Stain Removal Guide

It's a good idea to try to remove stains while they are fresh. They become increasingly difficult to remove as they grow older.

Before you use any chemical on a colored fabric, test stain removal agent on a seam or hidden area to make certain that the chemical will not remove the color or adversely affect the finish of the fabric. Before attempting to remove a stain, first determine whether the fabric is washable or not. The process to be used varies radically for each type. The procedures described do not apply to garments labeled dry-clean only.  More General Tips

Methods:     Swabbing   |   Sponging   |   Absorbent Powders   |   Floating

AcidsQuickly sponge with water. If colored fabric, add drops of ammonia to restore color, or hold over fumes of ammonia.

Alternative: Sprinkle baking soda on both sides of stain, allow to stand, sponge it off. Before using ammonia, test for color fastness. White vinegar is a good substitute.
Adhesive Tape Remove excess carefully to avoid shredding the fiber. Freeze to harden remainder and gently brush with a sponge or fine-bristled brush.

Alternative: Swab or sponge laundry pre-soak (spot stain remover) or a grease solvent.
AlbumenSponge with cold water.
(and alcohol paints)
Swab or sponge with denatured alcohol.
AlkaliesAct quickly. Sponge with lukewarm water, restore color with vinegar.
AsphaltSee TAR
Blood Dampen the area of the stain with water, sprinkle with table salt, rub in and then wash. If persistent, add 3 drops of ammonia to solution. To bleach out, dampen and leave in sun or swab with hydrogen peroxide and let sit overnight, then wash.

Alternative: Flush with water, then soak briefly in solution of meat tenderizer and cold water.

Remove blood stains from upholstery by covering the spot immediately with a paste of cornstarch and cold water. Rub lightly and place object in the sun to dry. The sun will draw the blood out into the cornstarch. Brush off.
BlueberrySee FRUIT   If persistent, use Rust Stain removing process.
ButterSee GREASE (food)
Candle WaxCrumble off wax. Place blotter over spot, iron on reverse side.
CheeseSwab with cold water.
Chewing GumSwab or sponge with denatured alcohol.

Alternative: Chew another piece of gum until all the sweetness is gone, then use this piece to pick off the gum in the garment. The garment should be chilled beforehand.
ChocolateAllow melted chocolate to dry and harden and scrape away hardened chocolate with blunt knife. Swab with detergent moistened with water. Wash.
Cod Liver OilSwab or sponge very fresh stains in warm water and a laundry detergent.
CoffeePour boiling water through stain, from reverse side.
Collar LinesUse dime store chalk. Draw heaving line, let set overnight, then wash.
CreamSee GREASE (food)
Cream SoupsSponge with warm water. If persistent, swab with moistened laundry detergent.
Drawing InkSwab or sponge with denatured alcohol.

Alternative: Place a paper towel or a rag under the stained area to absorb excess ink. Spray and saturate stain with a non-oily, alcohol based hair spray. Blot with a rag and repeat until the stain disappears.
DyesFresh stains may respond to cold water.
Eggs Scrape away as much as possible. Sponge with lukewarm water. Never use hot water, as heat hardens the stain. If this does not succeed, spread the stain with a paste of cream of tartar and water, adding a crushed aspirin to the paste. Leave for 30 minutes. Rinse well in warm water.
FishSwab with cold water.
Flower StemSee VASELINE
FruitSwab with warm water. If persistent, sponge with cold water, rubbing in a few drops of vinegar. Allow to stand for 3 hours, rinse with water.
GlueDampen, then sponge with vinegar or 10 percent acetic acid, then rinse.
Grass StainSponge with denatured alcohol, white vinegar, or benzene.

Alternative: Grass stains can be removed from clothing by pouring a little Karo syrup on the stain. Rub fabric lightly, toss it into the washing machine, and the grass stain should wash away.
GrasshopperApply oxalic acid solution; wash immediately.
GravySaturate area with pretreatment laundry stain remover product containing enzymes. Wait for a minute and launder. If stain remains, use an aerosol pretreatment product or cleaning fluid. Wash with detergent in the hottest water safe for fabric.
Grease (food)Swab with a little shampoo and then put it through the wash as usual.

Alternative: Soak in a solution of 3 parts detergent and 1 part ammonia. Lighter fluid usually works well, too. Then, wash thoroughly.
Grease (machine) See MACHINE GREASE
Indelible PencilSee MACHINE GREASE
InkFirst try water. Then try absorbent powder method. If stain persists, apply oxalic acid solution; then apply ammonia to neutralize acid. Repeat if necessary.

Ballpoint pen ink. Sometimes virtually impossible to remove. Try rubbing alcohol or fingernail cuticle remover. Apply with wash cloth and rub.

Alternative: Stains from ballpoint pens can sometimes be removed by sponging the area with milk until the stain disappears.
IodineIf still wet, use soap and water; otherwise, use ammonia solution.

Alternative: Apply dry starch, moistened with cold water.

Also: Iodine can be quickly removed with sodium thiosulfate, a product sold in photo supply stores as "acid fixer." However, if the photo supply fixer solution contains other chemicals in addition to sodium thiosulfate, it should not be used.
KeroseneSwab with warm water and soap.
LampblackSee VASELINE
Lead PencilSponge or swab with clear water. If persistent, immerse stain in chloroform or alcohol, brush off with soft cloth.
LipstickSoften by rubbing in Vaseline or lard.

Alternative: Sponge with equal quantities of methylated spirits (wood alcohol) and household ammonia. (Test on coloured fabrics first and do not use at all on acetate rayon). If colour fades, reduce ammonia by half and test again. Rinse in warm water, or wash if possible.

Machine GreaseRub on a little lard to "float" the stain. Sponge with lighter fluid.
MercurochromeUse sodium thiosulfate crystals then rinse and launder.

