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10 Quick Tips for Removing Stains from Clothing

girl playing in mud
Even tough stains can come out if you know some tricks. Ambre Halle/Getty Images

You're out to dinner, and you drop a sauce-covered fork on your white dress. You're playing outside and realize your knees are covered in grass stains. You give your sweetie a few extra kisses, but you get lipstick on his collar.

We spend so much time in our favorite clothes, it's impossible that we're never, ever going to mess them up. You never see stains coming, but they seem to have you targeted (like the grease that jumps right out of the pan onto your shirt!)

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Whether it's your favorite top, that dress your best friend doesn't know you borrowed, or your son's brand new shorts, don't sigh in frustration just yet. Those seemingly impossible stains — red wine, blood, tea — aren't so tough when you attack them from the right angle. We've got 10 tips and tricks for knocking those unwanted spots right off your fabrics.

It's important to note that not all fixes work every single time, so don't give up completely if a particular hack doesn't get a stain completely out. Keep trying – it's likely that eventually a tactic will work. The other cardinal rule of stain removal is never, ever run a garment through a heated dryer unless you're totally sure the stain has been removed. Doing so will only cause the stain to set and thus become a permanent, annoying part of your life.

What? You don't believe that we can help you get the ink out of your favorite jeans? You'll just have to click ahead and see it for yourself. We'll start with attacking on-the-spot.

Red wine or tomato soup simply doesn't go with the outfit you so painstakingly put together for that special evening. If you spill something on your clothes while you're out and about, don't panic. Just follow a couple of simple steps to banish that troublesome stain! First, be sure never to scrub or rub a spilled substance. Instead, dab carefully with a white cloth. Don't have a white cloth handy? In a pinch, a piece of white bread will work, a hack that's extra helpful if you're in a restaurant!

An oil-based stain, like from a salad dressing, can also be handled with tableside ingredients. Simply sprinkle it with salt, allow it to sit for a bit and then brush the seasoning off the garment. Voila! The salt should have absorbed the oil.

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Then, continue addressing the stain at hand by spot treating with whatever you have available. Obviously, a stain pen would be great, but club soda or plain water works well, too. Do not apply too heavily, instead use the corner of a napkin. Then continue blotting until the stain is completely gone [source: Leverette].

If you're near a laundry machine — say, a romantic dinner at home? — you can create a simple but powerful stain remover by combining lemon juice with cream of tartar. Wash it like normal, and those marks you thought would be there forever will be long gone.

Nothing sucks the fun out of a pickup baseball game quite like an unsightly grass stain. If you cringe at the thought of your kids roughhousing in the yard because of the work you'll have to put into their clothes afterwards, worry no more. Grass stains aren't as invincible as they seem.

One of the coolest ways to get grass stains out involves a product we all have – toothpaste! Grass stains on clothes can be removed with an old toothbrush and plain white toothpaste; just make sure you use a paste variety and not a gel. Squeeze a small amount of the toothpaste onto the stain, then dip the toothbrush in clean water and use it to scrub away the stain. Repeat this process as needed to treat all of the stain(s). Rinse the area and launder the clothing as usual. Now you can steal home plate without a second thought. Incidentally, toothpaste can also remove ink spots with aplomb! [source: Baker]. Who knew?

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If you cut yourself, you're probably more focused on finding a bandage and possibly on not fainting than you are on keeping your clothes pristine. Once you're all fixed up and the dust settles, a stained garment just adds insult to literal injury. However, you don't have to slave for hours trying to get the blood stain out. Just use our quick and easy trick to turn the pain into a distant memory!

To remove spots of blood from clothing, use 3 percent hydrogen peroxide — the kind you find in the first-aid section of the drugstore. Soak the stain with the peroxide, use your fingernail or the blade of a butter knife to help loosen and scrape away the blood, then rinse it away with more hydrogen peroxide. Then launder as normal. In most cases, you'll have better luck removing stains — especially blood stains — if you treat them immediately after they happen, before the stains have a chance to dry.

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Don't fret too much if you don't have easy access to hydrogen peroxide, however. No matter what you call it, cola/soda/pop is adept at addressing blood stains in a pinch. All you have to do is soak the stain, ideally overnight, in the soda. Then, wash as normal.

