Handy Stain Guide: Tips & Techniques For Laundry Dilemmas

Some of us are graceful while others more clumsy, but it makes no difference: stained clothes are bound to happen from time to time.

Clothes Basket & Stain Removing Ingredients The culprits are numerous: ketchup, bacon grease, red wine, tomato sauce, blood, lipstick–you name it. Not only are they infamous for ruining precious garments and heirloom linens, methods for removal are infinitely varied and success often depends on whether it’s grease based, protein based, how delicate the fabric is or what the fibers are, etc.

How does one possibly remember all the specifics for all the remedies?

No matter the type of spill or splat, here’s how to fight back and rescue your favorite item from destruction!

Below I’ve put together a handy guide that shares effective tips, tools & recipes for removal (this page is PACKED full of DIY goodies!) plus a large list of methods for treating a bucketload of particular staining agents (these are arranged in alphabetical order).

Bonus: Don’t miss the vintage tips shared at the bottom of this page. I’ve culled these from old booklets and housekeeping magazines from the 1930’s and 1940’s, there’s still so much we can learn from them!

Helpful Tips Before Getting Started

  • Get rid of excess grime (wet or dried) by using the edge of a spoon or back of a knife. This will ensure no more destructive seepage into fibers as solvents and solutions are incorporated while you work.
  • Treat as soon as possible to avoid stubborn (sometimes permanent) discoloration.
  • If the mess has gone unnoticed and is fully dried, soak the piece (in tepid temperature) for about an hour then flush well (on the wrong side of fabric) before proceeding to treatment of choice. This should help loosen up the soil (making it easier to tackle) and get rid of excess right from the start.
  • Note: The remedies listed below are intended for washable fabrics. If a garment or linen is labeled as dry clean only, it’s advisable to let the pros tackle that.
  • Test a small hidden area first to make sure the textile’s color/dye or fibers won’t be damaged (especially if attempting to clean upholstery or carpet–yes, these approaches can be tried on all types of materials).
  • Unless otherwise directed, rule of thumb is to work with cool to tepid temperatures (rinsing, washing, etc.). Avoid hot temperatures on the following: blood, egg and milk based stains.
  • When soaps and detergents are listed in the recipe, opt for brands that are bleach free.
  • Once treated and results are satisfactory, hang item to air dry rather than putting in the clothes dryer. Check spot again once fully dry to ensure all hint of discoloration has disappeared. If 100% it is safe to launder as usual, if not, re-treat. Machine drying will only set the blotch more stubbornly due to the high heat involved in the process.

Gadgets For The Laundry Room: {Beneficial Supplies}

Here are a few useful tools that can be put to good use when trying to lift smears, splats, blobs, crusty residues and more (ie. stains). The texture & bristle structure vary from gentle to stiff so they can accommodate both delicate and sturdy textiles. Sometimes you need something small to get into seams, buttonholes, cuffs and collar corners, other times you’ll have a bigger surface to cover so a larger instrument is useful. These will do the trick and come in handy when disaster strikes!

  • Mascara wands/spoolies (can be purchased in bulk on Amazon)
  • Toothbrush (both adult and baby)
  • Nail brush (soft bristle)
  • Cotton swabs (q-tips)
  • Laundry brush
  • Baby hair brush

Other supplies that are beneficial to have ready and waiting: paper towel, freshly washed rags, cloths or small cotton towels (white so there’s no chance of dye transfer), small spray bottle, shaker can or jar (to hold powder ingredients and cleaning agents).

DIY Recipes & Formulas

Homemade All-Purpose Spray:

3/4 cup Liquid Castile Soap (unscented)
1/4 cup Distilled Water
20 drops Orange or Lemon or Eucalyptus Essential Oil

DIY Jelly:

1/2 bar grated Castile Soap
12 drops Orange or Lemon or Eucalyptus Essential Oil

Directions: Toss the shavings into a glass mason jar and “just” cover with boiling water. Allow to dissolve (shaking occasionally helps speed up the process). Once all is liquefied and at room temperature, stir in the citrus essential oil of choice. Leave alone for a day or two to “gel”. Instructions: Glop some over a greasy blotch, tamp it into the fibers and leave it alone for a few hours. Rinse clear while using fingers to gently work threads then launder as usual.

