Can You Get Stains Out of Clothes After They've Been Washed?

By: Alia Hoyt
Can you get tough stains out of clothes once the stains are washed in? Steve Baccon/Getty Images

One of the simple, unavoidable facts of life is that stains happen, no matter how careful we are with our glasses of red wine or simmering pans of spaghetti sauce. Unfortunately, every stain reacts differently to the myriad cleaning methods out there, so success isn't guaranteed on the first try, even if you do everything right from the very moment the blemish occurs. Many people throw in the towel, so to speak, after the garment in question has been put through the washing machine to less than stellar results. There's no need to give up on your favorite tee, though! Whether your pretreatment failed or you simply didn't notice the stain before tossing it in the wash, there are plenty of ways to eliminate pesky blemishes. In fact, almost all stains will come out with some extra elbow grease (pun intended). So lather, rinse and repeat as much as necessary, using any or all of these handy tips and tricks!

  • My go-to stain removal technique is appallingly easy. Just rub a little bit of liquid detergent directly onto the stain, let it soak in and then run it through the washer again. Some experts swear by liquid dishwashing detergent used in the same fashion. Hey, it's all soap, right?
  • Stain-removal sprays and sticks have come a long way in recent years. A squirt or two of the good stuff usually does the trick. Just make sure you follow the given directions or it won't be as effective.
  • For grease marks caused by substances like salad dressing or cooking oils, simply rub a stick of white chalk into the stain to absorb the offending spot and then run it through the washer again.
  • Adding baking soda to the wash and then running the garment through again is another effective method for getting rid of oil or grease stains.
  • If that annoying oil stain still hasn't budged, consider rubbing some corn starch directly into it and washing it yet again.
  • Occasionally, kids or crafty adults get a little overzealous with glue sticks -- and their clothes pay the price. Unfortunately, glue can leave a stain even after the substance has been peeled or scraped off. Acetone, which is found in nail polish remover, is generally very effective at getting rid of glue-based blemishes. Make sure the fabric you're treating is colorfast and machine washable, though, since acetone can cause the fabric to become further discolored.
  • Bleach is very harsh and often less effective than most stain removal aids, so try to avoid using it when possible. If you feel like it's your only option, though, start with diluted oxygen bleach and move on to chlorine bleach if necessary.
  • Really old, stubborn stains sometimes respond best to liquid glycerin. Rub it in, let it soak and then launder again.

Whatever you do, try to avoid putting stained items in the dryer because the heat often causes the discoloration to set permanently.


Oil Stains In Clothing FAQ

What home remedy removes oil from clothes?
Start by blotting the stain as soon as possible after getting oil or grease on the clothing. Next, use dish soap (adding some baking soda if the stain is especially stubborn). Agitate the stain with a soft toothbrush or sponge. Allow it to sit for 30 minutes, then rinse the clothing before putting it in the washing machine on a regular cycle.
Can you remove oil stains from clothes after they have been laundered?
Yes, you should be able to. Soak the item of clothing in warm water, then apply a few drops of dish soap on the stain. Hold the material around the stain and start rubbing the sides against each other to work up a lather. This will help the fabric absorb the soap. Let it sit for about an hour or so before putting it through the washing machine. Make sure to air-dry the item to avoid setting any remaining oil. Repeat as necessary.
Are baking soda and vinegar helpful in removing oil stains?
Yes, they are. Douse the stain with white vinegar, then apply a paste made of equal parts baking soda and vinegar. If this doesn't work, immerse the item overnight in a bucket of water containing a few tablespoons of detergent and vinegar. Rinse and wash the following morning.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Keenan, Alene. "The Science of Laundry Onboard." The Triton. April 6, 2012. (April 22, 2012)
  • Martha Stewart. "How to Wash and Remove Stains." 2012. (April 22, 2012)
  • Martha Stewart. "Lipstick Stains." 2012. (April 22, 2012)
  • McNatt, Cindy. "Be green in your spring cleaning at home." The Orange County Register. March 16, 2012. (April 22, 2012)
  • San Francisco Chronicle. "Just in Time for Spring Cleaning..." April 1, 2012. (April 22, 2012)
  • Shea, Courtney. "How to get rid of stubborn stains." The Globe and Mail. April 9, 2012. (April 22, 2012)
  • The Washington Post. "Hints From Heloise: Glue gives instant stains." April 1, 2012. (April 22, 2012)