10 Best Stain Removers for Clothes, Linens, and Upholstery Fabric

Remove spills and blemishes from clothes and upholstery by stocking these helpful stain-removing products.

Stains are inevitable, but that doesn't mean you have to toss out your favorite shirt or fabric when accidents happen. With the right stain removers for clothes, towels, linens, and upholstered furniture, you can easily lift out stubborn spots, including those caused by grease, paint, and even rust. Keep these items in your laundry area to combat stains and marks on clothing and linens as they happen.

Follow the label instructions for use on fabric, and keep all these products on upper shelves, or in locked upper cabinets, out of the reach of children. It's also important never to leave any of these products atop your washing machine or dryer, as drips can damage the machine surfaces. Before using any stain-removal product, experiment with it on an inconspicuous area of the fabric.

Here are some of the best stain-removal products you should always have in your laundry arsenal.

infographic of powerful stain removal products to hand on hand

BHG / Mira Norian

1. Chlorine Bleach and Color-Safe Bleach

Diluted household bleach is one of the most effective stain removers for clothes and linens. Always check clothing labels for directions on the use of bleach. When diluted properly, bleach is safe for cotton, linen, rayon, and synthetics such as nylon and polyester. Be sure to use color-safe bleach ($8, Target) on anything that isn't white.

2. Color Remover

Color-removal products ($5, Amazon) are designed for when a color has run onto a lighter one or stained other items in the laundry. Although bleaches are included in this family of products, color removers, such as these from Rit ($5, Amazon), are designed to lift out dye stains without damaging the fabric. They're sometimes used to lighten the color of a garment before it's redyed. These products typically contain sodium hydrosulfite or sodium carbonate anhydrous. Always work with transfer stains or discoloration before drying or ironing the garment. Heat typically sets the color.

3. Dry-Cleaning Fluid or Petroleum-Base Pretreatment Solvent

Petroleum-based solvents, such as K2r Spotlifter ($13, Amazon), are specifically designed for stains caused by grease, gasoline, or other petroleum products. These solvents come in sticks, gels, squeeze bottles, pump sprays, and aerosol sprays. Some pretreatment spot lifters have a detergent or surfactant base, rather than a solvent base. Dry-cleaning fluids ($10, Amazon) are often used for pretreating stains from ballpoint ink, candle wax, crayons, eye makeup (such as mascara, pencil, liner, or shadow), lipstick, and tar.


Common dry-cleaning fluids contain perchloroethylene or trichloroethylene and can be extremely flammable. They should be used only as directed.

4. Mild Dishwashing Detergent

To hand-wash stained fabrics, turn to dishwashing liquid (not dishwasher liquid). Some dishwashing liquids can help break up grease and separate it from the material. They're also effective for loosening food stains (including fruit). Dishwashing liquid is sometimes combined with glycerin—use 1/4 cup of each, mixed with 1-1/2 cups of water, as a general stain-removing mixture.

5. Nonsudsing Household Ammonia

Non-sudsing ammonia, such as the kind used for cleaning glass doors and windows, works great for stains with odors, such as urine or sweat, as well as fatty or greasy stains. For most fabrics, dilute the ammonia with an equal amount of water. Non-sudsing ammonia can be used on wool and silk. Although ammonia can be used on latex paint stains, it should never be used on garments containing latex since the ammonia can dissolve it.


If you're using liquid ammonia with another cleaner, always make sure the other product does not contain any bleach. Ammonia and bleach combine to form an extremely toxic gas that can be deadly.

6. Paint Remover

Select the type of paint remover you need based on the type of paint that caused the stain.

For latex paints: Treat the area while the stain is wet. Soaking in cold water can help remove water-based latex paint. Latex-specific spot removers ($10, The Home Depot) are available for stubborn stains.

For oil-based paints: Treat the stain while it is wet. Use a paint thinner ($16, The Home Depot) recommended for the type of paint. Petroleum-based solvents can be used as a pretreatment before laundering.

7. Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is the best stain remover for clothes when water-based glues or adhesives are stuck to them. Rubbing petroleum jelly ($2, Target) into the glue spot will help loosen its hold on the fabric. Rinse the fabric and reapply the jelly until all traces of the adhesive are gone, then wash in hot water. For ink stains, petroleum jelly can form a barrier around the stain while it's being treated to avoid spreading the ink to adjoining threads. Blotting petroleum jelly onto lipstick stains is also effective.

8. Prewash Spot Removers

Prewash spot removers are applied to garment stains before laundering. These removers work in a variety of ways. Cleaning agents or surfactants loosen stains and improve their ability to be carried away by water. Enzymes work on protein stains, such as blood, to make them easier for laundry detergent to clean. Other pretreatments turn stains more alkaline to be more easily cleaned, while pretreatment bleach improves whiteness.

Prewash products are available as aerosols, sprays, sticks, liquids, gels, foams, powders, or wipes. Some are meant only for laundry room use, while others can be carried when you're away from home to be used as convenient, immediate stain treatments—for example, the Tide To Go Stain Remover Pen ($3, Target).

9. Rust Removers

Rust is one of the most challenging stains to remove. As with many other stains, it's important not to let the stain set. Don't subject the fabric to a dryer or other heat. Most rust removers should only be used on white or colorfast fabrics.


Most rust-removing products, such as Whink stain remover ($15, Amazon), contain oxalic or hydrofluoric acids, which are poisons. Because they suspend the iron-oxide particles in the water, it's essential to rinse the fabric well since these particles can be toxic.

10. White Vinegar

Ordinary white vinegar offers several solutions for stains in the laundry room. Here are some handy recipes to keep on hand for fighting specific stain problems.

Collar rings: Make a solution of 1/4 cup salt, 1 cup vinegar, and 3 quarts warm water. Soak the stained garment for an hour.

Cough syrup: Use a solution of 1-quart warm water, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dishwashing detergent, and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Soak the stain for 15-30 minutes, then rinse and launder as usual.

Salt stains: Mix 1 part vinegar with 3 parts water and dip cloth into the solution to wipe salt stains off shoes and leather garments.

Urine stains on mattresses: Sponge the area with a mixture of water and detergent. Rinse with a mixture of vinegar and water; let dry. If an odor remains, sprinkle the area with baking soda and let stand for 24 hours. After the mattress is dry, vacuum away the baking soda.

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