Clothing Stain Removal Guide

Stains are a reality that most people have dealt with on one or more occasions in their lives. Regardless of how fastidious a person may be, some stains are unavoidable, particularly when caused by others. In households with children, parents are often faced with frequent spills and accidents that lead to soiled clothing. Next to avoidance and prevention, the best way to cope with stains is to know how to successfully remove them. When it comes to stain removal from clothes, people must understand not only what items cause stains, but also what they should and should not do when attempting to remove them.

There are numerous items, from food to bodily fluids to outdoor substances such as mud, which can ruin the appearance of one's favorite piece of clothing. Stain removal, when done correctly and in a timely manner, provides the wearer with the opportunity to remove the stain and save his or her clothing for future wear.

Due to the many different things that can leave a stain on clothing, stains are usually divided into categories according to stain type. The categories include stains that are oil-based, coffee and tea stains, juice and dye stains, pet stains, and general stains. The general stain category includes a number of sub-categories that cover common household stains. These sub-categories are protein, water-based, and combination oil and water-based stains. Recognizing the category of a stain is helpful, as stain removal methods of items found in a particular category frequently use the same cleaning products and similar techniques. In some instances, a stain may fall into more than one category. When this occurs the removal process may be more involved than items that fall into a single category.

Name of Stain

Stain Category


Baby formula

General stain (water-based)

Soak newly stained clothing in an enzyme-based product for 30 minutes. If the baby formula stain is an old one, allow it to soak for one hour or longer. After the appropriate amount of time has passed, remove the article of clothing from the product and launder.


General stain (protein stain)

Rinse out the blood stain as quickly as possible under running cold water. If the stain is fresh, launder the garment as soon as the blood has been thoroughly rinsed. Old, dried blood stains should be soaked in an enzyme product for a minimum of 30 minutes or longer before laundering.

Blueberry stains

Juice and dye stain

Flush the soiled area with cold water as quickly as possible. Once rinsed, dab heavy-duty liquid clothing detergent directly on the remaining stain using an old, clean towel. After 15 to 30 minutes, rinse it out using cold water and launder it using color-safe oxygen bleach. To avoid setting the stain, do not place the garment in the dryer without first verifying that the stain is gone. If the stain remains, repeat the process.

Candle wax


Scrape off excess wax from the material using the edge of a dull knife. To melt away the remaining wax, place two pieces of paper towel on the fabric with one on top and one beneath. Place a warm iron on the towels and press lightly. Repeat the process, using cleaning towels, until there is no longer any melting wax. If the wax left color behind, apply a fabric-safe color remover, following the product's instructions.

Chewing gum

Oil-based stain

Use a dull knife to scrape off any excess gum on the material. If necessary, harden the gum by covering it with ice for several minutes. After removing the gum, spray over the stained area with pre-treatment stain remover. Allow the treatment to penetrate the stain for approximately one minute before laundering it as usual.


General stain (oil and water combination stain)

Wipe off any excess chocolate from the material and then saturate the stained area with pretreatment stain remover. Leave the treatment on for a minute to ensure that it penetrates properly. After the stain has soaked launder it as usual. Check the garment for any remaining traces of chocolate before placing it in the dryer. If a stain remains, wash the item again using color-safe bleach.


Coffee stain

For successful coffee stain removal, use a wet sponge or clean cloth to soak up the coffee. Once this is done, apply liquid laundry detergent or a pre-wash stain remover to the spot and then proceed to launder it using oxygen bleach.


Oil-based stain

Wash the crayon marks for 10 minutes in hot water using bar soap and baking soda. After rinsing out the soap, set the washing machine for the hottest temperature that the fabric can safely withstand and launder.


General stain (protein)

To successfully remove dairy from clothing, stain removal products containing enzymes are required. Soak the soiled item in the enzyme product for no less than 30 minutes. Once the clothing has soaked for the appropriate amount of time it should then be laundered.


General stain (protein)

Remove light deodorant stains by spot treating them with liquid laundry detergent prior to washing them in the clothes washer. Older and heavier stains will require the use of a pre-wash stain remover. The stain remover will need to set approximately 10 minutes before the article of clothing is washed in oxygen bleach.

Grape Juice

Juice and dye stain

Soak the stain in a solution that consists of one-half teaspoon liquid hand soap, one tablespoon white vinegar, and one quart of lukewarm water. Leave the stained item in the solution for 15 minutes before rinsing the stained area thoroughly. Once the item has been thoroughly rinsed it may be washed using color-safe bleach.


General stain (protein)

For grass stain removal, the article of clothing will need to be soaked in cold water that contains an enzyme product. The stained article should be allowed to soak for several hours, depending on the age of the stain. After the clothing has soaked, launder it using a cool water setting. Do not at any time use hot water when attempting grass stain removal from clothes, as this will make it nearly impossible to fully remove.


