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Removing Stains from Fabrics

Learn how to get stains out of machine-washable fabrics and nonwashable fabrics with our simple tips.

Protect your investment in both washable and nonwashable clothing and linens by promptly treating stains. Here are some general tips:

  • Check the care label for helpful information on fiber content and recommended care -- including the water temperature recommended for the fabric.
  • If a fabric is marked "dry-clean only," blot off the excess stain and take the item to a professional dry cleaner as soon as possible. Point out the stain and explain what it is.
  • If the fabric is washable, treat the stain as quickly as possible before it has a chance to set. Use the recommended cleaning method for that particular type of stain to treat the fabric.
  • Usually, stain treatment methods will recommend cold or lukewarm water for the original treatment. Hot water often sets stains.
  • Take the time to test an inconspicuous part of the garment (for example, a seam allowance) with the recommended cleaning method before proceeding. This test will let you know whether the cleaning method will damage the fabric.
  • Blot the stain rather than rub it. Blotting draws the stain out of the fabric. Rubbing pushes the stain into the fabric and can damage fibers.
  • Products containing enzymes are often recommended for protein-base stains, such as blood. Check product labels for this ingredient. Most enzyme products will promote their ability to remove these stains.
  • Always check a wet garment to see if the stain is gone before putting it in the dryer. The heat of the dryer can set the stain and make it permanent.
  • Washable fabrics usually include acrylic, burlap, cotton, denim, linen, nylon, polyester, and spandex.
  • Nonwashable fabrics usually include acetate, fiberglass, rayon, silk, triacetate, and wool.
  • If a stained garment is a favorite piece or was an expensive purchase, you may want to take it to a dry cleaner for professional treatment even if it is washable.
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Blood

When to treat a bloodstain: Sponge a wet bloodstain with cold water right away, if possible.

How to treat machine-washables: For fresh stains, soak in cold water then launder. For dried stains, pretreat or soak in warm water with a product containing enzymes then launder.

How to treat nonwashables: Flush the stain with cold water. Apply diluted white vinegar to the stain with an eyedropper. Rinse the spot with cool water.

Chocolate

When to treat a chocolate stain: As soon as possible.

How to treat machine-washables: Pretreat in warm water with a product containing enzymes. Or treat with a prewash stain remover then launder. If stain remains, rewash the item with bleach safe for the fabric.

How to treat nonwashables: Apply diluted white vinegar to the stain with an eyedropper. Flush the spot with cool water.

Coffee or Tea

When to treat a coffee or tea stain: Sponge with cold water right away, if possible.

How to treat machine-washables: Soak the stain in cool water. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover, a liquid laundry detergent, or a paste of detergent and water. Launder with chlorine bleach, if safe for the fabric, or color-safe bleach.

How to treat nonwashables: Apply diluted white vinegar to the stain with an eyedropper. Flush the spot with cool water.

Cosmetics (powdered eye shadow and blush)

When to treat a cosmetics stain: As soon as possible.

How to treat machine-washables: Lightly brush off as much powder from the garment as possible. Pretreat with stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. Launder using hottest water safe for the fabric.

How to treat nonwashables: Lightly brush off as much powder from the garment as possible. Take to a professional dry cleaner.

Grass

When to treat a grass stain: As soon as possible.

How to treat machine-washables: Pretreat with stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. Launder using hottest water safe for the fabric.

How to treat nonwashables: Apply diluted white vinegar to the stain with an eyedropper. Flush the spot with cool water.

Ink

When to treat an ink stain: As soon as possible.

How to treat machine-washables: Pretreat with stain remover and launder as usual. If stain remains, place the item on clean paper towels. Sponge the area around the stain with denatured alcohol before applying the solvent to the stain. Frequently replace the paper towels as they get soaked. Rinse well and launder.

As an alternative method, working from the back, place the stained fabric over the mouth of a jar or glass. Hold the fabric taut so the ink spot doesn't spread. Drip alcohol through the stained fabric. As the solvent leaves the fabric, the ink will drop into the container. Rinse well and launder.

How to treat nonwashables: Make a solution of 1 part glycerin, 1 part white dishwashing detergent, 8 parts water, and a few drops of white vinegar. Apply to the stain. Let stand 30 minutes, adding solution to keep it moist. Rinse.

Lipstick and Other Oil-Based Makeup

When to treat a stain: As soon as you're able to apply special treatment.

How to treat machine-washables: Do not use water. Blot mineral oil into the stain, and let the treated item sit for 15 minutes. Blot excess, then sponge with 1 part ammonia and 2 parts water. Rinse thoroughly.

How to treat nonwashables: Treat nonwashable items except wool or silk the same way as washables. Wool and silk cannot be treated with ammonia and must be dry-cleaned.

Nail Polish

When to treat a nail polish stain: As soon as possible.

How to treat machine-washables: Immediately scrape off any excess nail polish with a dull knife or spatula. Take care not to smear the polish as you scrape. Take to a professional dry cleaner. Or, place the stain facedown on several layers of clean paper towels. Apply polish remover to the back of the stain. Replace towels as they accept polish. Repeat if stain begins to lift. Rinse and launder.

How to treat nonwashables: Immediately scrape off any excess nail polish with a dull knife or spatula. Take care not to smear the polish as you scrape. Take to a professional dry cleaner.

Oil-Base Paint

When to treat an oil-base paint stain: As soon as possible.

How to treat machine-washables: If the label on the paint recommends a thinner, use that solvent for stain removal, or try turpentine. Rinse and launder.

How to treat nonwashables: Blot excess stain and take the fabric to a dry cleaner.

Water-Base Paint

When to treat a water-base paint stain: Rinse in warm water right away.

How to treat machine-washables: Rinse in warm water while stain is wet. Launder.

How to treat nonwashables: Sponge wet stain with warm water, and blot with diluted dishwashing-soap solution; rinse.

Perspiration

When to treat a perspiration stain: As soon as possible.

How to treat machine-washables: Apply ammonia to fresh stains or white vinegar to old stains; rinse. Launder using

hottest water safe for the fabric, or wash with an enzyme product or color-safe bleach. (Never mix ammonia and bleach.)

How to treat nonwashables: Apply diluted white vinegar to the stain with an eyedropper. Flush the spot with cool water.

Red Wine

When to treat a red-wine stain: Blot with a clean, dry cloth right away.

How to treat machine-washables: Cover the stain with salt and stretch over a bowl. Pour boiling water onto the stain. Launder. If stain remains, apply diluted white vinegar to the stain with an eyedropper. Flush with cool water; launder.

How to treat nonwashables: Apply diluted white vinegar to the stain with an eyedropper. Flush the spot with cool water.

Sauces

When to treat a sauce stain: Sponge with cold water right away, if possible.

How to treat machine-washables: Apply diluted white vinegar to the stain with an eyedropper. Flush the spot thoroughly with cool water. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover and launder.

How to treat nonwashables: Apply diluted white vinegar to the stain with an eyedropper. Flush the spot with cool water.

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