Stain Removal Tips and Common Problems

Find out the best ways to remove stains, treat tablecloth stains, and get tips on treatments for other common laundry problems.


To protect your investment in washable clothing and linens, it's always wise to promptly and correctly treat stains and other common laundry problems.

This article addresses general home laundry, how to best remove stains, the treatment for other common laundry problems, and treating specific tablecloth stains.

If a fabric is marked dry clean only, blot off excess stain and take the garment to the cleaners as soon as possible. Always point out stains and spots so they can be marked for special professional cleaning.

If a fabric is washable and you need to tackle a stain, browse our helpful tips on the following page.

  • Tip #1: This is probably the single most important tip to follow, because it goes against the common first instinct. Blot rather than rub to treat a stain. Blotting draws the stain away from the fabric; rubbing pushes the stain into the fabric and damages the fiber finish and the color of the fabric. Use a gentle rubbing motion under running water to help remove dried food, protein, or oil stains from denim-weight fabrics of cotton or cotton/polyester blends.
  • Tip #2: Do not use terry-cloth towels or dark-color cloths when blotting stains; lint and dark colors may worsen the problem.
  • Tip #3: Before doing laundry, check for stains. Pretreat them before washing.
  • Tip #4: Check wet laundry before putting it into the dryer to see if the stain is gone. If the stain persists, do not put the item in the dryer. The heat of the dryer can make a stain permanent.
  • Tip #5: Wash heavily stained items separately to avoid transferring stains.
  • Tip #6: Do not use hot water on stains of unknown origin. Hot water can set protein stains in the fabric.
  • Tip #7: Never wash pesticide-soiled clothes with other laundry.

Keep the following products on hand in the laundry area. Brand name examples are given when available. Note that all products should be kept out of the reach of children on upper shelves or in locked upper cabinets. Never leave any of these product packages on the washing machine; drips could damage machine surfaces.

  • Nonsudsing household ammonia
  • Chlorine bleach and color-safe bleach
  • Color remover such as Rit brand
  • Commercial stain removers such as Whizz
  • Mild hand dishwashing detergent for hand washing
  • Dry cleaning fluid or petroleum-based pretreatment solvent such as K2r Spot Lifter
  • Paint remover
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Rust removers such as Yellow Out, Whink, and RoVer
  • Prewash spot remover
  • White vinegar

Selecting a Washer

Here is a list of common laundry problems, their typical causes, and a recommended solution to handle each one.

  • Grayness overall: Causes are insufficient amount of detergent, low water temperature, or incorrect sorting. To solve, increase the amount of detergent, use a detergent booster or bleach, or increase wash temperature. Sort heavily soiled from lightly soiled items and carefully sort by color.
  • Grayness uneven: Usually caused by insufficient amount of detergent, too low water temperature, or improper sorting. Sort garments by color and rewash with an increased amount of detergent and hottest water safe for fabric. In future, use sufficient detergent and wash in hottest water safe for fabric.
  • Yellowing: May be caused by buildup of body soil. Increase the amount of detergent; use a product with detergent booster or bleach safe for fabric; or try both methods at once. In the future, use a sufficient amount of detergent.
  • Blue stains: Detergent or fabric softener may not be dissolving or dispersing. If detergent causes the problem, soak the garment in a plastic container using a solution of 1 cup white vinegar to 1 quart water; soak for one hour; rinse and launder. If you have been using fabric softener, rub stains with bar soap. Rinse and launder.
  • To prevent stains from detergent or fabric softener, add the detergent and turn on the washer before adding laundry. If using fabric softener, dilute it in water before adding to wash or rinse cycle or to dispenser.
  • Powder residue: Usually caused by undissolved powdered detergent. Always add detergent before filling tub and adding laundry, or try switching to a liquid detergent.
  • Stiffness or fading: May be caused by hard water. Use liquid laundry detergent or add a water softener to granular detergent.
  • Lint is often caused by mixing items that give off lint, such as bath towels with napped corduroy slacks. Avoid this by washing such items separately or with like fabrics.
  • More lint: Tissues left in pickets also cause excess lint, so be sure to check pockets before washing and check washer filter frequently.
  • Still more lint: A clogged washer lint filter or full dryer lint screen may be the culprit. Make it a habit to clean these before or after every load in the washer and dryer.
  • Pilling: This is a wear problem and a characteristic of some synthetic and permanent-press fabrics. If necessary, use a lint brush or roller with masking tape to remove pills. Adding a fabric softener in the washer or dryer may also help. When ironing, use spray starch or fabric finish on collars and cuffs. Use a medium setting to avoid scorching delicate synthetic fabrics.
  • Shrinking: Avoid the problem by following care instructions on labels. Shrinkage is irreversible. Reduce drying time and remove garments when they are slightly damp, which is especially important for cotton knots.

Stain Solver

  • Red wine: Sponge or soak stain using cool water. Pretreat with stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. Launder with fabric-safe bleach.
  • Gravy: Pretreat or soak with product containing enzymes. Soak for 30 minutes if stain is dry. Launder as usual; don't dry until stain is out.
  • Butter: Pretreat with a prewash stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. Wash using hottest water safe for the fabric. Retreat if necessary.
  • Candle wax: Use a dull knife. For remaining wax, place between paper towels and press with warm iron. Replace towels as wax is absorbed.
  • Olive oil: Pretreat with a prewash stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. Wash using hottest water safe for the fabric. Don't dry until stain is out.
  • Tomato sauce: Apply a prewash stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. Wash with liquid laundry detergent, using safe bleach and water temperature.
  • Lipstick: Sponge or soak stain using cool water. Pretreat with stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. Launder with bleach safe for fabric.
  • Coffee or tea: Check cloth after use. Pretreat with stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. Or rub with bar soap. Launder as usual. Rewash if needed.

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