Stains are inevitable, but that doesn't mean you have to toss out your favorite shirt or fabric item when accidents happen. With the right stain removal products, you can easily lift out stubborn fabric stains, including those caused by grease, paint, and even rust. Keep these items on hand in your laundry area to combat spots and marks on clothing and linens as they happen. Follow the label instructions for use on fabric, and keep all products on upper shelves or in locked upper cabinets, out of the reach of children. It's also important to never leave any of these products on your washing machine or dryer, as drips could damage machine surfaces. Before using any stain-removal product, experiment with the cleaner on an inconspicuous part of the fabric item. Here are some of the best stain removal products you should always have in your laundry arsenal.
Diluted household bleaches are among the most effective stain removers for clothing and linens. Always check clothing labels for directions on the use of bleach. When diluted properly, bleaches are safe for fabrics including cotton, linen, rayon, and synthetics such as nylon and polyester. Be sure to use color-safe bleach ($5, Target) on anything that isn't white.
Color-removal products ($9, Amazon) are designed for situations when a color runs onto a nearby lighter color on the same garment or transfers to other items in the laundry. Although bleaches are included in this family of products, color removers, such as those from the Rit brand ($6, Amazon), are designed lift out dye stains on clothing without damaging the fabric. They are also sometimes used to lighten the color of a garment before it's redyed. These products typically contain sodium hydrosulfite or sodium carbonate anhydrous. Always work with transfer stains or discoloration before drying or ironing the garment. Heat typically sets the color.
Petroleum-base solvents, such as K2r Spotlifter ($10, Amazon), are specifically designed for stains caused by grease, gasoline, or other petroleum products. These solvents come in sticks, gels, squeeze bottles, pump sprays, and aerosol sprays. Some pretreatment spot-lifters have a detergent or surfactant base, rather than a solvent base.
Dry-cleaning fluids ($8, Amazon) are often used for pretreating stains from ballpoint ink, candle wax, crayons, eye makeup (such as mascara, pencil, liner, or shadow), lipstick, and tar. Common dry-cleaning fluids contain perchloroethylene or trichloroethylene and can be extremely flammable; they should be used only as directed.
For hand-washing stained fabrics, turn to dishwashing liquid (not dishwasher liquid). Some dishwashing liquids ($3, Target) can help break up grease and separate it from the fabric. This cleaning product is also effective for loosening food stains (such as those from fruit). Dishwashing liquid is sometimes combined with glycerin (1/4 cup each) and 1-1/2 cups water as a general stain-removing mixture.
Nonsudsing ammonia, such as the kind used for cleaning glass doors and windows, works great for stains that have odors, such as urine or perspiration, as well as fatty or greasy stains. For most fabrics, dilute the ammonia with an equal amount of water. Nonsudsing ammonia ($1, The Home Depot) can be used on wool and silk. Although ammonia can be used on latex-paint stains, it should never be used on garments containing latex because the ammonia can dissolve it.
Important Safety Tip: If you're using liquid ammonia with another cleaner, always make sure the other product does not contain any type of bleach. Ammonia and bleach combine to form an extremely toxic gas that can be deadly.
Select the type of paint remover you need based on the type of paint that caused the stain.
For latex paints: Treat the area while the stain is wet. Soaking in cold water can help remove water-based latex paint. Latex-specific spot removers ($8, The Home Depot) are available for stubborn stains.
For oil-based paints: Treat the stain while it is wet. Use a paint thinner ($9, The Home Depot) recommended for the type of paint. Petroleum-base solvents can be used as a pretreatment before laundering.
Petroleum jelly can help when water-based glues or adhesives are stuck to clothing. Rubbing petroleum jelly ($2, Target) into the glue spot will help loosen its hold on the fabric. Rinse the fabric and reapply the jelly until all traces of the adhesive are gone, then wash in hot water. For ink stains, petroleum jelly can be used to form a barrier around the ink stain while it is being treated to avoid spreading the ink to adjoining threads. Blotting petroleum jelly onto lipstick stains is also effective.
Prewash spot removers are applied to garment stains before laundering. These removers work in a variety of ways. Cleaning agents or surfactants loosen stains and improve their ability to be carried away by water. Enzymes work on protein stains, such as blood, to make it easier for the laundry detergent to clean. Other pretreatments make the stain more alkaline so it can be more easily cleaned, while pretreatment bleach improves whiteness.
Prewash products are available in an aerosol, spray, stick, liquid, gel, foam, powder, or wipe. Some are meant for laundry room use, while others can be carried as convenient, immediate stain treatments, such as the Tide To Go Stain Remover Pen ($3, Target), when away from home.
Rust is one of the most difficult stains to remove. As with many other stains, it is important not to set the stain. Do not subject the fabric to a dryer or other heat. Most rust-removing products, such as Whink stain remover ($10, Amazon), contain oxalic or hydrofluoric acids, which are poisons. Because the products suspend the iron-oxide particles in the water, it is especially important to rinse the fabric well because those particles can be toxic. Most rust removers should only be used on white or colorfast fabrics.
Common white vinegar offers a number of solutions for stains in the laundry room. Here are some handy recipes to keep on hand to fight specific stain problems.
Collar rings: Make a solution of 1/4 cup salt, 1 cup vinegar, and 3 quarts warm water. Soak the stained garment for an hour.
Cough syrup: Use a solution of 1 quart warm water, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dishwashing detergent, and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Soak the stain for 15-30 minutes, then rinse and launder as usual.
Salt stains: Mix one part vinegar with three parts water, and wipe salt stains off shoes and leather garments with a cloth dipped in the solution.
Urine stains on mattresses: Sponge the area with a mixture of water and detergent. Rinse with a mixture of vinegar and water; let dry. If an odor remains, sprinkle with baking soda and let stand for 24 hours. After the mattress is dry, vacuum to remove the baking soda.