Before giving you a list of stain removers, let’s get to the basics. One thing to understand is to treat the stained fabric as soon as possible. It’s the same advice you get when your car gets scratched. Paint over the scratch to avoid corrosion. So the longer you wait to treat that clothing stain, the harder it becomes to get rid of it later.
The best stain remover – and most natural – is of course water. But sometimes, you need more than water. Some clothes were never meant to be washed with ordinary water and detergent. That’s why we have clothing labels. For example, while chlorine is considered a standard stain remover, there are clothing manufacturers who put “do not use chlorine bleach” on their labels. For those of you who live in winter climates, you have several pieces of wool clothing which call for “dry clean only.” Therefore, the basic lesson about stain removers is: read the manufacturer’s label first before removing stains!
Types of Stains
After deciding the type of cloth, the next thing is to find out the type of stain. There are four general categories of stains:
Category 1: Protein Stains
Protein stains can be soaked in cold water and then laundered. You can soak the protein-stained clothes and perhaps rub them vigorously. Do not use warm or hot water because that would cause coagulation between the stain and fibers, making it more difficult to remove.
Examples of protein stains are blood, milk, mucous, egg, urine, ice cream, school glue, cream, cheese sauce, gelatine and other protein-based foods.
If you have protein stains that have dried and are several days’ old, try to scrape off the stain using your nails or an object (be careful!) and then soak it in cold water. After soaking, your clothing can now be washed with warm water. If the stain persists, soak for another 30 minutes and then re-wash.
Category 2: Oil Stains
Examples of oil stains include lard, car-greasing substances, sun tan lotion, cosmetic creams and lotions, butter and margarine, bacon fat, mayonnaise and other oil-based stains.
Oil stains can usually be removed with a strong or heavy-duty detergent and hot water. You can also pre-treat your clothing using petroleum-based aerosols or a pump-type spray that are commercially available. These and heavy duty detergents are effective. Simply load the piece of clothing into your washer. If the stain is not removed during the initial wash, repeat the pre-treatment with the aerosol spray and wash for the second time.
Category 3: Tannin Stains
Examples of tannin stains are all alcoholic beverages (including beer), coffee, tea, fruit juice, tomato juice, berries and soda.
If the manufacturer’s label says “machine washable” effective stain removers for tannin stains are detergent and hot water (provided the label says you can use hot water). Do not use a bar of soap or natural soap detergents because they make these types of stains more difficult to remove. The older tannin stains may require the use of bleach for satisfactory results.
Category 4: Dye Stains
Examples of dye stains are those caused by felt-tip pens or markers, grass, Kool-Aid, tincture, India ink, mustard and some tempera paints. These are probably the most difficult to remove. The use of a heavy-duty detergent with a thorough rinsing is recommended.
Common Stain Removers
Water – Water is Mother Nature’s gift to you. It is one of the best solvents and stain removers. If you act quickly, it will be the only stain remover you’ll ever need, depending on the type of stain, of course. When your clothes suddenly get a stain, pat a kitchen towel over the stain to absorb any residual liquid. Soak in warm, not hot water. You can also use soda water or sparkling water. Never rub too vigorously. A gentle dabbing should be sufficient.
Glycerine – this substance is a by-product of soap manufacturing and can be effective in removing stains. You can get glycerine from your local drugstore.
Turpentine – a good stain remover, particularly for oil stains. It is effective not only on fabric but also on paint brushes.
Borax – many housewives say borax can remove tough stains caused by eggs. You can buy borax or make your own. An alternative is salt water. The trick is to scrape off much of the dried egg stain first with a dull blade, and then soak it in borax. To make your own borax stain remover, mix 1 ounce of borax with 1 pint – 500 ml – of cold water in a container. Close the container well and shake the mixture well. Use a few drops of the borax on the stain. Let it dry and then wash the stained material.
Other known stain removers: salt water is also good. If you have blood stains, soak the fabric in cold salty water, but this method will only work if the blood stain is fresh. For other protein-based dried stains, try mixing a small amount of ammonia with cold water and soak the fabric. As for those ink stains you see on your spouse’s and kids’ shirt pockets, some people have actually sprayed hair spray on the stains. Spray directly on the stain, wait a few minutes and then throw it into the washer.
And have you heard that people use petroleum jelly to remove stains on leather garments? Spread a drop of jelly over the stain, let a few days pass and then gently wipe off the jelly. The stain should disappear with it.
Chocolate stains are very common. They can be removed with warm soapy water, your borax solution, or glycerine. Soak the chocolate-stained fabric in glycerine for 30 minutes and then rinse.
As for those embarrassing underarm yellow stains on fabric, soak it in an enzyme-based soaking product or else rub it with white vinegar. Then wash the fabric at the hottest but safest temperature. If the stains don’t come off, try wetting the fabric and then apply some meat tenderizer on it. Return the fabric to the washing machine.