Yet another method for removing blood from clothing is to wet the stained area of the fabric with water, sprinkle it with plain old table salt, rub one half of the stain against the other to work in the salt and loosen the stain, then immediately launder the garment the way you usually do [source: Shea].

You don't need a special stain remover or laundry pre-treater to banish ring around the collar. Instead, an item that you surely have lurking in your shower will take care of business!

Whether it's on work shirts or Sunday best, staining around the collar can be easily vanquished with a touch of something you're pretty much guaranteed to have in the house — shampoo. Just pour a little shampoo onto the collar, rub the collar together to work the shampoo in well, allow it to soak for about 15 to 30 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Follow-up by laundering as usual. Although any shampoo will likely do the trick, some experts recommend using a brand that's formulated specifically for oily hair because it is designed to break down body oils, grit and other stuff that transfers from skin to collar [source: Taylor].

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For a convenient and thrifty twist on this traditional tip, bring home the complimentary bottles of shampoo from hotels for a free package of ring-around-the-collar remover!

If you've been kissing too much on your sweetheart's collar, we've got just the laundry trick for you! Experts say that lipstick is often one of the toughest stains to remove since there are so many colors and formulations. The type of fabric stained is also a major factor. In fact, if the stain is on a garment made of cashmere, wool or silk it's probably best to opt for professional cleaning.

For anything else, you should carefully scrape any extra lipstick off. Then, put down some paper towels on a hard surface. Place the affected area on the paper towels with the stained side facing down. Then, take a dish detergent with grease-attacking properties and apply it to the back of the stain. Next, flip the garment over to stain side up. Carefully scrub the area using a clean toothbrush. Do not rinse the piece. Instead, put it in the washing machine on the gentle cycle and wash as normal. Repeat the steps until the stain is a thing of the past [source: Gibbs]!

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You probably have your work cut out for you on laundry day if the people pitter-pattering around your home prefer to wipe their hands on their clothes, rather than the perfectly good napkins you provided. This is particularly frustrating when delicious, but greasy meals like fried chicken are served up. Not only do stubborn grease stains often refuse to come out, they also never seem to blend into the fabric, so you can't just pretend they're not there.

Don't worry too much if this sounds like your life. Instead, hit the pantry and try this trick: Sprinkle the spot with cornstarch. Allow the cornstarch to soak up the grease for a few minutes, and then brush it away. The grease spot will lift right out, and you can get back to trying to convince everyone to use napkins instead of their clothes.

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Another fantastic fix for grease spots is WD-40. That's right, the spray that takes the squeak out of door hinges and such. Simply spray the substance on the stain and let it soak in for up to 30 minutes. Follow up by treating with a little bit of dish soap or liquid laundry detergent, once again allowing it to sit for 30 minutes. Once that's all said and done, run it through the washing machine per usual and then hang it out to air dry, since running a stain through the dryer virtually ensures that it'll never go away [source: Kerr].

If you have unsightly stains on your pillowcase, don't worry because you are absolutely not alone. Pillows often get stained by sweat and natural body oils. Sometimes, simply tossing them in the washer will do the trick and lift the stain right out. But if this standard fix isn't cutting it and the frustration is keeping you up at night, it's probably time to try another tactic.

Oily stains on pillowcases can be removed with plain shampoo or even liquid dish detergent. Simply apply to the area, rub it in and allow to sit for a little while. Rinse it out and then launder as you would normally. It's that easy!

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Another fun fix involves something every parent has lying around – white chalk. All you have to do is rub the chalk over the oil stain, then let it set for about 15 minutes. Shake or brush off any extra chalk bits, then wash as normal [source: SFGate].

You can keep the problem from spiraling out of control in the future by following a few steps on laundry day. If you notice oil stains just pre-treat them with liquid laundry detergent before popping them in the washer. Then, be sure to launder using hot water and with a detergent that has enzymes. For lighter-colored sheets, it's also advised to include 3/4 cup of bleach for extra oomph. [source: Dr. Laundry].

If you've ever been naïve enough to stick a ballpoint pen in your pocket for safe keeping, you probably learned there's nothing safe about ink exploding all over your clothes. Don't give up on those jeans yet —they may not be beyond repair. However, not all ink types are the same, so the treatment varies accordingly.

