What are the Different Methods of Stain Removal?

Amy Hunter

Effective stain removal is part art and part science. The method used to remove a stain depends on what material is stained, what it is stained with, and how long the stain has been in place. There are several general steps for stain removal, including the most important, which is to act quickly. The fresher the stain, the easier it is to remove.

Glass of red wine spilled on a white carpet.
Glass of red wine spilled on a white carpet.

Scrape off as much residue as possible before washing the item, and if removing a stain from clothing, leave plenty of room in the washing machine and use plenty of water so that the items can circulate freely. Hot water is better for cleaning than cold, but stains that contain protein, such as blood, egg and milk, require a cold-water wash. The hot water will set the protein stain. When pretreating any stain, place a dishcloth behind the stain to prevent the stain from leaking through to the rest of the garment.

A clothes stain remover may be applied directly to a stain before washing.
A clothes stain remover may be applied directly to a stain before washing.

When pretreating any stain, avoid rubbing too hard as that may spread the stain or damage the fabric. Finally, the best way to keep laundry stain free is to check clothing before they go into the washer. Often, a quick spray with a laundry pretreatment spray is enough to remove any stain. Sometimes, however, specialized stain removal treatment is required.

Bleach is effective at whitening materials that can be safely bleached.
Bleach is effective at whitening materials that can be safely bleached.

Stains that leave a greasy mark are difficult to remove. Rub the stain with dishwashing liquid, and allow it to soak for fifteen minutes before placing it in the washing machine. Wash with hot water. Stains from coffee or tea often respond to a soak in warm water with one tablespoon (15 milliliters) of borax powder dissolved in one cup (250 milliliters) of water.

Deodorant stains will often come off with an application of a laundry pretreatment; however, stains that are set in may require more aggressive stain removal. Sponge the stained areas with a solution of one part ammonia and one part water before washing to remove the residue left behind by the deodorant.

Ink is another common stain problem. Alcohol based hairspray breaks down ink, although it may also damage the fabric. Fruit juices and berries are easy to remove if the stain is fresh. Dilute the stain by rinsing in cold water, use a laundry pretreatment, and check the fabric before placing in the dryer. Repeat the process as necessary to remove the stain. Do not dry the fabric until you are satisfied that the stain is gone.

Grass stains are stubborn. For clothing such as football or baseball pants, chlorine bleach is the best solution. Clothing that would be damaged by chlorine bleach can be pretreated with a laundry spray. If that does not work, try sponging the area with wood alcohol.

Stain removal is most effective if conducted before the clothing is dry. If one method does not work, simply place the item aside while researching another. Once the stained clothing goes through the dryer, even on low heat, the stain is probably there for good.

Be sure any stains are completely gone before putting the clothing in the dryer.
Be sure any stains are completely gone before putting the clothing in the dryer.

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Discussion Comments


@Feryll - I have never tried this on red wine, but regular household vinegar will remove most stains. I use vinegar as a cleaning solution around my house and it works great. I clean the bathroom with it. I also use vinegar in my laundry. I think it works as well as bleach for stain removal for clothes before you wash them. The washing will remove the vinegar smell, which wouldn't be such a nice smell for your clothes.


@Feryll - At some time during my early 20s, I graduated from beer and became a social wine drinker. Sometimes I was a bit too social and I often ended the night with several wine spots on my clothing. Nothing looks so ruined as a white blouse with a red wine stain.

Anyway, red wine stains will come out. Some of them anyway, but the sooner you get to them the better chance you have of saving your clothing. Here goes my standby wine removal procedure.

Drape the shirt with the red wine stain over a bowl, with the stain over the bowl of course. Then sprinkle salt on the stain. Don't be afraid to use too much. The salt won't hurt the fabric. Then pour hot water over the salt and the stain. The hotter the water the better, so I suggest you boil it rather than getting it from the tap. Do this until the stain has faded and then wash the shirt as usual and see how it looks.

I give no guarantees, but this has worked for me in most cases. And unfortunately I have had a lot of chances to use this little technique.


Will red wine come out of clothing? I have a white shirt that has what I think is a red wine stain. It has been there for a few days, so maybe it is too late to remove the stain.

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