Stain Removal Techniques

There are two basic approaches to removing spots and stains. You can use a stain-removal agent that interacts with the stain chemically, or you can physically loosen or remove the stain from the surface. Many stubborn stains require both chemical and physical treatment. In this chapter, we discuss eight physical stain-removal techniques: brushing, flushing, freezing, presoaking, pretreating, scraping, sponging, and tamping.

Which technique to use in treating a particular spot or stain depends upon both the nature of the stain and the type of surface stained. For example, a stain may be wet or dry, semisolid or hardened. On a very delicate surface, you may not be able to use such techniques as scraping and tamping. A stain may be flushed more easily from a loosely woven fabric than from one that is tightly woven; but a tightly woven fabric can withstand a treatment such as tamping more successfully.


Follow these directions carefully to assure successful stain removal without harm to the stained article. Note that whenever you use absorbent pads (when you flush or sponge a stain) you should check the pad frequently and change it as soon as any of the stain is deposited. This will prevent reapplication of the stain to the treated article. Remember, too, that to avoid fabric damage you should never apply heavy pressure when using techniques such as brushing, tamping, or scraping.


Brushing is used to remove dried stains and spots. Some spots, such as those formed of dried mud, may be completely removed by brushing. In treating other types of dry stains (for example, face powder), brushing is just the first step in treating the stain. In treating some stains, brushing may be one of the last steps, as when you want to remove an absorbent or a dried stain-removing paste from a surface.

Use a small, stiff-bristled brush for this technique. A toothbrush works well on small stains. When working on a fabric, stretch the piece on a firm, clean working surface. Hold a clean sheet of paper next to the stain (on walls, hold the paper beneath the stain) so that you can brush the staining material onto the paper. Use a gentle motion to brush the stain up off the surface and onto the paper. It may help to blow softly on the spot as you brush.


Flushing is used to remove loosened staining materials and any residue from the stain-removal agent. This is an important step in the process, for if any chemicals are left in the material, they may cause additional staining or they may damage the treated article.

When flushing a stain, especially one on a nonwashable fabric, you need to control the flow of water carefully. To apply a measured amount of flushing liquid, use a device such as an eyedropper or plant mister, or a plastic trigger spray bottle that can be adjusted to spray a fine stream. Before you begin the treatment, place a clean absorbent pad beneath the spot, then slowly and carefully apply the recommended stain remover to the stain. If you decide to use a mister, place the tip against the stained area and depress the plunger or pump the trigger slowly. In this way, you can force out a thin stream of fluid without wetting a large area. You must work slowly; do not apply the liquid faster than the pad beneath can absorb it and do not spread the stain. Replace the absorbent pad frequently so that the deposited staining material does not restain the fabric.

Stains on area rugs may be flushed following the directions above. In fact, any rug under which you can place an absorbent pad can be treated by flushing. If, however, your rug is too large to lift or if the stain is on tacked-down rugs or carpeting, you may have to sponge the stain-removal agent onto the spot instead. Then sponge with clear water to remove chemical residues. Remember, the pad or cloth used for sponging must be changed frequently.

If you are treating a washable fabric and directions call for flushing with water, you may rinse the stained article. To rinse out a stain, dip the article up and down repeatedly in a container of warm water. Change the rinse water frequently.


Pretreating is used to ease the removal of small stains, especially those that are oily or greasy. Stubborn soil, such as the ground-in dirt on collars, cuffs, and socks, is easier to remove after it's been pretreated. When you are pretreating a stain, you apply the stain-removing agent directly to the stained area. To pretreat a stain, you may use a liquid detergent, a soil-and-stain-removing pretreat spray, bar soap, or a pretreating paste made of powdered detergent (do not use one that contains bleach) and water.

Liquid detergent and pretreating sprays should be applied directly onto the dry stain. If you are using bar soap or have prepared a paste of powdered or granular detergent and water, dampen the fabric slightly before applying the pretreating agent. After its application, rub the pretreater into the stain gently, then wash the item as you normally do.

To use pretreating sprays successfully, you should keep a few points in mind. Pretest the spray by applying it to an inconspicuous part of the garment before using it on the stain. Most of these sprays are perfectly safe on all washable fabrics, but some contain an oxygen-type bleach ingredient that could harm some dyes. Apply the product according to package directions, wait 5 minutes, and then rinse the pretest area carefully. If no color change is apparent, you can safely treat the stain. After using one of these sprays, it is essential that you wash the treated article thoroughly to remove both the rest of the stain and any residue from the pretreat spray. Allowing the residue to set may cause a new stain.

Learn about more techniques to get rid of stubborn and unsightly stains and spots in the next section.