Your Complete A-to-Z Stain Removal Guide for Clothes, Carpet, and More

Try our stain removal tool to help you banish stains

Person pre-treating a stain on a garment

The Spruce / Erica Lang

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 and created a handy table to banish each type of stain.

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.

Not sure what caused the stain? There are ways to identify mystery stains and get you started. Take a few seconds and treat the stain-making culprit the right way to make sure that you'll wear your favorite shirt another day.

To help you take care of stains, here's a comprehensive list of stain makers from A to Z.

Stains A to E Stains F to L Stains M to R Stains S to Z
A F M S
Acne medicine Face cream Make-up Saffron
Apple juice Fabric softener Mango Salad dressing
Artichoke Feces Maple syrup Salsa
Avocado Fingernail polish Margarine Salt stains
Fish Mascara Self-tanners
B Food coloring Mayonnaise Shoe polish
Baby food Formula Meat Shrimp/seafood
Baby formula Fried chicken Metal button tarnish Skunk odor
Bacon Frosting Mildew Smoke and soot
BBQ sauce Fruit Milk Soft drinks
Beef and red meats Fruit juice Mustard Sour cream
Beer Mud Soy sauce
Beet G Spinach
Bird poop Gasoline N Steak
Blackberry Glow stick Nail polish Sticker glue
Blood Glue Nectarine Strawberry
Blueberry Grape juice Nicotine Sunscreen
Butter Grapefruit Super glue
Grass stains O Sushi
C Gravy Oil Sweet potato
Cake Grease Ointment
Candle wax Gum Orange juice T
Caramel Oyster Tabasco sauce
Cat urine H Tannin
Cement Hair dye P Tar
Chalk Hair spray Paint (latex or oil) Tea
Champagne Hamburger Papaya Tomato
Chapstick Hog odor Pollen Toothpaste
Cheese sauce Honey Paper dye transfer Tree sap
Cherries Hot sauce Peanut butter
Chicken Peach U
Chocolate I Perfume odor Underarm stains
Cigarette odor Ice cream Permanent marker Urine
Cigarette stains Ink Perspiration stains and odor
Coffee Insect droppings Pesticides V
Corn Iodine Pet feces Vanilla extract
Correction fluid Pine resin Vaseline
Cottage cheese J Poison ivy Vinegar
Cranberry Jam and jelly Pollen Vitamin gel caps
Cream cheese Jello Pork Vomit
Crayons Jewelry tarnish Poultry
Curry Pudding W
K Pumpkin Washable markers
D Ketchup Watermelon
Deodorant stains Kiwi R Wedding gown
Deodorant stripes Kool-Aid Raspberry White glue
Diaper stains Red wine White-Out
Diesel fuel L Red wine vinegar White wine
Dip Lamb Ring on collar Wood stain
Dog urine Lemon juice Rubber cement
Duck Lime juice Rust Y
Dye Lipstick Yellowing
Liquid medicine Yogurt
E Liquor
Easter egg dye Lotion Z
Egg Zucchini
Eggplant

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.
10 Stain Removal Tips

The Spruce / Hilary Allison

Supplies to Keep on Hand

Warning

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.

  • 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 like Carbona Pro Care Laundry Stain Scrubber.
  • 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.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Some Things Just Don't Mix: Poison Control Tips for Chemicals. Missouri Poison Center.

  2. 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