Oil-based stain

Apply an aerosol pretreatment stain remover directly to the grease stain and allow it to sit for a full minute. A heavy-duty liquid laundry detergent may be rubbed directly onto heavy or stubborn grease stains. Place the article into the washing machine and launder it immediately using hot water, or the hottest water that is safe for the fabric type.


Oil-based stain

Pour rubbing alcohol on a clean dry cloth and dab around the ink stain. After wetting around the stain, place the garment ink stain down on several paper towels. This time, apply the alcohol directly to the back of the stain. During this process it will be necessary to change the paper towel frequently as the stain is being removed. Rinse thoroughly prior to laundering.


General stain (water-based)

Remove jelly stains by soaking the spot in a mix of white vinegar, dishwashing liquid and warm water for 15 minutes. Rinse the stain and wipe the area from center to edge using rubbing alcohol. Once again rinse the area and launder. Use oxygen bleach when laundering difficult stains.


Oil-based/Dye stain

Rinse the stain thoroughly and then treat with liquid detergent. Rinse the stain again and then soak in diluted oxygen bleach, or other all-fabric powder bleach solution. Leave for 15 minutes and then rinse and launder.

Latex paint

General stain (water-based)

Take off the clothing that has the paint immediately so that it may be treated while wet. This is critical because once dry, paint stains cannot be removed. Rinse the stained garment thoroughly using warm water and then immediately launder.


Oil-based stain

Put a small amount of grease-fighting dishwashing liquid on the stain and let it sit for 10 minutes. After the required time has passed, blot the stain, working from the edges toward the center. Once the stain has lifted, rinse and then wash the garment. Another way to remove lipstick is to apply alcohol to a clean cloth and blot the stain until it has been completely removed.


General stain (water-based)

Remove as much mud from the garment as possible before placing it in a solution made of warm water, ammonia, and dishwashing liquid. After it has soaked for 15 minutes, loosen the stain by rubbing the soiled area gently. Allow the article to soak for another 15 minutes before rinsing it thoroughly. After rinsing, heavier stains may also need to soak in an enzyme product for 30 minutes before laundering.

Nail Polish

Oil-based stain

Remove nail polish as quickly as possible when it spills on clothing. Stain removal may be accomplished by applying nail polish remover to the back of the stain. Rinse the area completely to remove the color before laundering the garment.


General (protein)

Use an enzyme product to presoak the clothing item for 15 to 30 minutes and then launder. When dealing with sweat stains that have discolored the article, it may be restored to its natural color by soaking in either ammonia or vinegar. Use a tablespoon of ammonia and quart of water to soak new perspiration stains. On older stains use vinegar in place of the ammonia when soaking.

Shoe polish

Oil-based stain

Liberally apply a pretreatment laundry stain remover to the area with the shoe polish stain. After it has soaked for one minute, wash the garment as usual. Check the stain after the wash cycle, before putting it into the dryer. If the stain remains, soak the garment in chlorine bleach if it can be done without damaging the fabric and color. Items that cannot safely be washed in chlorine bleach may be washed using oxygen bleach.


Protein stain

For fresh vomit stains, first wipe off any solid materials that might be stuck to the garment. Allow it to soak in the cold water for 15 minutes before washing it. Vomit stains that have had time to sit should be rinsed in cold water and then placed in a presoak that contains an enzyme product. Leave the garment in the enzyme soak for a minimum of 30 minutes; however, depending on the age of the stain, soaking for several hours may be necessary. Remove item and wash it using warm water.


General stain (water-based)

Rinse out the wine as quickly as possible under cold running water. Place the clothing item in solution made of water, dishwashing liquid, and vinegar and allow it to soak for 15 minutes. If the stain remains, soak the garment in an enzyme product for 30 minutes before washing. Check the item to ensure that the stain is gone before drying it.

Yellow Mustard

Juice and dye stain

Because yellow mustard contains turmeric, which is a dye, caution must be used during the clothing stain removal process. The stained area must first be pretreated using a prewash stain remover or liquid detergent. If using liquid detergent, rinse it out thoroughly and soak the garment in an oxygen bleach solution before laundering. If using a prewash stain remover, launder the garment using oxygen bleach.

To complete the removal process, it is necessary to have the right supplies on hand. These supplies are easily found in most grocery or home improvement stores and include chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach or all fabric bleach, heavy-duty liquid detergents such as those that fight grease, and a mild liquid detergent. Enzyme products for presoaking, pretreatment stain removers, ammonia, vinegar, and alcohol are also commonly used during the stain removal process. When using these products, people must exercise caution and avoid mixing chemicals. Combining certain chemicals, such as bleach and ammonia, for example, can result in dangerous fumes.

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