Spot-Be-Gone Paste:

4 TBS Baking Soda
4.5 TBS Warm Water

Steps: Slather over the problem area, allow to dry then wash as usual.

Alternate:

1/2 cup natural, unscented liquid dish soap
2 TBS baking soda (adjust to the consistency preferred)
12 drops Orange or Lemon or Eucalyptus Essential Oil

More: Cornstarch or Talcum Powder can be mixed with water to make a paste and applied to the spot then brushed away when dry. This will pull out much (if not all) of the substance you want removed. If soilage is still wet, no need to make a paste, just sprinkle over top for the moisture to absorb the powder.

Lemon Essential Oil (Miracle Worker): Saturate the spot with a few drops then take a cotton swab to work in the EO.

Toothpaste: I keep a tube on hand for all kinds of tasks, it is an amazing power tool. Stock an ordinary variety (not gel) with nothing extra added. This makes an ideal solution to tackle tough spots on white fabrics (may be too harsh for some delicate fabrics).

Don’t Miss: Homemade Pretreater Recipes for several easy-to-make solutions that also bring extra cleaning muscle to the job. Bonus! Ingredients are common, ordinary items you’ll likely have stocked in the house already.

Tipnut’s Stain Removal Guide

Note: Each point is a separate treatment for a particular type of staining agent or cause (organized in alphabetical order). Choose one method at a time–do not combine. If one doesn’t work and you want to try another, simply rinse the fabric well to remove all traces of previous solvents used.

Blood

  • Apply hydrogen peroxide, drizzle salt on top, then sit for several minutes. Soon the dark red should noticeably be drawn up from the garment. Remove salt once all is lifted and launder as usual. Test a small, hidden area first to make sure the color won’t be bleached.
  • Try rinsing the piece (cool temp) then sprinkle on meat tenderizer. Sit for a few minutes.
  • You could also use hydrogen peroxide plain, apply to area, sit for a few minutes then launder on cool setting (first test a small hidden area to make sure the garment color won’t be bleached).
  • Soak garment overnight in a bin of 1 TBS salt per 2 1/2 cups of water.
  • A can of cola, soak overnight.

Chocolate

  • Mix 4 TBS borax into 2 1/2 cups of warm water, soak garment in solution. Next, place piece under cool running tap and if mark doesn’t disappear, apply a few strokes of laundry soap (bar).
  • Raw egg yolk, just rub in to saturate.

Coffee

  • Same as chocolate stain remover recipe directly above (first item).
  • Drizzle lemon juice over top (white vinegar works too).
  • Light beer (especially for carpets and rugs).
  • Baby wipes.
  • Lightly beaten egg yolk (add to beer for extra power).

Eyeshadow (Cosmetic)

  • Oil-free makeup wipes (or liquid cleanser).

Foundation (Cosmetic)

  • Spray shaving cream to cover, leave 5 minutes. Next, dampen a sponge (cold temp) and dab away.

Grass

  • Before attempting to get grass stains out, try dabbing a generous amount of vinegar into the area first. This should help lift things out.
  • Wet then cover with sugar. Leave for at least 1 hour then launder as usual.

Grease (bacon, butter, oil, mayonnaise)

  • Liquid dish soap: saturate the area and let set for 15 minutes. Rinse. Repeat. Can also just dab some on and leave overnight. I’ve had good success using both Dawn (original blue) and Sunlight.
  • Mineral Spirits.
  • Acetone.

