Stain Removal

Stains that are not treated at an early stage run the risk of ‘setting’ and becoming permanent. Take immediate action to stop a stain front spreading or sinking deeper into the fibers by blotting up the excess with a clean cloth, absorbent tissues or salt.

Stains generally fall into 4 simple categories:

  • Stains that can be removed with normal washing, such as water-based paints and milk.
  • Those that can be removed by bleaching or a combination of a hot wash and detergent – for example, tea, fruit juice or non-permanent ink.
  • Those requiring a pre-wash treatment and/or soak before washing, such as grass stains or blood.
  • Those requiring special treatments before cleaning, such as gloss paint.

Sometimes a combination of these treatments will be necessary to remove a stain completely, bur remember never to mix more than one-chemical at a time, as toxic fumes can he given off. Always bear in mind the key factor of speed, as stains that have been left too long or have become set by heat can be virtually impossible to remove, and none of the treatments will be likely to succeed without damaging the item they are on.

On garments, even if a care label says that the fabric is color fast, always check this by carrying out a ‘test run’ on a hidden part such as a seam, hem or inside the waistband. Hold a clean, white cloth behind the fabric and dab on the cleaning fluid (whether water, detergent or solvent). If color seeps onto the cloth, the garment should be professionally cleaned.

Carpets and upholstery can be more of a problem, so a sample test is important. Specific carpet and upholstery foams and cleaning fluids are available, but, unless you are confident that you can deal with a stain successfully yourself, it is advisable to call in professional cleaners.

If you arc in the middle of a party and someone spills a drink over the carpet, there is no need to panic. Act quickly by blotting up the liquid, then tackle it more thoroughly once the guests have left or, easier still, remove the carpets before they arrive.

Stain Removal Kit

Keep it stock of as many of the following items as possible, so that you will be prepared to deal with any stain or spillage as soon as it occurs.

  • Thallium powder: use this to blot up grease or oil it’s soon as it is spilled.
  • A blunt knife: this is useful for scraping off matter such as jam or egg.
  • Clean white cloths: keep these at hand to soak up spills or to apply cleaner. A small, natural sea sponge, cotton wool (absorbent cotton) and white paper towels will also be very useful.
  • Detergents: spray pre-wash liquid, a detergent soap bar and liquid biological detergents are all good stain removers.
  • Methylated spirits (denatured alcohol): helpful for removing grass stains on color fast fabrics.
  • Glycerine: this should he diluted with an equal amount of water to soften dried-in stains. Leave it for up to an hour before washing the garment.
  • Acetone or nail-polish remover: good for dealing with nail-varnish stains, but do not use on acetate fabrics.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: test fabrics for color fastness before using. Buy the 20-volume strength and mix 1 part to 9 parts water for soaking dried-in stains before washing.
  • Dry-cleaning fluid or white spirit (paint thinner): pre-test fabrics for color fastness and use near, dabbed on grease or fresh paint stains (not to be used on acetates).
  • White-wine vinegar: vinegar helps to neutralize odors as well as removing pet stains and perspiration marks on garments.
  • Borax: this is a mild alkali and will work to neutralize acid stains such as wine, fruit juice and coffee.

The key factor to removing stains is speed; quickly blot up the excess with a clean cloth or tissues. Soaking or a pre-wash treatment before washing will dissolve many stains, but some need special treatment.


There are 2 types of bleach – chlorine bleach and oxygen bleach. Chlorine bleach deodorizes, accelerates the action of detergents, kills germs and generally cleans. It is not suitable for colored clothes, silk, wool, mohair, leather or Lycra, and should never be poured directly on to clothes. Oxygen bleach is ‘color-safe’ and, although it brightens colors and keeps whites white it is unlikely to make graying nylon whiter. It can be used on colored fabrics and unbleachable white (such as silk and wool).

Specific Stain Removal

When a stain only covers a small area on a garment, you should apply the cleaning solution only to that area, and prevent it from spreading to other areas of the fabric. Place art absorbent cloth or towel underneath the area that is to be cleaned. If the stain is on a trouser leg or sleeve, slide the cloth or towel down the middle to prevent the cleaning solution and stain from working through to the other side.

When a small stain requires saturating in cleaning solution, hold the cloth by the stained area, then twist the unstained area before dipping in the fabric. This will prevent the solid ion from spreading. If the stain requires soaking for a long period, wrap the unstained parts of the garment in a plastic bag and lay them slightly higher than the stained area, or the solution will spread along the fibers.

Check on the following list to find the stain closest to the one that you need to treat, and then follow the instructions given. Once the stain has been removed, wash the item as usual.

Adhesives Stain Removal

Cyanoacrylate or ‘super glues’ should be treated immediately with a little lighter fuel dabbed on before they set. Very hot or boiling water can be effective, but is only recommended for use on cotton or linen. Other glues can he removed with amyl acetate, which is available from chemists (drugstores).

Ballpoint Pen Stain Removal

Use a proprietary cleaner or dab with nail-polish remover or surgical spirit (rubbing alcohol). Surgical spirit (rubbing alcohol) or nail-polish remover will lift ballpoint-pen and ink stains.

Blood Stain Removal

Rinse off under cold running water, and then soak the garment in a solution of biological washing liquid and tepid water. Soak white garments in a mild ammonia/water solution, then wash.

