Stains happen—that's just a fact of wearing clothes, having a carpet, or using anything that drips, leaks, or smears. But, you don't have to tackle those stains in confusion. We've rounded up our library of content on stain removal to provide the best tips and tricks, the proper techniques and supplies to remove stains, and created a handy table encompassing all stains from A-Z.
If you're ready to read on, check out our ultimate guide to banish any type of stain, from pizza sauce to paint splatters.
How to Remove Any Stain from Clothing
With the right method, it's possible to remove any stain from clothing. Below is a general prescription for any mess-maker that might have stained your clothes.
- Always attack a stain as quickly as possible—any stain is removable if you treat it early enough. Have you spilled red wine at dinner? Immediately start flushing out the stain under cold water. The quicker you act, the more likely the stain will come out.
- There are a few fool-proof treatments for stain removal: heavy-duty laundry detergent, dish soap, or a commercial stain remover. Any of these should be effective at removing most stains.
- For extra tough stains, rinse the garment in warm water. Otherwise, launder as usual in cold water.
Common Stains to Consider
With these quick tips, you can banish these common stains in no time.
It happens—oil splatters from your frying pan and onto your white shirt. To start, remove any oily solids from the fabric with a dull knife or spoon, and blot liquid oil stains with a paper towel. After removing excess oil, you can use baking soda to pull even more oil out of the fabric, and once this sits, you should be set to begin washing the garment. Apply a heavy-duty laundry detergent to the stained area, and inspect the stain to see if it's disappeared. Launder the garment, and voila—no more oil.
For a fresh coffee stain, run cold water from a faucet through the backside of the fabric to keep the coffee from penetrating the cloth. Rub liquid laundry detergent or liquid dish soap and a little cold water into the coffee stain and allow this to sit for 5-10 minutes. Apply a stain remover spray or gel to the coffee stain, and wash the garment as you usually would.
Don't let a wine night ruin your favorite garment. Begin by blotting the wine stain with a clean cloth or paper towel. Soak clothing in OxiClean powder mixed with the warmest water your fabric can handle. Inspect the piece to see if the stain has lifted. If not, add a stain remover on top, let that sit, and launder the garment.
Maybe arts and crafts night went a bit awry—and now, you're left with a paint stain on your clothing. Lift and remove as much of the excess paint as possible carefully using a dull knife or spoon. As quickly as possible, flush the paint from the fibers with a forceful stream of warm water. Work a solution of liquid laundry detergent and water into the stain, soaping and rinsing until the stain is removed. You may need to repeat this several times. Then, wash the garment as usual.
Removing Stains from A-Z
Each link takes you to a step-by-step description of the products you'll need and how to remove that specific stain from washable fabrics, dry-clean-only fabrics, as well as carpet and upholstery. While many stains are treated the same way, others require special steps, or they can become permanent. Treating stains on upholstery and carpet takes a bit more skill than just tossing a shirt in the washer.
To help you take care of stains, here's a comprehensive list of stain makers from A to Z.
General Tips for Stain Removal
- Act quickly: Fresh stains make stain removal an easy task. Give yourself the upper hand by treating stains as promptly after they happen as possible.
- Follow stain-removal directions: Follow the directions on any stain removal products you use—that's how the products were intended, so it's best to adhere to the directions for stained clothes.
- Test in a hidden area: Test any stain removal methods on a hidden seam or another inconspicuous spot, just to make sure no damage is done.
- Don't mix stain removal products: Mixing different chemicals that can be present in different stain removal products can accidentally cause toxic odors and poor results on your clothing.
- Wash stain-treated items: Remember to thoroughly wash items that have been treated with stain removal products. This way, you ensure that both the product residue and stain residue are removed.
- Be patient: Stain removal can take time, so be patient. Once finished, you may need to thoroughly check the garment before drying to determine if a repeat treatment is necessary.
- Protect against future stains: Once the item is clean, consider treating it with a fabric protectant spray (or carpet protectant spray) to stop future stains before they start.
Supplies to Keep on Hand
- Water: And plenty of it. Water is the first line of defense in treating stains, fresh or dried.
- Oxygen bleach: Oxygen-based or all-fabric bleach is a gentle bleaching agent that removes stains, whitens and brightens laundry, and is safe for use on almost all washable whites and colored fabrics. Because of its chemical ingredients, it works more slowly than chlorine bleach, is less corrosive and damaging to fibers, and is more environmentally friendly.
- Enzyme-based stain remover: Natural or processed chemically, different enzymes target specific soils and break the soil into smaller molecules to be washed away. For most stains, choose a well-rounded stain remover.
- Hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar: Hydrogen peroxide is a great laundry agent that can be used to remove stains. Distilled white vinegar is another option, a powerhouse cleaner and stain remover. You can use it mixed with other products or by itself to remove many types of stains.
- Dish soap: Surprisingly, dish soap is great for fighting oil-based stains. Plus, it is mild enough to use even on fine fabrics, such as silk and wool.
- Laundry soap bar: Fels Naptha, Zote or Ivory are pure soaps that work very well in cutting through body soil on collars and cuffs.
- Rubbing alcohol: Removes ink from fabrics and leather.
- Chlorine bleach or laundry disinfectant: Chlorine bleach is a harsh stain remover and should only be used as a last resort. A disinfectant could also be useful in stain removal. It is required to kill most types of bacteria, viruses, and mold/mildew spores.
- Soft-bristled brush: Use to work stain remover into fabrics.
- White cotton cloths: Always use a white cloth or paper towel to blot away and treat stains to avoid accidental dye transfer during cleaning.
When fighting stains, keep in mind that the following stain fighters should never be mixed. Be sure to rinse the fabric or carpet thoroughly between each product, so residue from the previous step doesn't cause a toxic chemical reaction.
What are the basic rules for stain removal?
To remove almost any stain, first begin by scraping solids with a dull butter knife. Next, treat the stain with a commercial stain remover, dish soap, or a heavy duty laundry detergent. Allow this to penetrate the stain for five to ten minutes. Check to see if the stain has lifted, and if necessary, add more stain remover to the garment. Then, launder the garment as usual.
What stains cannot be removed?
The longer a stain is left untreated, the most difficult it is to remove. So yes, there may be set-in stains that will not totally be removed. Some difficult stains to remove after they've set in include chocolate, permanent marker, red wine, oil or grease, and yellowing from smoke.
How do you remove old stains from clothes?
Saturate a stain with white vinegar and allow that to penetrate the stain. Sprinkle the stain with baking soda and allow that to work its magic. Rub this into the fabric gently and allow it to settle in for 20-30 minutes. Rinse the garment, and if the stain persists, treat with a heavy commercial stain remover or bring it to a professional dry cleaner.
Some Things Just Don't Mix: Poison Control Tips for Chemicals. Missouri Poison Center.
Moody LV, Miyamoto Y, Ang J, Richter PJ, Eckmann L. Evaluation of Peroxides and Chlorine Oxides as Disinfectants for Chemical Sterilization of Gnotobiotic Rodent Isolators. J Am Assoc Lab Anim Sci., vol. 58, no. 5, pp. 558-568, 2019. doi:10.30802/AALAS-JAALAS-18-000130