Cornstarch Tip: Sprinkle over grease/oil/fat splatters when still wet and set aside for 10 minutes. Brush off and this will pull a lot of the grease out. Proceed with one of the treatments below.

Gum

Jane Dane from lavenderridgefarms.com sent in a great remedy she found to get out a wad of bubble gum that was hiding in a shirt pocket–not discovered until after the shirt was pulled from the dryer (yikes!)…

How To Remove Chewing Gum From Clothing

I found a really great solution that worked and was easy so I wanted to share this info with you and hope that you will pass it along.

The chewing gum was in a shirt pocket and had been washed and dried before I realized it was there. Most websites recommended using ice and then scraping it off. This one said pour boiling vinegar over the gum and it will make it dissolve.

I couldn’t believe it. It really worked! It also recommended following up with a laundry pretreatment like Shout. I did and you would never know that there had been sticky, gross chewing gum on the fabric.

Hair Dye

  • Kerosene
  • Hairspray

Ink

There are several options to get rid of ink marks, see this page for all the details: Ballpoint Pen Marked Shirt? 10 Ways To Dab Out Ink Blotches.

Ketchup, Spaghetti Sauce (and other sauces)

  • Soak in a sink tub of dish soap & water.
  • Smear liquid laundry detergent into the area.

Lipstick

  • Saturate a clean white cloth with household vinegar, scrub lightly until it is gone.
  • Spray a couple shots of hairspray, leave for 10 minutes or so then take a damp sponge and dab out the spot.
  • Witch Hazel.
  • Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol.

Mascara

  • 1/4 tsp liquid dish soap + 1 cup hot water.
  • Smear Dawn (blue, original) over the blotch & leave it alone for 1/2 hour before scrubbing out.

Mildew

  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice on the spots then drizzle salt on top. Let dry in the sun for a natural bleaching. Try this treatment for aged stains, great for those vintage linens!

Mustard

  • Mix 1 TBS laundry detergent with 1/4 cup warm water. Soak overnight and proceed as usual.
  • Apply a few drops of liquid dish detergent, gently massage into fibers and soak overnight.

Paint

  • Heat a cup of vinegar then saturate the area.
  • Spray a layer of household ammonia then a layer of turpentine. Keep items separate from the regular load of clothes until fully processed.

Perspiration

  • Mix a solution of water and vinegar (60/40) then sponge onto affected area.
  • Make a solution of 1 quart warm water plus 4 TBS table salt, soak garment.
  • See more recommendations on this page.

Ring Around The Collar

  • Try slathering toothpaste along the sweat discoloration before tossing in the washing machine. Careful on items that aren’t white, the toothpaste could affect some colors.
  • Use 3 parts baking soda to 2 parts vinegar to make a paste, scrub into the “ring” and allow to set for 60 minutes before proceeding as usual (found on 10 Laundry Boosters Using Vinegar).

Rust Spots On Cloth Items

  • Try a 50/50 mixture of lemon juice and water. Let sit for about 30 minutes.
  • Work powdered Cream of Tartar into fibers, then plunge in a hot soapy bin or pail. You can also boil garment with Cream of Tartar (4 tsp Cream of Tartar per pint of liquid).

Rust markings on fabric can happen if the washer or dryer has a part that’s rusted. It can also be caused by hard water or if the clothing was accidentally in a load that had something metal mistakenly tossed in.

Did you know: For rust marks, adding chlorine bleach will make it harder to remove stains from clothes or even permanent!

Wax
*First published on September 11, 2007 and moved to this page for better organization

  • Try freezing garment overnight (place in a plastic bag then toss in the freezer).
  • The next day chip off the frozen wax, as much of it as possible without damaging fabric fibers.
  • Then take a brown paper bag (a lunch bag size will do), open it up and lay it over the wax.
  • Take a hot iron and press on top of the brown paper, it will melt the wax and lift it onto the paper bag. You should probably wait for the garment to return to room temp before doing that.

