If you're currently managing your laundry without a stain remover in the mix, please first accept our humble congratulations. Second, allow us to make a few suggestions in case the day finally arrives when you'll need to add one to your routine. Laundry stain removers use enzymes or oxidation to break down and remove tough stains on clothing, and they offer a more targeted approach to spot removal than traditional detergent. As Kathy Cohoon, field representative at Two Maids, says, "Stain removers are going where they should," unlike general detergents that wash an entire article of clothing.
Remember that red wine stain on your favorite pants from that dinner party last month? There's hope—but wait, don't plan to wear them out tonight. Another way that stain removers and detergents differ is that the process takes time. "You're going to use [a stain remover] prior to washing," notes Cohoon. She recommends letting it "sit for four hours, at minimum" before tossing it into the laundry. Package directions can vary, but consider this advice your baseline.
We researched and tested 30 stain-fighters in The Lab, from well-known name brands to under-the-radar hits, to see which ones do the best job in the face of stains. We evaluated them on ease of use, effectiveness, smell, the types of substances they can tackle, and overall value. Our top overall pick, the Method Stain Remover, works on grass, red wine, makeup, and other dried-up, set-in stains, and it can be applied directly from the bottle using a built-in scrub brush.
Here are the best laundry stain removers, backed by our thorough testing.
Best Overall: Method Stain Remover
Extremely effective at removing multiple types of stains
Built-in bristle brush
Bottle could be larger
Method's Stain Remover was a standout in our testing, scoring high ratings across the board. You can use it on pretty much any tough stain you'll encounter, including grease, blood, grass, oil, food, makeup, and more. The plant-based formula lifts stains with minimal time or elbow grease required. "Wow! Great results here," our tester reported. "The grass, marker, and syrup were all totally removed, and no residue from the stain or cleaner remains. I was worried about the stain transferring, based on the 'sudsy-ness' of the application process, but it all washed away cleanly." They added that the wine stain showed particularly great improvement, especially in comparison to the other products we tested.
Even better, the great results are a breeze to come by, thanks to the brush-and-bottle combination. Our tester said it was extremely easy to use, especially when working with large stains. While they liked the built-in brush, you could also just squirt the product without using the brush, say, if you're spot-cleaning a small stain.
All of this comes at a fair price, too. "The bottle isn't huge," notes our tester. "But, you still get enough to work on really large or tough stains. The bristle applicator is a major bonus as the friction really seemed to help lift some of the tougher stains, like makeup."
Price at time of publish: $11
Best Budget: Shout Advanced Grease Busting Foam, Laundry Stain Remover
Effective at removing a variety of stains with ease
Easy to apply
Product should not dry before laundering
This foam stain remover from Shout was also a highly performing product that earned high ratings during each of our tests. It performed well across the board, removing most stains with ease, and still doing damage to the remaining makeup and wine stains (which were challenges for most of the products we tested). When asked whether they would use this product, our tester enthusiastically responded with "Yes!" They liked the performance and price. Other highlights were its ease of use, unscented formula, and overall value.
The directions tell you not to let this foam dry on stains, so if you're someone who easily gets distracted and could see yourself getting interrupted while doing laundry and chores, or if you like to take your time with laundry steps, this product might not agree with your usual process. Otherwise, though, it's a super highly performing, budget-friendly, easy-to-use choice that proved to be effective during our testing process.
Price at time of publish: $4
Best Eco-Friendly: Ingredients Matter Laundry Soap Stain Stick
Fresh and clean scent
Can be used with most fabrics
Not as consistently highly performing as other products
Creates a lot of lather
If you're shopping with an eye for eco-friendly ingredients, give this stain stick a close look. The formula comes in bar form. You lather and apply it directly to stains, and in our experience, it's incredibly easy to use, effective, and worth the money. Even though the price is slightly higher than the median price of the products we tested and considered, "the bar removed most of the stains, and there was very little left of those it did not," our tester noted—so, we consider it worth the splurge. You can use it with most fabrics, including delicates, and it's fine to use in any water temperature, too. It boasts a "fresh clean scent," according to our tester, who described it as, "similar to Irish Spring bar soap, but not nearly as strong, and no chemical smell."
