Here’s How to Get 13 Types of Stains Out of All Your Clothes

Tips for stain-removal based on fabric type

The color of or care instructions for a specific fabric should influence how you approach the stain-removal process. There are a few things you should remember about these fabric types.

Removing stains from whites

For whites, immediate treatment of the stain dramatically increases the chances it will come out. If possible, place a barrier between the side the stain is on and the other side of the garment (front vs. back, inside the sleeve/leg) to prevent the stain from soaking through to the other side. Also, never use dark-colored cloth or terry cloth to remove a stain on white or light colors, as this may actually serve to darken the stain or even create a new dye stain from the darker fabric.

Removing stains from darks

While it’s easier to remove evidence of staining from dark fabrics than lighter ones, starting earlier is still recommended. Remember to avoid the use of products that could remove dye from the fabric, such as traditional bleach. Oxygenized non-chlorine bleach is typically safe; while it does remove dye stains, it typically won’t harm the manufacturer’s considerably more rigorous (and less accidental) dye process. That said, some fabrics may be dyed in a way that makes them more prone to fading, so always make sure you test any chemical on an inconspicuous area prior to using it.

Hydrogen peroxide is an effective stain-remover for tougher stains, however, it should be used sparingly, as it can harm fabric over time (though it’s a lifesaver for sturdier fabrics such as denim), and should always be tested on the fabric in an inconspicuous spot to ensure the fabric is colorfast.

Removing stains from delicate fabrics

In general, we recommend taking delicate fabrics directly to the dry cleaner for stain removal, though stain pretreatments approved for that fabric type would be helpful until you get it there. If you do try to remove it, be gentle and use only the temperature of water called for by the label.

Testing colorfastness

Colorfast fabrics resist fading or running during the wash cycle and when exposed to light. They may also resist fading or discoloration when other chemicals are applied. A lot of things — including the dye used, the way the dye is applied, the type of fabric and more — affect colorfastness.

To test colorfastness against a particular chemical or solvent you want to use to remove a stain, find an inconspicuous spot (on the underside of the hem, under the collar of a shirt or in an area covered when it’s tucked in, for example). If you’re testing a powder or concentrate, dilute it with water according to the package directions first. Apply a small amount to the testing area with a cotton swab and wait 10 minutes. Take a look at the stain and check for signs of discoloration. Then take a paper towel and blot the stain, checking the paper for bleeding (a sign the fabric is transferring color as a result of the chemical applied). If neither of those happen, the fabric is colorfast (at least for that particular chemical) and you can proceed. Just note that if the stain is on something with multiple colors, it’s best to check each color if possible.

stain removal guide
Image: Getty Images. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

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