If having to ‘hot press’ a few times, make sure to move the bag each time so you’re only pressing a clean part of the bag. You don’t want to melt the wax back onto the garment.

Wine

  • Mix 1 1/4 cups of water and 2 tsp borax, apply over spill. Soak for 15 minutes, proceed with usual care routine.
  • Combine hydrogen peroxide & dish soap (50/50). Blot using a clean white towel. Set aside for 2 minutes. Blot again.
  • Sprinkle salt over top then drizzle club soda. Leave for one hour than dab and blot (damp sponge).

Timeless Wisdom Advice & Remedies

Brushing Fabric Illustration
Brush Fabrics Clean Before Beginning Treatment
These tips were collected from vintage booklets dating from the 1930’s and 1940’s and were often considered the best advice available (according to housewives of the day).

The Timeless Wisdom collection is a feature on Tipnut where we take a look back at the methods used by previous generations before us and learn how they tackled common household tasks. These were the days when fancy gadgets and cleaning powders weren’t yet invented so they were quite creative putting to good use what they had.

  1. Wet ink: First step is to swish in milk or, better still, in buttermilk. Rinse and change the milk frequently.
  2. To get rid of iron mold or dry ink from white materials, steep the material in a hot solution of salts of lemon–one tablespoon of salts to one quart of boiling water; or simply place the troublesome part over a basin, cover the damage with salts, and pour the boiling liquid through. Repeat if necessary.
  3. Ink may be lifted by lard (smothering the spot). Let this stand for about twelve hours and care for the article in the regular way.
  4. Tea, coffee stains, or cocoa: Use glycerine. A fresh mark can be removed by gentle wiping; if it’s old, soak in the glycerine for some time.
  5. Wine: Hold the portion of the cloth in boiling milk.
  6. While a fruit stain is still moist, douse it with powdered starch. When dry, rinse the article (cold tap).
  7. Fruit: A strong solution of borax, or first moistened then scrubbed w/borax, and boiling water poured through.
  8. Fruit and Rust: Apply lemon juice, salt and expose to sun (note: this is a good bleach alternative).
  9. Grass: When fresh, can be removed by soaking in alcohol. If old, slather on molasses and allow to stand several hours before proceeding in the usual care routine.
  10. For grass use cold water and no soap. Alcohol may be used if the material is unwashable.
  11. Blood stains, if fresh, may be removed by washing in cold setting. If hard and dry steep for a few hours first (cold temp), to which add a pinch of baking soda. Laundering and bleaching will finish the process. Never put these in hot temperatures.
  12. Never put hot treatments on milk and cream based spills. Clean them in cold followed by a soapy mix. Rinse.
  13. Egg: soak the garment (cold temp) for a short time before proceeding in the usual way.
  14. Paint splatters on colored material: Dip in turpentine, rub, then dip in a little ammonia, rub and finish cleaning in warm temp.
  15. Mildew on linen: Dampen the marks, rub soap on them and cover w/chalk scraped into a powder. Work this well in and then care for the linen in the ordinary way.
  16. Mildew may be taken out by slathering a paste made by mixing two teaspoonfuls of water, one of powdered chalk, and two of soap powder. The spots should afterwards be well rinsed and dried out of doors in the sunlight. This has a bleaching effect on them.
  17. Mildew: Use a mixture of soft soap, powdered starch, half as much salt and the juice of a lemon. Apply to both sides of the fabric and expose to the sun.
  18. To eliminate grease from silk lay the material on a table on top of a white cloth. Cover the spot thickly with powdered French chalk. On this lay a sheet of blotting paper and over that a moderately hot iron. If grease does not disappear at once, repeat process.
  19. Grease spots on suede shoes will disappear if they are rubbed with a rag dipped in glycerine.
  20. Dab sewing machine oil splats with lard, let stand for several hours, and then proceed on cold setting.
  21. Table salt and cream of tartar, equal parts, will take out rust. Wet the spot and spread the mixture on thickly, then place the material in the sun.
  22. To get rid of rain spots from satin, felt and similar materials, use a soft ball of tissue paper. Rub the effected parts with a circular movement.
  23. To take away iodine remains from linens scour the area with a slice of lemon.
  24. Chocolate and Cocoa: Use borax and cool water and bleach, if necessary.
  25. Scorch Marks: Dip a cloth in diluted peroxide and rub the scorched spot. Then iron over it and now will disappear.