In case you've never used a bar stain remover, our tester explained, "The instructions were clear and the shape of the bar made it easy to apply." They noted that it did create a lot of lather, so the formula could easily spread out of the stain. Bar formulas require less packaging, though, so you throw away less waste when you're finished with this handy, eco-friendly product.
Price at time of publish: $10
Best Stick: Meliora Laundry Stain Removal Soap Stick
Not as consistently highly performing as other products
Another highly performing bar for your consideration is the Meliora Laundry Stain Remover Soap Stick. "This stain remover performed better than most I tested," our tester noted. The vegetable soap formula contains eco-friendly ingredients like coconut and sunflower oil and the brand is committed to sustainable practices, too.
Our tester said that it's not difficult to use, either. While the process can be a bit messy in comparison to any spray you might use, it's not hard. "All the bars are a little messier than just spraying something on," said our tester. "But, one good part of that is there is no plastic bottle." As for its performance, the bar was very strong across multiple categories, including ease of use, effectiveness, and scent. When it comes to price, it's key to note that this one is more expensive but also worth the splurge, given the results. According to our tester, it's also lightly scented, which they enjoyed.
Price at time of publish: $12
Best Powder: OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder
Easily removed red wine stain
Can be used on a variety of surfaces
Can be used when pre-soaking items
Slightly more labor-intensive process
Though the process is different when you're using a powder stain remover, you can still expect impressive and rather quick results that rival liquid and gel spot treatments when using this product. Our tester said it seemed to be very effective, especially at removing a red wine stain, which other products struggled with. The makeup stain was lightened to some degree, too, earning the product a solid effectiveness score.
With this stain remover, the length of time you let the product sit can make a big difference. "The longer you let the product set, the more it removes the stain," our tester advised. A heads-up that applying the cleaner to the stain takes some effort, since you have to mix the powder in a spray bottle and the process can get messy. You can also use it when pre-soaking laundry, though, and overall our tester noted it was relatively easy to use.
Keep in mind that OxiClean is formulated with oxygen-based bleach. Extra care is recommended when using it or a product like it. Be mindful of all safety precautions noted on the container, and check that it's suitable for the fabrics you're hoping to clean. You should never mix cleaners with each other, and always wear protective eyewear and gloves when working with products with bleach.
Price at time of publish: $15
Best Spray: Defunkify Stain Remover Spray
Very easy to apply
Works on carpets and upholstery
EPA Safer Choice product
With a name like "Defunkify," you're allowed to have high expectations of this stain remover. In the case of this spray, though, it will probably exceed them. It easily removed the majority of stains made for testing, including grass, marker, and chocolate syrup, and left only a small shadow of red wine and makeup behind. Interestingly enough, red wine is one of the products the brand itself says the product can handle—so, it's possible that another round of cleaning would have done the trick. The good-but-not-perfect performance earned the spray a very decent rating for effectiveness from our tester. Notably, it earned a perfect one for ease of use. Just spray the formula directly from the bottle and wash after 15 minutes.
While this is a higher-priced option than others we tested, we appreciate that the formula includes ingredients certified by the EPA Safer Choice Program, and that it's versatile enough for carpets, upholstery, and even car seats. If you're looking for a stain remover that's effective on clothing and useful around the home, and boasts environmentally friendly ingredients, Defunkify is a more than solid choice.
Price at time of publish: $25
Best Smelling: HEX Performance Stain & Stink Remover Pack of 2
Smart bottle design
Not equally effective on all stains
For an effective stain remover that doubles as a "stink remover," too, look no further. "The cleaner had a slight lemon scent that nicely covered up the normal chemical smell that cleaners typically have," our tester said. The product itself is noted as fragrance-free, containing no added fragrances. The scent comes from the formula itself, which also happens to be biodegradable and cruelty-free.
Most importantly, it removed the majority of stains in our testing, and those that were left behind—foundation and red wine—were lessened. Also worth noting is that the "well-designed spray nozzle made it easy to apply," according to our tester. They'd recommend this product, as long as you're not going to be washing lots of wine or makeup stains. If you can avoid those types of stains and you like your laundry to smell like fresh citrus, then you'll likely be very happy with this pick.
