Keep stains out of your clothes by stocking these helpful stain-removing products in your laundry area.


Stains are inevitable. But that doesn't mean you have to toss out your favorite shirt, tablecloth, or other fabric essential.  Keep these products on hand in the laundry area to combat tough stains. Follow the label instructions for use on fabric. Keep all products on upper shelves or in locked upper cabinets, out of the reach of children.

Never leave any of these products on the washing machine or dryer; drips could damage machine surfaces. Before using any stain-removal product, experiment with the cleaner on an inconspicuous part of the fabric item to test for staining or damage.


Nonsudsing Household Ammonia

Nonsudsing ammonia works great for stains that have odors, such as urine or perspiration, as well as fatty or greasy stains. For most fabrics, dilute the ammonia with an equal amount of water. Nonsudsing 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 because the ammonia can dissolve the latex.

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

Chlorine Bleach and Color-Safe Bleach

Diluted household bleaches are among the most effective stain removers in your laundry arsenal. Always check clothing labels for directions on use of bleach. Diluted properly, bleaches are safe for fabrics including cotton, linen, rayon, and synthetics such as nylon and polyester.

Color Remover

Color-removal products are designed for situations when a color runs onto a nearby lighter color on the same garment or transfers to other items in the laundry. Although bleaches are included in this family of products, another group includes color removers such as Rit brand that can take away color from the marred area or lighten the color of a garment for recoloring. 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.

Mild Dishwashing Detergent

For hand-washing stained fabrics, dishwashing liquid (not dishwasher liquid) is valuable in several ways for dealing with stained laundry. Some dishwashing liquids can help break up grease and separate it from the fabric. Dishwashing liquid is also effective for loosening food stains (such as fruit). Dishwashing liquid is sometimes combined with glycerin (1/4 cup each) and 1-1/2 cups water as a general stain-removing mixture.

Dry-Cleaning Fluid or Petroleum-Base Pretreatment Solvent

Petroleum-base solvents, such as K2r Spot Lifter, 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 are often used for pretreating stains from ballpoint ink, candle wax, crayons, eye makeup (mascara, pencil, liner, shadow), lipstick, and tar. Common dry-cleaning fluids contain perchloroethylene or trichloroethylene and can be extremely flammable; they should be used only as directed.

Paint Remover

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

For latex paints: Treat area while the stain is wet. Soaking in cold water can help remove water-base latex paint. Latex-specific spot removers are available for stubborn stains.

For oil-base paints: Treat the stain while it is wet. Use a paint thinner recommended for the type of paint. Petroleum-base solvents can be used as a pretreatment before laundering.

Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly can help when water-base glues or adhesives are stuck to clothing. Rubbing petroleum jelly 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 be used to form a barrier around the ink stain while it is being treated to avoid spreading the ink to adjoining threads. Blotting petroleum jelly onto lipstick stains is also effective.

Rust Removers

Rust is one of the most difficult stains to remove. As with many other stains, it is important not to set the stain. Do not subject the fabric to a dryer or other heat. Most rust-removing products, such as Whink, contain oxalic or hydrofluoric acids, which are poisons. Because the products suspend the iron-oxide particles in the water, it is especially important to rinse the fabric well because those particles can be toxic. Most rust removers should only be used on white or colorfast fabrics.

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 it easier for the laundry detergent to clean. Other pretreatments make the stain more alkaline so it can be more easily cleaned, while pretreatment bleach improves whiteness.

Prewash products are applied as an aerosol, spray, stick, liquid, gel, foam, powder, or wipe. Some are meant for laundry room use, while others can be carried as convenient, immediate stain treatments when away from home.

White Vinegar

Common white vinegar offers a number of solutions for stains in the laundry room. Here are some handy recipes to keep on hand to fight 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 one part vinegar with three parts water, and wipe salt stains off shoes and leather garments with a cloth dipped in the solution.

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 odor remains, sprinkle with baking soda and let stand for 24 hours. After the mattress is dry, vacuum to remove the baking soda.

Tricks for Removing Stains

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