaner or bleach solution. Some recipes are found above.

Related Posts


    • Sheryllyn

    I’m a big fan of spot removal books. A solution I’ve found for just about every fabric and problem is a squirt of dish washing liquid, along with a spill of white vinegar in a gallon of warm water. The enzymes in the dish detergent help break down a number of things, and the white vinegar boosts the process.

      • Gudrun

      I have a question on this post. there is a differance in Dish washing soap and dertgent . . which do you use. hard to find ‘dish dertergent’ anymore

        • gracegirls

        Use dishwashing liquid. I like to use Dawn with no extras like bleach or oxy.

    • TipNut

    Sounds very effective with those ingredients, thanks very much for that info Sheryllyn :).

    • Watch Out

    Be Careful! Liquid detergent (FOR washing machines, not for hand washing dishes) contains bleach and WILL bleach your colored clothes.

    • cherry

    that is so cool!

    • Dimita

    I like the homemade pre treatment of equal parts water, ammonia, and dish soap. It gets out almost everything!
    Sometimes if my grand daughters shirts are dried with pasta sauce I have to soak it in Oxi-Clean first but otherwise this combo gets out kool-aid, grease, mustard, I have had great success

      • Michelle

      I just tried making this solution and it has a VERY strong odor…is that normal? I just sprayed a bunch of it on my clothes that had stains and it was so strong I was getting a headache. Any suggestions? Thanks! 🙂

    • jill

    Please, note that mixing ammonia with chlorite (that many laundry detergents and dishwashing machines have) gives very harmful gas!

    Thank you all for sharing your recipes!

    • Jeane

    To remove berry stains:

    1. Boil about a quart of water over high heat.
    2. Place stained garment in sink.
    3. Pour boiling water over berry stain.
    4. Watch the stain dissolve.
    5. To remove blackberry or blueberry stains, apply powder stain remover that has been rendered into a paste. Apply the paste on the stain and rub. Rinse in the hottest water safe for the fabric. Also try bleach alternative detergent. Apply directly on stain. Let sit then rub. Rinse. Repeat until stain is gone.
    * This works best if you move quickly. Apply the boiling water as soon as possible after the garment becomes stained.
    * It is possible that this method will not work with all berries, however, it generally works with most red staining fruits.
    * You can also use dish liquid along with the boiling water!

    • dottiebunky

    Another good use for those little bath soap pieces that are no longer big enough to use.

    Make a little bag out of common nylon net. The nylon net can be purchased for very little at any fabric department or store.

    Put a handful of little soap pieces in it and tie it off, sew it up, or secure with an elastic band.
    Not only will it contain your soap chips,
    but it acts as a nice little exfoliant scrubber. You can use it at the sink for
    handwashing, or in the shower for an extension of the life of your soap.

      • MARIA

      a knee high panty hose will work great too or the tip of a panty hose cut off put the soap pieces in it and tie a knot. i use it in the back yard by the water hose to wash our hands, I tie it to the spigot so it doesn’t walk away and it keeps the soaps dry

    • Alexandra

    I use a version of recipe #1. Straight hydrogen peroxide works wonders as well. It’s especially good on set in tea and coffee stains on my rug.

      • Erica

      Make sure when you use straight hydrogen peroxide that it doesn’t sit for very long on your laundry, or it will eat a hole in the material.

    • Roberta


    1/2 CUP WATER

      • Sherri

      Is this laundry detergent or dish detergent??

        • Bill

        I think what Sherri was asking is whether the liquid detergent in the recipe refers to the laundry detergent or a dishwashing detergent. I would appreciate a clarification also. Thanks

        • Mountain Climbing Mamma (Mountain of Laundry, that is)

        This recipe uses laundry detergent. Some dish soaps will lightly bleach things. I tried this recipe and I was amazed at how well it works. I have a light color winter coat that my toddler wore all winter. It was dirty & dingy even after being washed many times. But I hung onto it simply as a play coat. I treated it with this recipe, let it sit overnight, & tossed it in the wash the next day. It came out perfectly clean! I don’t think it was that clean when I bought it! Thank you Roberta for posting this. This is my go-to stain treatment from now on!

      • Char

      I’m wondering what kind of liquid detergent to use in this laundry stain treatment receipe?
      (dish washing, dish washer, laundry detergent, etc.)

        • Mary Met

        I think she was saying Not to use dishwasher powder or liquid, because it will bleach your clothes, You Can use Dawn or any other brand Name dish detergent 🙂

          • Mary Met

          *Dish Washer powder or liquid meaning -Cascade etc.

      • Eliza

      I have used this recipe with liquid laundry detergent and I have also used it with liquid dish soap. And actually the recipe that I have has 2 quarts of water and 2 T. of liquid laundry soap. So for the most part I think I will try this recipe since it is a small amount. The combination of these ingredients works no matter what the portions are.

      • melissa

      any sub for ammonia…if I don’t have any??
      maybe isopropol alcohol?? in a pinch

      • Barb

      I would like to know if the liquid detergent is new dawn or tide high energy detergent. Thank you!

    • TipNut

    Sherri it looks like a laundry stain treatment to me.