*Some of the information above was previously published as individual Quick Tips. They’ve been moved here into one list for convenience. All bookmarks will automatically forward to this page.

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Comments

    • cindy cook
    Reply

    any ideas for getting the yellowish stains out of hubby’s seldom worn dress shirts? it’s from hanging in the closet forever

    • Pam Belk
    Reply

    My home made Shout recipe:
    6 tablespoons baking soda
    2 cups warm water
    2/3 cup Dawn dish soap
    2/3 cup Ammonia

    place baking soda in a bowl
    add warm water and mix until baking soda is dissolved
    add Dawn and Ammonia and stir until well blended
    Pour all into a spray bottle using a funnel

    I make up several batches at one time

    This works GREAT on my son’s work clothes. They are diesel mechanics and this recepie takes out the oil, grease, and diesel fuel. It’s amazing and VERY inexpensive to make. Sometimes I use lemon scented ammonia or apple scented Dawn and it smells great.
    Enjoy:)

      • Opal W.
      Reply

      Thank you so much, GREAT results – used successfully as a degreaser for laundry and currently using this magic formula to wash down very grimy, greasy kitchen walls and cabinets – insanely effective! Thank you for sharing.

    • Shannon
    Reply

    As I was getting out my winter sweaters I noticed it smelled like mold and oh was I right! All of the sweaters have mold on them. Any suggestions???

    • Barb Foor
    Reply

    I am a quilter. I made a wall hanging for a friend and used one of the “disappearing pencils” on it and the pink color will NOT come out of the material. So much for disappering. Do you have any suggestions. Thanks for any help you can give me. The material if all cotton.

    • susan chaffee
    Reply

    I am trying to find the best way to remove a 3″ glob of axel greese from the beige felt head liner in my car. I don’t want to rub it or smear it around. I need some way of absorbing it and extracting it without spreading it any further.

    • Deb Fetzer
    Reply

    What is the best way to remove hydrolic oil from shirts and pants?

      • susan chaffee
      Reply

      try soaking overnight in dawn dish soap. pour it on thick, rub it into the fabric and let it soak in small amount of warm water overnight.

    • Donna Donnellan
    Reply

    How can I get set in makeup on the hoodie on my sweatshirt, have tried soaking in bleach but didn’t take out the stain. One is white the other is pink! Brand new, hate to throw them away.

    • Debbie Buesch
    Reply

    I accidently washed a dark maroon colored lipstick with a load of dark clothes. Of course everything went through washer and dryer before I caught it. My sweats, I’m not worried about, but some dress clothes need to be clean. I have written out several tips from the enternet but I would really like to find one that someone has actually used and found to be successful. I have been looking at the basket of clothes for 4 days now and something has to be done. I am scared to death I will just ruin the whole load. HELP!

    • Rose Ann Schwartz
    Reply

    Carbona makes a COLOR RUN REMOVER but hard to find. RIT has a whitener that works on whites even where bleach won’t. I have used the RIT on my husband’s colorfast dress shirts to get out ball point ink!
    WHINK makes rust removers for colorfast clothes and a separate product for clothes that are not. Removes the rust stains while you watch!
    Hydrogen peroxide gets scortch marks out, too.
    For baby formula and many other stains, put double strength TIDE WITH BLEACH in washing machine, half fill with hot water, soak overnight. In the morning finish filling with water and run thru complete cycle, extra rinse if desired. Dry as usual. I used this method for clothes in my son’s children’s resale shop. Easy and made clothes like new!