Alternative: First,pretreat the stain with a heavy-duty liquid detergent, then rinse thoroughly. Soak the stained garment in a dilute solution of all-fabric powdered bleach. If the stain persists, and the garment is white or colorfast, soak in a dilute solution of liquid chlorine bleach and water. Bleaching damage to colored garments is irreversible. If the stain is not removed in 15 minutes, it cannot be removed by bleaching and further bleaching will only weaken the fabric. Caution: Since bleaches can alter the color of a fabric as well as the stain, remembre to bleach the whole garment and not just one spot.
MildewIf new, wash off, or apply oxalic acid and household bleach or liquid detergent and bleach. Wash in hot water with more detergent. Note: Mildew is a growing organism that must have warmth, darkness, and moisture to survive. Mildew eats cellulosic fibers, causing permanent damage and weakening of fibers and fabrics.
MilkSee GREASE (food)
MudDry and brush off. If greasy, use grease stain process, then wash or steam garment.
MustardSponge with diluted denatured alcohol. If stain still persists, use bleaching method.
Nail PolishApply alcohol or lacquer thinner.
NicotineSponge with cold water, swab or sponge with moistened salt.
Oil PaintsSwab or sponge with lighter fluid, kerosene, turpentine, benzene, or chloroform.
Paint Paint-latex: Treat while wet. Put stain down on pad, apply soft soap jelly on reverse side until some of the color is removed. Soak in cold water; wash in cool water with heavy-duty detergent. After paint has dried 6 to 8 hours, removal is very difficult. Wash in hot water, Rinse. Repeat treatment.

Paint-oil-based: Treat while wet. Use sponge method with turpentine, other thinner recommended for paint or alcohol on spots until paint is softened and can be flushed away in heavy-duty detergent wash.

PerspirationRestore color by holding over open ammonia bottle. To remove odor, sponge with warm water and 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Then apply pepsin, allow to stand for hour, then brush off.
Pine PitchSwab with acetone-based fingernail polish remover on a cotton ball, then rinse.
Note: Do not use nail polish remover (or acetone) on acetate fabrics, triacetate fabrics, or modacrylic fabrics as they will dissolve. Take these synthetic fabrics to professional dry cleaners and identify the stain.

NOTE: Nail polish also works really well for removing pine and other tree sap from car exteriors, paint, window glass and chrome. It quickly dissolves even very hardened sap without damage to the surface. Rinse the car's exterior well after removing the pine pitch or other tree sap.
Polish (brass/stove) See MACHINE GREASE
ProteinsSee EGG
RainFirst rub with rough cloth. Wash, if possible, or steam. Leather coats respond to none of these. On raincoats, apply soap and cold water, with a few drops of ammonia added.
Rings Resulting from Stain RemovalRub with wet cloth to remove water ring; otherwise, dry clean.
RustApply oxalic acid solution or lemon juice and salt. Place in the sun, if possible, and keep the fabric moist with lemon juice until the stain disappears. Commercial rust removers generally work well, but many contain hydrofluoric acid and are extremely toxic, can burn the skin, and can damage the finish on furniture and appliances.

Alternative: Soak fabric in white vinegar mixed with hot water, then wash.

Note: Do not use chlorine bleach on a rust stain. It can make the rust stain permanent.
ScorchSome colored materials which have changed color, may regain their shade when cooled. Woolens and silks may respond to water. A cloth dipped in 3% peroxide and used as a press cloth can remove scorches. Household bleach can also be used on white fabrics.
ShellacSee VARNISH
Shoe Polish Treat washable fabrics with a paste of powdered detergent and water. Rub lightly between the hands, leave for half an hour, then wash or rinse in warm water.
On unwashable fabrics or for very stubborn marks, sponge with equal quantities of methylated spirits (wood alcohol) and household ammonia. (Test on coloured fabrics first). Then sponge with warm water.

Alternative: Apply denatured alcohol. If necessary, use lard as a "floater".
Silver NitrateUse ammonia solution.
StarchSpot with cold water.
Salad Dressing See GRAVY
Smoke See SOOT
SootSponge with gasoline, or apply absorbent powders.
Sugar See BLOOD
TarApply Vaseline or lard to soften. Sponge with liquid spot remover.

Alternative: Sponge the spot with kerosene until it is removed, then wash with detergent and warm water.
Tobacco See NICOTINE
VarnishApply turpentine or paint remover.
(petroleum jelly)
"Float" stain with kerosene, then wash with soap and water.
WineApply salt as soon as stain is made; otherwise bleach with oxalic acid solution and ammonia.

Alternative: Apply boiling water, then soak up with an old towel.

Alternative: Cold milk quickly poured on red wine stains can absorb the molecules. Use high fat content milk, whole milk or half and half. Let the milk soak in, penetrate and absorb the wine.

Alternative: Red wine spills can frequently be remedied by dabbing with club soda.


General Stain Removal Tips

  • Avoid rubbing the stained area with a linty terry towel or a dark-colored cloth. These may complicate the problem.
  • Avoid excessive rubbing unless fabric is tough and durable. Rubbing can spread the stain and damage the fiber, finish, or color.
  • Lemon juice can bleach some colors.
  • Inspect wet laundry for stains before drying. The heat of drying can make any stain more permanent.
Some chemicals are inflammable, have caused very serious accidents and should be handled with care. Many chemicals are poisonous. Highly inflammable chemicals should be used out of doors where possible, or in a room with windows opened. Chemicals should be applied sparingly with a light pressure or feathery stroke. Cloths used should be lint free. In general, use the chemical with the least strength that will do the job. Use the absorbent method on all material too heavy to soak.

Stain Removal Chart

Cooking Basics

Liquid Measure Conversion Chart

Food Substitutions


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