      • Bill

      I forgot to ask, is this recipe good on all fabrics? Thanks again

    • Sharon

    To get grape juice stains out of clothes, rub with salt and water or add salt to the wash.

    • SMM

    For those worried about using Borax or Washing Soda on diapers, don’t be. My children on in their mid to late 40’s and that’s what I used to soak their cloth diapers in before washing them to remove stains and it did it’s job very well.

    It’s also the reason your homemade laundry detergent works so well, it’s an excellent laundry booster. Fels Naptha & Castile soaps have been around since before the turn of the last century so you know they work well too.

    Anyone worried about no suds, don’t be, suds don’t do the cleaning it’s for looks only.

    • teresa

    Hi,I am a mother of three,a husban thats a truck driver so i know dirt an grease very well,my grandmother taught me about the vinger a long time ago,and another thing to whiten your clothes is lemon juice if you can’t use bleach an vinger you dont have lemon juice is the man for the job,an realy works good if you can put your clothes on a line outside in the sun is even better,she told tells of laying clothes on a quilt in the sun when younger,an said it would really makes socks an underclothes white,she said younger people just don’t know how to do it, we may have not known but we are learning,maby because times are getting hard as it was for her,so lets help each other, may god bless all who read this,good luck in the laundry room.

    • Jean Owens

    Today, I was washing sweaters. When the cycle finished, I discovered there was paper in the washing machine and now this paper is all over my sweaters. My question: How can this paper be removed or should I just throw the sweaters away.

      • Surreal

      You could try putting them in a dryer with NO heat with a couple damp towels and dryer balls. The paper should come out. Good luck.

        • Kim

        This has actually happened to me. I put it in the dryer with a load of towels and the paper came off the sweater. The towels are easier because you can just shake the paper out of them.

      • Eliza

      If the sweaters are acrylic or polyester you could give them a quick spin in the dryer. Also, a lint roller or tape works. Maybe even try a second rinse in the washer.

    • Esther

    Ugh! The paper on the sweater is a hard one. I would say try to remove as much as you can with sticky tape. Just roll it over you hand a few times and then dab the sweater. It might take long time, but it works.

    • Sharon

    Does homemade soap work in cold water wash?

      • Jenn

      I’ve never had a problem with it. I put an extra capful(from an old liquid soap bottle) in with a really dirty load or for the whites.

    • Marsha

    A great deal of these instructions involve applying the treatment and then soaking the clothing overnight. What exactly are you soaking the clothing in? Is it water, the treatment or else? If someone could answer that question, I would appreciate it.

      • Holly

      I wondered the same thing. I think I’ll prefer the ones that you can treat and not worry about till you wash.

    • Shara

    Hi, does anyone know how to get grease stains like taco grease, fried chicken grease stains out of clothes especially after it has dried or been washed already? I would appreciate any info. Thanks Shara

      • Dona

      Coconut oil. It takes grease stains out of clothing even after they have been washed. It also takes grease stains out of my wooden kitchen counter top. Rings of oil from my olive oil cruet will stain my counter if I forget to put it on a trivet, but the coconut oil takes it right out. It also is a wonderful makeup remover and facial cleanser, I even use it to clean out my makeup brushes.

        • Karen

        When looking for cocnut oil, is it an actual oil, or something thicker. I see lots of containers online that appear to be something thicker? Any suggestions about where to get the best (most reasonably priced) coconut oil?

          • Debbie

          Coconut oil is found in the baking aisle near shortening, and other cooking oils. Coconut oil is solid in cooler temps and melts readily at 76° F. When my home is warm (76° F or above), I can pour the coconut oil. If you need it liquid (say to use in your hair, etc.), put the coconut oil into a container and put the container into warm/hot (not boiling) water to melt it quickly.

        • Sandy

        where do you get coconut oil?

    • Debi

    My husband tries to help by doing the laundry before i get up but he doesn’t check the clothes for stains and all the dirt, oil, blood and ink stains are set in how can i get them out i like home made stain removers but i don’t remember which one gets out set in stains please help

    • Sarepta Rich

    I have always pretreated using dish detergent (with grease remover in it) for food spots on clothes, so it makes sense to me to used it as an ingredient in spot remover.
    Since rubbing alcohol gets ink out of laundry, I buy cheap
    (really,it works best) aerosol hair spray just for that purpose.
    Hydrogen peroxide gets blood out so– it makes sense to keep a squirt or spray bottle of it handy,too. Otherwise I waste too much trying to pour it from the bottle.
    I love this site. I feel I have found kindred spirits!

    • Brenda

    Can I mix dawn dish soap with tide laundry detergent? I have noticed that Tide with Dawn scrubbers is very hard to find…if they even make it anymore. I loved that brand of tide! I don’t want to have to wash something twice to get it clean.