    • Kate
    Reply

    URGENT HELP NEEDED!!!!

    COLOR RAN ALL OVER A WHITE SWEATER AND I NEED TO GET IT OUT!!

    PLEASE PLEASE ANY SUGGESTIONS LADIES?????

    • Hannah
    Reply

    Any hint on darks, colors,and pastels?

    • Cherry
    Reply

    I used to work at veterinary clinic & hydrogen peroxide worked great at getting out blood stains if you don’t wait too long to treat it.

    • kika
    Reply

    Meat tenderizer works on blood. You can make a paste and put it on the blood stain. The enzymes break down the proteins. I usually use the hydrogen peroxide as a rinse and then follow with the meat tenderizer as a paste. After is sits for a while, I wash the item in cold water and it comes out perfect. I get bloody noses, a lot, so I know this works.

    • ds in east Texas
    Reply

    RUST stains: I have been most successful removing rust stains on WHITE clothing using TOILET BOWL cleaner listed as a rust remover. Test first; then Saturate the spot, give it a few minutes or longer to work, scrub with an old toothbrush used for cleaning (rinse it afterwards) and rinse and dry, or wash in the laundry with other whites. Works like a charm.

    • Sue
    Reply

    I accidently washed and dried a load of clothes that had a shimmmering peach chap sick type product in a pocket. All of my work scrubs and three of my husbands dress shirts are stained. Anybody know how to get this out? I tried to re-wash the load after treating individualy with oxy stain remover and it didn’t do a thing.

      • Katie
      Reply

      GOO GONE!!! I have a bad habit of washing chapstick and gum with my clothes, never remember to check the pockets. Always works

    • Michelle
    Reply

    The absolute BEST chocolate stain remover EVER is club soda! My mother-in-law told me about it, and I couldn’t believe it…the stain just disappeared with no rubbing at all. It works best on fresh stains, but it will work with fels-naptha laundry bar soap on set in stains too. Guess some “soda jerk” discovered this fix!

    • Sabrina
    Reply

    I rubbed dawn dish liquid into a blood stain they used the sink sprayer to force the bubbles through after it soaked for 1/2 hour or so. Took the blood right out!

    • Judi
    Reply

    Tip I received from a seamstress: If you prick your finger while sewing, getting blood on the garment, spit on the blood stain to remove it. If it’s your blood, your own saliva will remove it.

      • Carol
      Reply

      Spit don’t think so . worked in hospital too many years . Blood is easily gotten out if you soak it in milk it’s the enzymes protein gets out protein carol

        • Joyce Marshall
        Reply

        Actually spit DOES work as long as the spit comes from the same person as the blood and the blood is fresh. I’ve used this method many times. Of course it’s only usefull for small amounts of blood. I too worked in a hospital for many years. Joyce

    • Karen Catri
    Reply

    I am greatful for all of the wonderful ideas you have! Not just the laundry ones, but recipes and kitchen helps too. The reason I am writing is I’d like to know how (and if it’s at all possible) to get grease splatters out of clothes. I cook a lot but grease always seems to splatter on my shirt and I haven’t found anything that works yet! Thank you for reading, Karen

      • Kate
      Reply

      My son worked at KFC and his shirts were always covered with grease. Spraying them with GooGone before washing them was the only thing I found that got the grease out.

      • karla
      Reply

      I found that a can of regular Coca-Cola poured into the wash with the laundry detergent gets grease out every time. If you’re clothes look a little dingy when they come out, rewash with just laundry detergent. Hope that helps!

      • Colleen
      Reply

      GOOP! It is very cheap. I think it is meant as a hand cleaner for mechanics. I have even used it on silk ties! My husband often has grease spatters on t-shirts or jeans. I rub a little of this in and launder. I almost always use cold water wash, so I do not even change that setting. If it is a grease stain, this works. And no odor.

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