Stain Removal 101: How to Remove Almost Any Clothing Stain

We never know when or where it’s going to happen, but it inevitably will. Clothing stains haunt us no matter what we might do. But stains don’t have to spell the end of your favorite piece of clothing.

Before we get into how to address specific types of stains, here are some common questions and stain removal tips that can help you address stains of many types:

  • What is the stain from? (wine, coffee, grease, etc.)?
  • What kind of fabric has the stain absorbed into? Always check clothing labels for specific fabric care directions. Know the differences between fabrics so you can better understand what kind of temperatures and treatments might work best or against your removal efforts.
  • The faster you address a stain, the easier it will be to get out.
  • Never rub stains. Always blot excess with a clean cloth or clean water. Similarly, you can run the stain under cold water. Use a fabric under protein-based stains or oil-stains to absorb further excess.
  • Carry a stain stick or wipe in a bag or in your car so that you can pretreat stains as they occur until you can better address them at home.
  • When in doubt, always wash stains in cold or tap water. Remember that heat sets stains.
  • Avoid fabric softener when washing a stained or pretreated garment.
  • Don’t put your item in the dryer. The heat will likely set the stain – and then it’ll be there permanently. Air-drying may be your safest bet.
  • If the stain is large enough or particularly set, sometimes soaking your stained garment overnight in the tub or in a bowl with cool water and an oxygenator, like Oxo-Brite (eco-friendly) or OxiClean (contains bleach) can work wonders. However, make sure the product you use is color-safe and doesn’t contain unnecessary brighteners, which can leach color and break down the fibers of more delicate fabrics like silk or linen.

**Note: Never mix bleach with ammonia, since the mixture creates a dangerous gas.

Stains can generally be broken down into three types: oil-based, water-based, and protein-based. Here are some more specific remedies from Clothing Shop Online on how to treat these stain types:


Oil-based Stains

Whether from cooking grease or make-up, oil stains take some patience. Blot gently with a clean cloth to remove excess, and then sprinkle some baking soda or corn starch (yes, really) on top of the stained area. When the powder starts to ball, it is properly absorbing excess oil. Simply shake off the remaining powder. Next, pretreat the oil stain with a touch of Dawn before hand washing in cool water. If it’s good enough for scientists to treat animals involved in major oil spills, then it might just help lift that wicked stain from your favorite t-shirt. Rinse with water before washing in your machine. Distilled water is preferred at this point as it is “softer” water.


Chocolate stains set with time and heat. Rather than blot excess immediately, pre-treat the stain with a small amount of detergent or ammonia, and then soak the garment in a bowl of cold water for at least 30 minutes. Repeat the soaking process if you don’t see improvement or, for extra reinforcements, add OxiClean or enzymatic cleaner to the water and leave to soak. Then wash normally with no softener.


Oil-based paint is particularly difficult to remove. As a gentle suggestion for next time, consider using water-based or acrylic paints for your project since these alternatives are not only more eco-friendly but also fabric friendly. That said, read the paint directions for guidance on removal. Sometimes they recommend particular solvents to lift stains. Once you’ve figured out which solvent to use, you’ll need to ventilate and use gloves, since solvents are particularly caustic and can burn your skin. Don’t use a dish or detergent soap since they can set these types of stains. Put a clean cloth beneath the stain and blot the solvent onto the stain from the other side. Then remove as much of the solvent as possible with soapy water since solvents can become flammable in the dryer.


Water-based Stains

Coffee, tea, juice, and water-based inks, among other liquids, qualify as water-based. These kinds of stains require the least amount of work, but still, need to be blotted and soaked in cold water for 30 minutes or more. You can use a pretreatment on these stains like Dawn or Oxo-Brite before tossing in the washer.


On the right fabric, a coffee stain can be bad enough to make you want to give up coffee (or perhaps just wear black). To remove a coffee stain, you can blot the stain gently, then soak in cold water for at least 30 minutes. Another approach is to carefully pour hot water over the stain. Then launder as usual.


Cover a wine stain in salt, which absorbs excess and color, and then soak the garment in cold water with enzymatic laundry detergent overnight. Repeat as necessary and wash according to fabric care directions.


Water-based paint is a lot easier and safer (for your health) to clean than oil-based paint. Simply blot, add cool water or ice, and pretreat with detergent or soak in an enzymatic cleaner for at least a half-hour. Then, wash according to fabric care directions.


Dye stains most often occur from washing fabrics that have bled color with whites. To remove these stains, soak the affected garment in OxiClean or Oxo-Brite for at least eight hours. Repeat as necessary and then rinse in cool water before laundering as directed on the garment label. You can also apply a color run pretreatment specially formulated for removing dyes that have bled. However, if the fabric is delicate – made of linen or silk – avoid oxygenators all together. In this case, the dry cleaner will be your best bet to prevent damage to fabric fibers.


Protein-based Stains

Sweat, blood, mud, egg, vomit and grass stains fall under this category. What’s particularly important here is to not add heat while treating the stain or washing such stains.


You can use several approaches for grass stains. First, you can pretreat with laundry detergent on the stain, rinse with cold water, and then launder. If the grass stain appears on cotton, you can also blot with a small amount of rubbing alcohol on the other side of the stain, let stand for ten minutes, and then launder according to fabric care directions.


If the stain is fresh, blot immediately with cold water and soak in cold water for 30 minutes, then rub liquid detergent and rinse. If the stain is stubborn, soak in 2 tablespoons of ammonia per 1 gallon of cold water, and soak again with detergent. Launder as usual with an enzyme detergent, which should break down the protein stain.


Pretreat the stain with a paste made from 4 tablespoons of baking soda and 1/4 cup warm water. Rub the paste gently into the stain. For bad stains, let the paste sit, then rinse and soak in a bowl of cold water and two tablespoons of Oxo-Brite or OxiClean. Then launder according to directions; however, for delicates, it’s advisable to take straight to the cleaners if the stain has been there a while.




These markers tend to be alcohol-based, which makes them waterproof, but soluble in alcohol. Blot with rubbing alcohol upside down on paper towels or a clean cloth since the ink will bleed through. When the stain is faint or removed, rinse well in cool water and launder as required by the fabric care label.

Nail Polish

Simply blot a nail polish stain from the other side of the fabric with nail polish remover until the stain starts to lift. Then rinse in soapy, cold water and launder as usual.

Almost every type of stain is treatable with the right approach. We hope that these tips are helpful in addressing the stains that seem to be an unavoidable fact of life!

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