Techniques for Stain Removal

Stained shirt? We've been there. Here's what to know about getting stains off

Tough stains mean tough measures — here's how to get stains off your clothes

Tomato sauce, mustard, wine, coffee — all delicious, and yet, all food products that will inevitably stain your clothing. And even the best laundry detergent might not be able to get them out unassisted. So how does one get away from stains? While you may not be able to totally avoid them, there are techniques that can help with stain removal. Along with foods, a variety of other substances can cause staining, including grass, dirt, oil, and blood. To help keep your clothing as clean as possible, and extend their life in the process, here are some solid techniques for stain removal that can help no matter what type of substance you’re dealing with. Don't forget to check out your garment's care label before you do anything.

Blot, Don’t Rub the Stain

While your first instinct when dealing with a stain may be to rub it with a cleaner or soda water, you should resist the urge. Rubbing stains helps them to saturate into the material, making it harder to remove them.

Rather than rubbing stains, use a blotting approach to absorb as much of the stain as possible. You can either use a cloth, sponge, or paper towel with this technique. Depending on the type of stain, you may want to consider dampening the blotter with water or a solvent as you work on removing the stain.

Brush Off Dried Stains

If a stain has been on your clothing long enough for it to dry, use an old toothbrush to gently brush the area. This technique will help scrape off dried parts of the stain which can be much more effective than immediately wetting the stain.

If the stain is already wet, try your best to scrape off the excess stain. Instead of using a toothbrush for wet stains, a dull knife will work better. However, you’ll want to be meticulous while you carry out this process, being careful not to further spread the stain across the material as you scrape.

Freeze the Stain

Depending on the type of stain, freezing can be a useful technique in helping to get rid of it. Many substances harden when freezing, making them easier to scrape off the fabric once they have solidified.

Freezing the stain can be a smart move if you’re working with material that can’t be washed. While you can put the material directly into a freezer, you can also place a bag filled with ice cubes against the stain to work more quickly and with more precision.

Flush the Stain Out with Water

Once you’ve worked to remove any excess stain, you can try flushing the stain out with running water. This technique can work by physically pushing the stain out of the clothing’s fibers while simultaneously treating the water as a solvent to remove the stain.

If you try this approach to stain removal, be sure to always use cold water, as some stains can be set by heat. It's a good idea to run the washing machine on cold water as well.

Soak the Stain

If you’ve got a busy schedule, or if your stain simply isn’t budging, sometimes a long soak can help to remove or loosen the stain. There are a couple of options when it comes to the liquid you’re using for the soak. Water alone can sometimes be enough to remove a stain, but if that doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, pouring some stain remover or detergent into the water can be helpful.

Usually, the longer you allow the stain to soak, the better chance you have of removing it after. At minimum, it’s a good idea to soak stains for one hour. At best, leave a stain soaking overnight.

Pretreat the Stain Before Washing It

Another technique that you can use when removing a stain is to pretreat it with a stain remover such as OxiClean or Shout. Apply the treatment directly to the stain before tossing the clothing into a washing machine.

If you choose to use a stain remover, make sure to read the directions on the bottle to see what the ideal set time is, as well as the ideal wash settings to use afterwards. A little extra laundry detergent might be able to help get that stain out, too.

Trial and Error

The most important thing to remember when trying to remove a stain is that depending on the substance, different techniques will work better than others. If you’re not positive that a technique will be effective in removing a stain, you should always start by addressing a small portion of the stain first as a trial run.

Resources— Stain Removal 101, How Stuff Works, Real Simple