Burn Stain Removal

Scorch marks can sometimes be rubbed off with a blunt knife. Treat fine fabrics with a little dilute glycerin and wash as a usual. Treat more stubborn marks with a hydrogen-peroxide solution of I par to 9 parts water.

Butter Stain Removal

Scrape off as much of the grease as possible, and then apply a biological liquid to the patch. Wash in as high a temperature as the fabric will stand.

Candle Wax Stain Removal

Gently pick or scrape off the cooled wax using a blunt knife. Place blotting paper or paper towels above and beneath the mark, then iron over the top paper, replacing it as soon as it becomes saturated with wax. Repeat until no more wax comes off. Colored wax may leave a deeper mark: treat with methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) before washing.

Car Oil Stain Removal

Dab the mark with a proprietary grease solvent, or treat with a pre-wash aid.

Chewing Gum Stain Removal

Chill the garment in the refrigerator, and then pick off the solid matter. Dab with methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) or dry-cleaning fluid.

Chocolate Stain Removal

Apply neat biological washing liquid to the stain. Sponge the area with warm water, then wash as usual.

Coffee Stain Removal

Wash immediately under cold running water, and then soak in a strong detergent solution. Treat stubborn marks with a dilute hydrogen-peroxide solution (1 part hydrogen peroxide to 9 parts water) before washing.

Crayon Stain Removal

Dab the affected area with white spirit (paint thinner). Use a heavy-duty detergent committing oxygen bleach for the remainder.

Discoloration and Dyes Stain Removal

Use a glycerin solution to soak the area or a dilute solution of household bleach and water on white fabrics only. Alternatively, wash in a heavy-duty detergent containing oxygen bleach.

Egg Stain Removal

Scrape off the excess using a blunt knife, then apply a neat biological washing liquid to the stain. Old stains can he removed by soaking in a solution of 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 9 parts water before washing as usual.

Fats, Grease and Cooking Oils Stain Removal

Dampen the fabric with water and apply a heavy-duty liquid detergent to the stain. Wash immediately in the hottest water the fabric will stand.

Fruit and Fruit Punch Stain Removal

Sprinkle Borax over the stain to absorb the moisture and neutralize the acid. Rinse in cold water, and then wash in a solution of hot water and detergent. Treat stubborn marks with a solution of dilute household bleach and water (1 part bleach to 4 parts water).

Grass Stain Removal

Dab these with methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) (riot to be used on acetate or tri-acetate fabrics), then rinse and wash. Grass stains on school shirts and gym clothes can be removed with methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) before washing.

Heat Ring Stain Removal

Rub along the grain of the wood with a soft cloth dipped in turpentine. Remove heat rings on furniture with a little metal polish rubbed over the affected area before re-polishing.

Inks Stain Removal

Dab unknown inks with nail-varnish remover. Cover blue and black fountain-pen inks with salt and lemon juice, and leave them overnight. Finally, rinse and wash with a biological liquid detergent.

Jam Stain Removal

Scrape off the excess using a blunt knife, and dab with a pre-wash laundry aid. Wash as usual.

Tomato Ketchup Removal

Scrape off the excess, and then hold the garment under cold running water. Dab the area with a little neat biological washing liquid or a detergent soap bar, and then wash as usual. Treat deep stains with a solution of 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 9 parts water.

Lipstick Stain Removal

Dab first with white spirit (paint thinner), then apply a liquid detergent straight on to the mark and work it into the fibers. Wash in water as hot as the fabric will stand.

Milk Stain Removal

Rinse under cold running water, and then wash using a biological detergent.

Mud Stain Removal

Scrape off rile excess using a blunt knife, then apply near biological washing liquid or soap before washing as usual.

Nail Varnish Stain Removal

Dab with nail-varnish remover or acetone before washing as usual. Non-color fast fabrics should be dry cleaned professionally.

Perfume Stain Removal

Rinse in cold water before washing, or, if the perfume stains, dab the area with white spirit (paint thinner) and wash using a biological detergent.

Perspiration Stain Removal

Dab with a solution of 1 part white-wine vinegar to 10 parts water, or treat the affected area with a biological pre-wash detergent, then wash as usual. White cotton and linen can he treated with a dilute household-bleach solution, and silk, wool and synthetics with a hydrogen-peroxide solution.

Shoe Polish Stain Removal

Scrape off polish, and then dab the area either with a grease solvent or methylated spirits (denatured alcohol). Soak in a strong detergent solution, then wash.

Tar and Beach Oil Stain Removal

Scrape off the excess using a blunt knife, and soften the remaining deposit with butter, turpentine or lighter fuel. Wipe away with a clean cloth, and then rub the spot with neat liquid detergent before washing.

Urine Stain Removal

Soak in a gentle solution of cold water and ammonia. Alternatively, soak for a short time with biological washing liquid before washing in the hottest water that the fabric will stand. Urine stains can be soaked in a mild solution of cold water and ammonia or soak in biological washing powder before a hot wash.

Vomit Stain Removal

Scrape off the excess or blot it with old cloths. Scrub with a solution of tepid water and a biological detergent to which a little white-wine vinegar and disinfectant have been added. Rinse and repeat if necessary before washing.

Stain Removal Tips

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s directions before using any stain-removing product.
  • Never mix chemicals — if you do, the resulting fumes could he lethal. Never smoke or have an exposed flame near cleaning fluids, as many are highly flammable. Keep the room well-ventilated while working with them in order to avoid inhaling. Wear household gloves when using solvent and bleach cleaners.