10 Best Tips for Removing Laundry Stains

Tips on how to remove laundry stains

The Spruce / Adriana Sanchez

Let's face it. Tossing clothes in a washer with some detergent is pretty simple. It's those stains that can really cause the problems. But if you master these ten basic tips, you can feel confident tackling almost any type of stain removal from A to Z.

  • 01 of 10

    Take Action Right Away

    shirt with stain
    Bryan McCay

    Take care of stains as soon as possible. Fresh stains are much easier to remove than those that have dried into the fabric. Create an emergency stain removal kit to keep in your desk or car with some white towels, a little bottle of water and a stain removal pen or wipes to treat stains as soon as possible. However, if stains have dried and set-in, you can still often remove them; it may just take longer or require repeated treatments.

  • 02 of 10

    Blot Spills Away

    Stain remover rubbed on stain with white cloth closeup

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

    For fresh liquid stains, blot up any excess liquid with a clean white cloth, paper towel, or even a piece of white bread (great for grease stains!). Remember to keep moving to a clean, dry area of the blotting cloth so as much of the stain is absorbed as possible. Avoid rubbing the stained area with a linty terrycloth towel or a dark-colored cloth. You may make matters worse.

    For thick spills, remove excess solids by gently lifting away with the edge of a dull knife, metal spatula, or edge of a credit card. Never rub at a thick blob of mustard, salad dressing, or similar oily foods because that only pushes the stain deeper into the fabric fibers.​

    With some solids, however, such as mud, removal may be easier after the stain has dried. Brush off the excess before the garment is washed.

  • 03 of 10

    Choose the Right Water Temperature

    Cleaning Your Washing Machine
    Alex Wilson/Getty Images

    When tackling a stain of unknown origin, always start by washing with cold water. Hot water can set protein stains like milk, egg, or blood, "cooking" the protein into the fibers.

    Hot water works best on known oily stains like mayonnaise or butter. The hot water is especially important when removing stains from man-made fibers like polyester.

    Always read product labels and clothing care labels before taking action. Even if you know the stain is oil-based, don't wash a garment in water that's hotter than the care label recommends. Stick with warm if that's best for the fabric.

    Hot water should be between 120 and 140 degrees F, warm water between 85 and 105 degrees F and cold water between 65 and 75 degrees F. Water below 60 degrees is too cold for many detergents to be helpful in removing oily stains.

  • 04 of 10

    Skip the Soap

    person using cold water on a laundry stain

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

    Your first instinct may be to grab a bar of soap or a squirt of liquid hand soap to remove a stain. But, never rub a fresh stain with soap. Soap can actually set many stains like berries, fruit, or vegetable stains. Instead, use liquid dishwashing detergent or a bit of laundry detergent, and rub it into the stained area before washing as usual.

    If you don't have any detergent on hand, flush the stain from the back side of the fabric by holding the garment under a sink faucet with the water on full-blast. This helps push the stain out of the fabric fibers.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Check Laundry Before Washing

    Blue basketball jersey scrubbed with old toothbrush and laundry detergent to treat blood stains

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

    If you do the laundry for the whole family, you know there can be surprises lurking in the hamper. Teach your family to tell you about stains or mark them with a clothespin. Always check garments before washing, as many stains need pretreatment.

    Quite often, though, you can remove stains just by working a bit of heavy-duty liquid laundry detergent like Tide or Persil into the stain with a soft-bristled brush or your fingers, letting it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, and then tossing the garment into the washer as usual. These detergents have enough enzymes to break apart most stains and flush them away.

  • 06 of 10

    Never Dry a Stain

    person examining a stained garment

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

    Stains slip by us all. But it helps to inspect wet laundry before tossing it into the dryer. If a stain is still evident, do not place the garment in the dryer. The heat of the dryer makes the stain more permanent. Instead, reapply a laundry stain remover to the stain, let it soak for a half-hour or so, and then rewash.

    The same principle applies to ironing. Never heat a stain, as this can set it permanently into the fabric.

  • 07 of 10

    Give Stain Removers Time to Work Their Magic

    Laundry detergent bottles resting on open washing machine with acrylic sweater

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    Before starting to work on a fabric stain, select the right stain remover. An enzyme-based product will help break the bonds between the stain and the fabric. Test the stain removal agent on a seam or hidden area of the garment to be sure it doesn't affect the color or finish of the fabric (especially if you've never used the product before). This is particularly important on silk and fabrics that may not be colorfast.

    After you have tested the product, give it time to work. A quick treatment and straight into the washer probably isn't enough time. Treat the stain and wait at least 10 to 15 minutes before washing. This gives the pretreatment time to work.

  • 08 of 10

    Use a Gentle Touch

    Liquid laundry detergent rubbed into soy sauce on white shirt

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

    When working a stain remover into fabric, avoid vigorous rubbing unless the fabric is tough and durable like denim. Today's products for removing stains are very effective, so you don't need to scrub aggressively. Excessive rubbing can actually spread the stain and damage the fabric.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Divide and Conquer

    laundry room with a washing machine
    Adobe Stock

    To get the best results, wash heavily stained items separately. This means really dirty work clothes or muddy children's play clothes should not be washed with less-soiled clothing.

  • 10 of 10

    Check Your Settings

    Surprising Things You Can Clean in Your Washing Machine
    GoodLifeStudio/Getty Images

    Soil and stains can be redeposited on cleaner clothing during the wash cycle if too little detergent is used, water temperature is too low, washing time is too short, or the washer is overloaded. Check your washing machine's settings before every load to be sure you are choosing the most appropriate settings for those garments.