How to Remove Breast Milk and Baby Formula Stains From Clothes

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Every new parent knows that baby clothes are small but baby stains can be huge on clothes and diapers. Breast milk stains are fairly simple to remove but the stains caused by baby formula can be especially tough to remove due to all the ingredients.

Breast Milk Stains

Just like milk from other mammals, breast milk leaves a protein and fatty stain. The key to successful stain removal is to use cool water, a heavy-duty detergent that contains the protease and lipsase enzymes that break down the protein and fat, and prompt treatment. While breast milk stains are easier to remove than formula stains, follow the same steps especially for set-in, older stains.

Baby Formula and Washable Clothes

The key to removing formula stains is to tackle them as soon as possible; but with a new baby that's not always a top priority.

If you can't treat formula stains right away, keep a large bucket or pail filled with cool water and a bit of oxygen-based bleach like OxiClean. Submerge the stained items and allow them to soak until you can do a load of laundry. It will not hurt these items to soak for 24 hours or longer. Oxygen-based bleach is safe to use with both white and colored baby clothes and linens.

Fresh formula stains should be treated by soaking the stained fabric for at least fifteen minutes in cold water. These stains contain a combination of ingredients (proteins, carbohydrates, supplements); but the protein needs treatment first. Never use hot water because it cooks the protein making the stain harder to remove.

After soaking, rub the stain with your fingers or scrub with a soft-bristled brush then wash the formula stained clothes as recommended on the care label. When washing baby clothes, a fragrance and dye free detergent is recommended to prevent possible skin irritation. Dyes and perfumes are the most common irritants. Remember, it is still important to use a detergent that contains enough enzymes to remove stains.

If the formula stain is dried or old, scrape or brush off any crusted matter, then soak in cold water for at least 30 minutes using a bit of heavy duty liquid laundry detergent with enough enzymes to break down the stains (Tide and Persil are considered heavy duty). Give the stains a light scrub with a soft bristled brush before tossing in the washer for a full wash.

If the stains are still present on bibs or clothes, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (brand names are: OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product per gallon of water. Completely submerge the baby items and allow them to soak for at least eight hours. Check the stains. If they are gone, wash as usual. If they remain, mix a fresh solution and repeat. It may take several soakings to remove the stains but they should come out. Be patient!

Dry Clean Only Clothes

If the baby formula missed the bib and landed on your favorite suit or blouse that is dry clean only, use a spoon to scoop away as much liquid/solids as possible and then blot the stain with a clean white cloth dipped in plain cool water. As soon as possible, head to the dry cleaner and point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner.

If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

Baby Formula Stains and Carpet and Upholstery

If formula is spilled on carpet or upholstery, act quickly. Use a spoon to scoop up as much liquid/solids as possible. Start at the outside of the spill and work toward the center to prevent spreading it even larger. Finish by blotting with white paper towels to absorb as much liquid as possible.

While the stain is fresh, dip a clean white cloth or sponge in cool water and blot the stained area from the outside edges toward the center. Try not to oversaturate the fibers and move to a clean area of the cloth as the stain is transferred. As one section is cleaned, blot excess moisture with a paper towel.

Next, mix one tablespoon of liquid dish washing soap with two cups of warm water. Using a clean cloth or sponge dipped in the mixture, saturate the stain working from the outside edges toward the center. Keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as the stain is transferred to the cloth. Work slowly and methodically. 

When no more stain is being transferred, dip a clean cloth in plain water to rinse the area. Rinsing is very important because the soap solution can actually attract soil. Blot with a dry cloth and allow to air dry away from direct heat. Vacuum to lift fibers.

If the stain did not come out, mix a solution of the oxygen bleach and cool water (follow package directions for amount of product to use). Saturate the stained area with the solution and allow it to remain on the stain for at least 30 minutes. Then blot up the solution and "rinse" with plain water by sponging the area. Finally, blot with a clean dry cloth until all moisture is gone.  Allow to air dry away from direct heat.

The same cleaning steps can be used for upholstery. Take care not to overwet the fabric or leave excess moisture in the cushions. If the upholstery is vintage or silk, consult a professional.