How to Clean Laundry Stains


Accidents happen. We all know that sinking feeling you get when you spill coffee on a new dress or shirt, or watch in horror as our children wipe muddy hands down the legs of their trousers. Pens break in pockets, and we sit on discarded chewing gum or brush up against an oily surface. Stains on your clothes are a pain in the neck. Getting them out, however, needn’t be. Here are some tips for removing laundry stains.

Treat quickly. With most laundry stains, it’s best to treat them as soon as possible after a spill. The majority of stains are easier to move while still wet. Rubbing is likely to spread the stain and make it worse; flushing or dabbing is generally more effective. Use warm or cold water, and continue treating until the stain is gone.

Try vinegar. With grass, food, blood and other protein-based stains, if flushing with water is ineffective, try distilled white vinegar instead. It’s a weak acid and is an effective and environmentally friendly way to break down the enzymes. If flushing doesn’t work, leave the garment to soak for a few hours, or mix a paste of baking soda, white vinegar and salt, and rub gently against the grain. When the mixture has finished fizzing, the stain should be gone, and the item can be washed as normal.

Avoid heat. If treating noncolorfast or delicate items, always test the solution on an inside seam to ensure the fabric won’t be damaged. Allow treated clothes to air dry and don’t wash in hot water, tumble dry or iron until you are sure the stain is gone, as heat tends to set a stain in place, making subsequent removal all but impossible. The Ohio State University fact sheet "Quick and Easy Stain Removal" says, "If hot water is used first, it cooks the protein, causing coagulation between the fibers in the yarns of the fabric, making the stains more difficult to remove."

Mud, chewing gum and candle wax. With these, it may be better to allow the stain to dry, or freeze the item. Once the stain is dry, it should be easily dislodged with a blunt knife, leaving only a few traces behind. Add dishwashing liquid to the stain and sprinkle salt on it, then rub against the grain with another piece of cloth and wash.

Oils. The problem with oils is that clothes tend to absorb them. If the stain is still wet, add talcum powder and leave the powder overnight to soak up the oil. Brush off the powder, then pretreat and wash as normal. Never dry until the stain is gone, and rewash if necessary.

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