    • Sherry

    Washing Soda is great for cutting grease, deodorizing and softening hard water – 1/2 cup per load is recommended along with detergent. I found it worked better in the wash than Baking Soda. Washing Soda is stronger but still safe for clothing and the skin that clothing comes in contact with – but because of it’s very high alkaline content (11) gloves are recommended when hands are immersed in the solution. It’s the best for cleaning my sweaty, dirty, outdoor bootcamp workout clothes! I also use it as a floor cleaner on my ceramic tile floors! Don’t overuse it or it will leave a little film behind – even on the grimiest (big dog) floors 1/4 cup is plenty mixed with 1 gallon hot water with 1 cup of vinegar and 2 tablespoons Castille Soap, adding 15 drops of tea tree oil will deter those little bugs from creeping around too (“The Naturally Clean Home” by Karen Siegel Maier). Baking Soda is used for deodorizing and not as high in alkaline (8) – plus the compound is different. Borax is used for whitening in addition to deodorizing – again a different compound.

      • Krissy

      Thank you so much for the great explanation of the practical difference between Borax, wasing soda and baking soda. I had a vague idea of the chemical differences, but wondered why one would need all three in a batch of laundry detergent (for example) or which to use for smaller applications.

    • Tina

    What works well to get set in formula stains or baby food stains out? First daughter had acid reflux and her clothes look awful and I need to reuse them for daughter #2 which is due any day! Thanks a million!!

      • Cheryl

      I was given a bunch of baby clothes (from a child that was 6 years old) that had a lot of formula stains. I didn’t think there was any hope for some of them, but I found that soaking in a bucket of hot water and 1 cup of Biz did wonders. I left the clothes soak for 2 – 3 days then laundered as usual.

        • Jamie

        You can also mix a little meat tenderizer with some water to get formula stains out. The enzymes that tenderize meat basically do the same to formula stains and they should come right out.

    • Deanne

    Wow! This is such a cool site. Im going to be a grandma again soon and wanted to make some organic laundry soap and hit the jack pot here. This went straight to favorites. This will be so cool for anything I need at home to because I want to get away from the stores and more to my cupboards for my cleaning.

    • Rose

    I live in the red clay country. Does anyone know of a stain remover, either home made or one you can purchase that will remove red clay stains? I’ve tried everything I can think of, with no luck once the stain has set in.

    • Surreal

    I have a bottle with a mixture of water, Dawn, borax and washing soda. I use it for spots in the carpet or any other fabric that can’t be stuffed into the washer. I’ve tried using that as a pretreater. Seems to work pretty well. I also use homemade laundry detergent (Ivory soap, borax, washing soda & baking soda). My boyfriend cooks for a living and getting blood from meat out of his birch grey shirts has ALWAYS been a problem. Now, even the OLD stains are gone! 😀

      • Melissa

      how much dawn borax and washing soda do you use for your pretreater?

    • Denise

    ” Goop” works well on oily stains . Try not to let it dry leave on for about 15 mins and then wash.

    Good luck,

    • Leanne Huber

    I Have come to a dead end. I have my daughters White sheers that haven’t been washed for years 10 or so and they are now completely yellow. I have tried bleach, vinegar, soda, borax, lemon, bluing,White brite,Oxi clean,sunlight soap, and I have put them in the sun for a couple of hours. Should I just give up and through them out or is there something else I missed trying??

    • Vickie

    When I finda a deal on old linnens that are a bit yellowed, I soak them overnight in hot water and biz. Run the cycle the next morning and lay them out on the GREEN grass to dry. The cloraphil in the grass whitens the cloth. Worth a try, huh?

    • melissa

    What can I use on a cashmee coat to get a stain out?

    • Kate

    I have a white cotton callared black sweater and This sweater was Washed with a non like color garment which the color ran and is on the white callard portion of my sweater…………


    • linsunflur

    The coconut oil ive been buying is a solid until about 74 degrees, when it turns into a liquid. When my room temperature goes down,it returns to a solid. Hope this helps.

    • Amanda P.

    I am LOVING this site and just found it last night. I am wondering.. I have really really really tough carpet stains.. like you name kind of stain.. I have it. With pets and a 2 year old.. I am about to rip it up and walk on the the cement/plywood subfloor and be done with it! Anyway.. Are these effective on carpet? I have beige carpet that appears to be Berber.. but I think its just a cheap imitation because This stuff doesn’t come clean no matter how fast you clean up the stain!

    • Vicki

    I can across this website by accident……WOW…so glad I looked at it, now I’m browzing all the time found some GREAT home made Ideas, tryed them and yes they have all worked…getting ready to make a batch of homemade dishwashing soap..I’ll let ya know the results, Awesome website!!!

    • beth

    Yay!!! I am VERY sensitive to scents. I get horrible MIGRAINES 🙁 It’s nice to find a stain remover that I can use unscented bar soap to make. THANKS 🙂 Any other unscented cleaning ideas out ther?

    • Vicky

    Help! I spilled red wine on my cotton sheets and polyester blend bedspread! I put it in washer right away—but found next morning that I forgot to push “START”. So it dried overnight, I ran load in morning, but it didn’t touch it. Any suggestions? My whole bedroom is coordinated with the bedspread. I can live without the cotton sheets- but they’re 800 thread count and we splurged on them- I would like to try and salvage them. I will try anything, because they are a total loss the way they are.

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