If you get ballpoint pen ink on a piece of clothing, put a paper towel under the stain. Then, apply some standard rubbing alcohol to the affected area. Larger stains may need to soak for up to 15 minutes. Blot/sponge at the stain with a clean cloth until you notice that ink is no longer being transferred. Rinse, apply a pre-treatment (if you have one) and wash as usual in hot water.

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Ink from a felt-tip pen is often a little tougher, but still totally possible to remove. Experts recommend that the stain be rinsed thoroughly in cold water. Next, soak the garment in hot water treated with some liquid laundry detergent. Add a little ammonia as well, if you have it. Make sure it's all mixed up, add the item and rub the stain gently. Allow it to soak for 30 to 60 minutes, or even overnight if the stain really doesn't want to go away. Once it appears to be gone, rub in a little more detergent, then launder [source: Smith].

That glass of red wine looks far better in your hand than on your clothes! Fortunately, all it takes it a little elbow grease and some common household items to vanquish that unfortunate stain.

If the red wine stain is fresh, soak up the spill by immediately sprinkling it with baking soda. Gently dab the stain with a clean, damp cloth to absorb wine. Do not scrub or rub! Next, as soon as possible, stretch the stained fabric over a large bowl or kettle, secure the fabric (a large rubber band is ideal) and apply a layer of salt to the stain and let it set for about five minutes. Then, carefully pour boiling water over the fabric. Experts recommend that you do this from about eight inches higher than the stain, so that the water has enough power to properly flush it out. Lastly, pop it in the washing machine on the highest water heat possible [source: Real Simple].

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If you have fabrics with tea stains, don't despair. As long as you didn't burn yourself when you spilled the mug, there's nothing to worry about. First things first – as soon as possible, rinse the stain with cold water. Don't forget to run the water from the back of the stain, rather than over top of it! This helps it to come out the side it came in, rather than pushing it all the way through the material. Next, grab any old liquid detergent and rub it into the stain. Let stand for a minimum of five minutes. Dried stains should be soaked in cold water (with detergent applied) for about 30 minutes. Then, rinse the stain.

Yet another trick is to treat wet tea stains with a generous amount of baking soda. Ideally, the powder will pull the color out of the clothing! Then, launder as normal [source: Aguirre].

See? No need to cry over spilled tea.

Last editorial update on Aug 2, 2018 05:03:12 pm.

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Sources

  • 101 Old-Time Country Household Hints," © 2008 Publications International, Ltd.
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  • Baker, Jerry. "Ax Grass Stains and 5 Other Ways Toothpaste Brightens Your Day." Jerry Baker – America's Master Gardener. 2018 (Aug. 1, 2018) https://www.jerrybaker.com/information/newsletter/2012/0612/0612_5
  • Dr. Laundry. "Stained Pillowcases from Oily Hair." Clorox. 2018 (Aug. 2, 2018) https://www.clorox.com/how-to/bodily-fluid-stains/body-soil-stains/stained-pillow-cases-oily-hair/
  • Gibbs, Karen B. "How to Remove Lipstick Stains from Clothes, Upholstery and Carpet." Today.com. Feb. 22, 2017 (Aug. 1, 2018) https://www.today.com/home/how-remove-lipstick-stains-t108129
  • Kerr, Jolie. "Here's How to Never Worry About Grease Stains Again." April 8, 2016 (Aug. 1, 2018) https://www.esquire.com/style/advice/a43771/grease-stains/
  • Leverette, Mary Marlowe. "Office Emergency Stain Removal Kit for Clothes." The Spruce. June 5, 2018 (Aug. 1, 2018). https://www.thespruce.com/office-emergency-stain-removal-kit-2147143
  • Real Simple. "How to Remove a Red Wine Stain." 2018 (Aug. 1, 2018) https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/cleaning/cleaning-stain-removal/remove-red-wine-stain
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  • Shea, Taylor. "8 Common Items That Remove Blood Stains." Reader's Digest. 2018 (Aug. 1, 2018) https://www.rd.com/home/cleaning-organizing/how-to-remove-blood-stains/
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