It's no surprise that sooner is better for taking on any stain. Because that simply isn't always possible, a number of good products can be kept on hand to deal with the aftermath. Consider these few key stain-removing tools and products. Always read the product label for dos and don'ts, and try the cleaning product in a discreet area first -- such as an inside seam -- if you're not sure it's safe for the fabric.
Invest in a few inexpensive tools to use with stain-removal products. Having them on hand will make dealing with any stain less stressful. These tools help make stain-removal techniques easy to manage because the right tool always leads to better results. You're more likely to be able to remove tough stains if you're using a tool designed for the task. Consider keeping these tools in your laundry arsenal.
- Soft-bristled brush: to work removers into stains.
- White cotton cloths: to blot stains with a cloth that won't add to the problem.
- Cotton swabs: to dab on cleaners or stain removers in a controlled way.
- Eyedropper: to apply a small, controlled amount of a cleaner.
- Dull-edge knife: to scrape off as much of the dried-on stain as possible before you follow with other treatments.
- Spray bottle: to spritz cleaner on the stain.
The right product for the specific source of the stain will improve your efforts to eliminate the problem from fabrics. Keep these products in your laundry room to battle a wide assortment of laundry problems. Remember, make sure the product is safe for the fabric before you use it.
- Acetone can be applied to nail polish stains but should be used with caution in a well-ventilated area. Do not use acetone on acetate or triacetate, and use with care on silk, wool, and rayon.
- Ammonia is helpful with common stains, such as blood, juice, and perspiration. Avoid using it on silk or wool.
- Cornstarch helps absorb greasy stains and oil stains.
- Gentle dishwashing liquid can be used as general stain remover on most fabrics.
- Enzyme detergent -- a laundry detergent containing enzymes -- breaks down protein stains and is great for pretreating stains such as lipstick, gum, chocolate, and grass.
- Hydrogen peroxide (2 percent or 3 percent) helps removes stains such as chocolate and feces.
- Petroleum jelly helps soften grease and oil stains. You can also surround a stain with petroleum jelly while treating it to help stop it from expanding.
- Rubbing and/or isopropyl alcohol removes ballpoint ink, felt-tip ink, and mascara.
- White vinegar works well for treating stains such as juice, jam, ketchup, mustard, and perspiration.
Editor's Note: Never combine ammonia with chlorine bleach. The resulting fumes are extremely hazardous.
There are several categories of detergents. The fabric to be cleaned, the type of stains, and the washing-machine design determine the appropriate choice.
- All-purpose liquids and powders, as the title implies, are good for all washable fabrics. Liquids also work well for pretreating stains, and powders are great for clothing with clay and dirt stains. Although powder detergent might be cheaper than liquid, it might not be the best choice for washing in cold or hard water because it is more difficult to dissolve powders completely.
- Concentrated liquids and powders allow you to use less detergent and less water with the same desired cleaning power.
- Mild or gentle liquids and powders -- generally used in cold water -- are best used for fabrics such as delicates and baby clothes. Check the label to see if the item should be washed by hand or is safe for machine-washing. For baby clothing or when washing clothing for others with sensitive skin, consider detergents that are free of fragrances and dyes.
- High-efficiency liquids and powders are used with front-loading washing machines. These types of washers use less water, which means they need less detergent.
Editor's Note: Reduce the amount of residue left in your clothes after washing: Never using more than the recommended amount of detergent.
Whiteners & Brighteners
This category of laundry products helps whiten, brighten, and soften laundry.
- Baking soda deodorizes and softens clothes when used with a regular liquid laundry detergent at the start of a wash cycle. When using a powder detergent, add baking soda during the rinse cycle.
- Chlorine bleach can be used for whites and bleachable colors only (do not use if label says "nonchlorine bleach only"). Nonchlorine bleaches, such as oxygen bleach or hydrogen peroxide, are also good at whitening but are gentler, less toxic, and safe for most fabrics and dyes.
- White distilled vinegar acts as a great fabric softener and deodorizing agent when poured into the washing machine during the rinse cycle. Do not use on silk, acetate, or rayon clothing.
- Lemon juice can be added to the washing water along with detergent for a natural whitener and freshener. Use it only on whites, however, as it can bleach colored fabrics.
Editor's Note: Chlorine bleach can produce dangerous fumes when combined with vinegar, ammonia products, and other household chemicals. Never combine bleach with these products. The fumes can be hazardous to respiratory systems.
Though not necessary for every load, fabric softeners can soften your clothes and reduce static cling and wrinkles.
- Liquid fabric softeners are added to the washing machine during the rinse cycle. Take care not to overuse these products, as they can leave oily stains or create a dull, dingy appearance. Do not pour liquid fabric softener directly onto clothes.
- Dryer sheets are added to the load after in the dryer. Note that these sheets can leave behind a residue on dryer lint screens so wash the screens regularly. Consult your dryer manual for advice on whether dryer sheets are suitable for your particular appliance.
Liquid or powder detergents that contain softeners clean and soften a load of laundry in a single process. They take the place of regular detergent. These detergents might not be as effective as other softener options, as they wash out during the rinse cycle.