Price at time of publish: $6
Best for Travel: Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover
Effective at removing a variety of stains with ease
Can be used on different fabrics
Application process can feel slow
You might not always be near a washing machine when stains hit, which is why you should consider keeping a to-go stain remover handy. These compact pens work quickly to get rid of stains, helping to save the day. After seeing the results of this Tide product, one tester gushed, "I'm so impressed!" Progress was made with each of the stains tested, and grass, marker, and syrup stains were totally removed.
The pen contains a bleach-free formula that can be used on many different fabrics, even some that are dry-cleanable. All you need to do to use it is press the tip of the pen onto the stain to dispense the liquid. Rub it gently across the affected area. Keep in mind that it's not meant to be a substitute for a traditional wash. "The small size and slow application process make this more of an emergency product, or better suited for small areas," our tester observed. In fact, the design and packaging help with that. "The pens come in a three-pack—perfect to stash in one's purse, car, or desk."
Price at time of publish: $8
Best for Grease: Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover Laundry Spray
No noticeable scent
Easy to apply
Works with all water temperatures
High price for small volume
A grease stain doesn't have to be the end of the line for your favorite shirt. This spot remover from Grandma's Secret proved to be efficient at clearing all the stains used in testing, except for the trickiest of the group (the wine stain and foundation in particular) and was easy to use, too. Just apply it to the stain, let it sit, and then wash as usual. The bleach-free formula even promises to work with all water temperatures, adding to its very convenient nature.
When it came to the specific categories we tested, it scored perfectly for ease of use, effectiveness, and scent while still earning a strong rating for value. Our tester thought it worked well, but that the price was a bit high. Most importantly, though, they would recommend it, even with the price caveat. "It worked well and was easy to use," they said.
Price at time of publish: $19
Best for Fresh Stains: Seventh Generation Laundry Stain Remover
Easy to apply
Have 24 hours to wash treated items
Did not remove all stains with equal effectiveness
A quick response can make all the difference when it comes to stain removal. If you or someone you love is prone to spills—or you simply like to be prepared for anything—you may want to keep this one on hand. Our tester found that this spray performed better on newer stains than set-in ones. It's easy to use, comes in a convenient spray bottle, and is cost-effective. "It performed quite well for a super affordable price," our tester observed, scoring it well for effectiveness.
You have up to 24 hours to wash clothes after you've sprayed them, giving you a bit of flexibility that can be helpful, too. You don't have to completely stop your day to start a load of laundry after a single spill. We also appreciate that there are no dyes or fragrances in the plant-based formula, either. Keep this choice in mind if you're looking to keep a budget and eco-friendly stain remover on hand for quick action on recent spills.
Price at time of publish: $17
Best for Makeup Stains: Shout Advanced Ultra Concentrated Gel Stain Remover
Top of bottle is a scrub brush
Pleasant, fresh scent
Different process for new versus set-in stains
The makeup stain proved to be tough for even some of our most highly performing stain removers, but this Shout formula was up to the task, earning a sky-high score. Just a faint hint of the stain remained after we tried it, a far more promising performance than most of the other products tested.
Our tester said it was incredibly easy to use, too, noting that "the top is a scrub brush so you don't get your hands in the product." It also carries a "pleasant" smell, so if you enjoy a gentle scent with your cleaners, it'll likely do the trick. Just keep in mind that you'll want to double-check the directions, since there are different recommendations for fresh stains (soak for one to five minutes) and set-in stains (set for up to eight hours).
Price at time of publish: $4
Best for Set-In Stains: Carbona Laundry Stain Scrubber
Good for older stains
Needed to adapt process when working with fresh stain
"This product seemed to work better on set-in stains," our tester observed. For those spots and smears that you've been putting off, or that need more attention, it's worth your consideration—as long as it's not wine or foundation, as those faded but were not completely removed. It also has a very light scent, which our tester found to be pleasant.
Of the scrubber itself, our tester said they enjoyed the applicator: "The brush makes me feel like I'm working in the treatment. . . . The only problem with the applicator was when I treated a fresh chocolate stain; for example, the applicator picked up chocolate and would smear it on the next stain. I adapted to avoid that happening. If you treated a fresh, messy stain, you'd want to wipe off the applicator when done." As long as you're mindful of that, this is a solid option for you and all of the set-in stains in your life.
Price at time of publish: $19
For an all-around, highly performing stain remover, look no further than Method Stain Remover, our top pick. It stood out in our testing for its effectiveness on a variety of stains, and it features a built-in bristle brush and plant-based formula. For another effective choice that's more wallet-friendly, consider Shout Advanced Foaming Grease and Oil Laundry Stain Remover, which also scored well across the board and is easy to apply.
Other Options We Tested
Puracy Stain Remover: In general, Puracy products have performed adequately when we've tried them before. When considered in a head-to-head scenario, though, the stain remover's performance didn't measure up to other options. It earned a low score for effectiveness and ease of use, since our tester found that the spray bottle didn't work well. Stains weren't removed as efficiently as we hoped, and our tester noted that other products are better at removing grass and marker stains.
Grove Co. Stain Remover Spray: While we like the plant-derived ingredients and sustainable mission behind Grove Co., the performance of this stain remover just wasn't impressive enough to warrant a top spot. While it fared well in two categories (ease of use and scent), stains were left behind on each test, including grass stains, which the label says the stain remover can tackle. It earned a low score for overall value, too.
Cleancult Stain Stick: This was the only bar we tested that didn't require water in its process. While others instruct you to either wet the stain or produce a lather with the bar, in the case of the Cleancult Stain Stick, you apply it straight to the stain. While the instructions were simple enough, and the bar fit well in our tester's hand, it received a 4-star rating for ease of use because "extra force needed to be used to make sure the soap was rubbed in the stain." This struggle, plus the fact that it wasn't a standout for stain removal, means that it wasn't competitive overall for us.
How We Tested the Laundry Stain Removers
We rolled up our sleeves and did hands-on testing of 30 different laundry stain removers in The Lab. To test stain removers' performances on fresh stains, two shirts were provided. On one, testers made four stains: red wine, chocolate syrup, grass, and blue washable marker. They then circled the stains with permanent black marker, so a clear record of size was made. On the other shirt, they made two oil-based stains: foundation and olive oil, also circled. Testers then treated the stains according to manufacturer guidelines, taking careful observations at each step and evaluating effectiveness.
Testers were then provided with two more garments containing the same sets of stains, which had been previously made and allowed to set in. They then treated each stain the same way, comparing and contrasting the remover's effectiveness on set-in versus fresh stains.
Each stain remover was evaluated in the same four categories: ease of use, effectiveness, scent, and value. For ease of use, testers noted how easy or messy the application process was, and whether any additional features—like a built-in brush—made the process more intuitive. They rated the strength and pleasantness of the product's scent. For value, they took all of their experiences into consideration and compared them to the price of the product.
Both a numerical score and tester observations were recorded for each stain remover's performance in each category. Once the tests were complete, we boiled down all of the data to narrow down what we consider the very best laundry stain removers.
What to Look for in a Laundry Stain Remover
Stain removers tend to fall in one of four main application categories: sprays and foams, pens and brushes, bars and sticks, and soaks. During testing, we found strong performers in every category, so rest assured that whatever your preference is, you'll be able to find an option that best suits your laundry routine.
Not sure which is right for you? Consider some of the key differences. Sprays and foams—like our "best budget" pick, Shout Advanced Grease Busting Foam—are applied straight from their bottle or container, directly to the stain. Pens and brushes—like Method Stain Remover, our "best overall" choice—are often packaged in compact containers, and you can "draw" right on spots with them. Bars and sticks are often concentrated solids. Like a bar of hand soap, you typically wet and apply them to the stain. One of their key differences is that they tend to use minimal packaging, so they can be eco-friendly options for many households. Finally, soaks take some (hands-off) time and require additional water and a container, like your washing machine basin or bathtub, or even a bucket. OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder, our recommendation for "best powder," is a great example.
No matter which application method you go with, keep the advice of Kathy Cohoon, field representative at Two Maids, in mind. When using an oxygen-based cleaner, in particular, look for "at least 20 percent" of your ingredients to be peroxide or another suitable oxidation agent, since that's ultimately what will treat your stain and help remove it.
The good news is that most stain removers can work well across your wardrobe. When asked whether she recommends for people to keep more than one on hand for treating various types of stains, Cohoon says it's really only a factor if someone wants to treat stains on white clothes with bleach, which is a matter of preference. "You don't want to put anything with bleach on colored [clothes]," she explains. Otherwise, you can just pick your favorite and stock it in your laundry room or closet.
As you're narrowing down choices to find that favorite, keep in mind that stain removers can be made to target specific types of spots, or formulated to be more "generalist" stain removers, and some can be a combination of each. For example, our "best budget" pick, Shout Advanced Grease Busting Foam, Laundry Stain Remover, is formulated for grease, yet it performs across the board. Red wine, in particular, has inspired a few different options to hit the market, but general cleaning methods can work, too, to remove red wine stains from clothes. There's no right or wrong to either choice—it simply comes down to your preference and needs.
The majority of our tested stain removers were found to have no noticeable scent or to smell pleasant and clean, according to our testers. However, keep in mind that even products marked "unscented" can still carry a light scent—often, it's a pleasant one, but it's a scent nonetheless. If you're considering a product that's new to you, skim through some reviews so you won't be dealing with any aromatic surprises when it arrives. HEX Performance Stain & Stink Remover, which we named the "best smelling," had a slight (albeit very pleasant) lemon scent to our tester's nose, while the Ingredients Matter Laundry Soap Stain Stick, our "best eco-friendly" pick, was compared to Irish Spring soap.
If you're shopping for multiple types of laundry products that you'll be using together, Cohoon has some advice for you. "Stay within the same smell," she says. "You don't want to purchase one thing that smells like lavender, and another that smells like oranges." Even if the pairing sounds appealing to you, the blends can complicate what would otherwise seem like a pleasant combination.
How many types of laundry stain removers are there?
The majority of stain removers you'll see in your local grocery store laundry aisle are going to either be enzymatic or oxygen-based. Both can be used in similar ways, and the differences lie in how the product interacts with the stain or stains. Enzymatic cleaners—like our "best overall" pick, Method's Stain Remover—are made of essentially good bacteria that break down and remove spots. Oxygen-based cleaners—like the Shout Advanced Grease Busting Foam Laundry Stain Remover we chose for "best budget" pick—release oxygen to remove stains.
How much should a laundry stain remover cost?
The prices of products we tested ranged from $3 to $25, with a median of $9. However, the volume of products varied, so sometimes higher prices corresponded with more product. When shopping, you'll want to consider the amount-to-dollar ratio, as well as the effectiveness of a product. It may cost more because it's great at what it does and, therefore, worth adding to your cart. It also could cost more because it's eco-friendly and has a list of well-sourced ingredients.
What are the typical ingredients in laundry stain removers?
Formulas vary from brand to brand, but you'll find some consistencies from one product to the next. For oxygen-based cleaners, picture the active ingredients as similar to hydrogen peroxide. That bubbly reaction you may know from using hydrogen peroxide in first aid is a similar process to what's happening when you use oxygen-based cleaners with your laundry.
Enzymatic cleaners, on the other hand, are a little harder to generalize, but plant-based formulas featuring those beneficial bacteria are indeed common. Our "best overall" pick, the Method Stain Remover, features this type of formula.
Is Shout or OxiClean the better laundry stain remover?
While both performed well in our tests, the numbers point to Shout by a hair (or a fuzz, if we're talking laundry). One of the Shout products we tested in The Lab, the Advanced Grease Busting Foam, Laundry Stain Remover, earned a top score and was crowned our "best budget" pick. It was one of two stain removers that scored a perfect score for every category, with our tester especially pleased with the performance and the price. The Advanced Stain Remover for Clothes with Scrubber Brush also earned a sky-high rating and was dubbed our pick for makeup stains. Our tester raved about the scent and the built-in scrub brush and also observed, "Most stain removers cannot remove red wine or makeup, but this product did a good job on those."
Why Trust The Spruce?
Dena Ogden is a lifestyle and commerce writer who’s been writing professionally since 2016 and has been with The Spruce since August 2022. She's written about everything from baskets and bins to carpet shampoos and robot vacuums. For this piece, she assessed the detailed responses from our savvy laundry stain remover product testers, who tested 30 different stain removers in The Lab. She also combed through product descriptions and listings, and factored in additional features like each stain remover's ingredients and packaging.
Finally, Dena spoke with Kathy Cohoon, field representative at Two Maids, who shared expertise on how to approach laundry stain removal and what to look for when purchasing a stain fighter.