How To Remove Stains Of Just About Anything, From Just About Anything

Bad news: There's no way to prevent stains. Good news: We can tell you how to remove them.

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We’ve all been there: You’re out with friends, enjoying a night of great food and drinks, when the unspeakable happens. Someone bumps your arm during dessert, launching a glob of chocolate mousse directly onto your brand new, bright white skirt.

That’s it for the skirt, you think. It’s over. But it doesn’t have to be that way! What if you could save any garment from the devastation of a heavy stain?

There’s nothing worse than losing a wardrobe fave to a stain, so we’re here to save the day when the next spill strikes. These are the best ways to handle stubborn stains of all types.  

How to Remove Stains by Fabric Type

The type of fabric really does matter when it comes to stain removal. Certain products can make cleaning up grass stains or spilled coffee a breeze—but with the wrong garment, these products can also ruin your outfit for good. Those little tags with wash instructions are actually super important, so no matter how much they scratch the back of your neck, it’s best to leave them in place.  

How to Remove Stains From Cotton

Stain removal and general care for cotton clothes is comparatively easy—this isn’t silk or cashmere, thank goodness. You can wash your cotton items at home in your washing machine, making it pretty simple. Just remember that cotton clothes can and will shrink; it’s always best to use cold water during a wash cycle. If you’re particularly worried about your clothes shrinking, it’s best to put in the elbow grease and hand-wash cotton items.

For most cotton stains, pre-treat/soak with water as quickly as you can. You should blot most stains from the fabric, taking care to avoid rubbing, and then wash the stained item with a normal cycle. If you can still see the stain after the first round of cleaning, do not put the item in the dryer! Instead, treat the stain with your favorite pre-treat product, soak, and wash again.  

How to Remove Stains From Wool

Wool is quite a bit trickier to clean than cotton, as you might have guessed. Most laundry detergents remove stains with enzymes, which work by breaking down the proteins in stains—things like food, sweat, or blood. Unfortunately wool fibers—being an animal product—are made of proteins, too, so biological detergents break down the actual clothing along with the stain.

So this is the cardinal rule of getting stains out of wool: Wool items must be washed with non-biological detergents.

Follow those washing instructions on the garment. Use the right temperatures, the right detergent, and the right drying tactic on your wool clothes unless you want to kiss them goodbye. Before you do any stain removal treatment, check out the manufacturer’s washing instructions.

That said, with most wool stains, you want to start by blotting the discolored area. Then apply a wool-specified cleaner or diluted white vinegar to treat the stain. Finally, you’re back to blotting. Gently dry the stain with a towel (remember, no rubbing!) and then let the clothing air-dry.

How to Remove Stains From Synthetic Fabrics

Cotton and wool are both natural fabrics, but you can’t forget about synthetic options. That includes things like polyester, rayon, lycra, and acrylic. A lot of synthetics are formulated to resist stains, which is great for the clumsy amongst us, but since synthetics are most often made from plastics, they have different care requirements than their natural counterparts.

The first thing to be aware of when treating or cleaning this type of clothing is water temperature. Hot water can actually melt some synthetic fabrics, which kind of defeats the purpose of blasting away the stains. Again, washing instructions are the best source for learning to take care of these clothing items. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, always look for a tag before attempting any stain removal.

Luckily, synthetics can be pretty forgiving when it comes to stain removal. You can usually pre-treat synthetic clothes with a detergent as long as they’re not marked dry-clean only. Then just run them through a normal wash. Remember, no hot water for synthetics!

Stain Treatments by Type of Stain

All stains are pains. But there are huge strategic differences between attacking a ketchup blot and getting rid of grass stains. Here are some of the most common (and most frustrating) types of stains that threaten our favorite ’fits:  

How to Remove Makeup Stains

Whether you drop your mascara wand down your shirt or you hug a foundation-heavy friend, getting makeup out of clothing can be tough.

  • How to Remove Liquid Foundation Stains: Treat a liquid foundation spill as quickly as possible. First, scrape any excess foundation off with a plastic knife (or something similarly both flat and plastic). Blot the spot with a damp towel to get as much of the product out as you can. Then you can either use hydrogen peroxide or—believe it or not—shaving cream to help draw out the rest of stain. Rub your agent of choice onto the stain, then rinse with cold water. Repeat this process until the stain is gone.
  • How to Remove Lipstick Stains: Lipsticks can be tricky to remove because of the oil content in them. One decent option is to use plain old dish soap on the spot—Dawn to the rescue! Dish soap is formulated to dissolve oils, so lipstick stains tend to respond well to this simple treatment.

    First, you want to remove any extra lipstick from the fabric with a dry towel. Then dampen the area, being sure not to totally soak the stain, and dab a small amount of dish soap onto the spot. Gently rub the soap in with your fingers, then rinse with cold water. Another option is to use a cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol and simply dab the area until the stain is gone.
  • How to Remove Mascara Stains: Make sure there isn’t any extra makeup on the fabric before treating the area. Then lightly rub the stained area with dish soap, and rinse with hot water. If the stain is still there, you can try soaking the clothing in a mixture of one teaspoon of white vinegar with one cup of warm water for five to 10 minutes.

How to Remove Food Stains

Food stains are always a bummer—but you don’t have to walk around with a greasy spot on your shirt forever. Here are some simple-enough DIY stain-removal tips for all things food related.

  • How to Remove Red Wine Stains: Spilled wine is devastating for so many reasons: Not only might you ruin a perfectly good dress, you’re also left with less wine in your glass. We can’t help with the latter, but if you find yourself in a red wine disaster, look no further than the nearest salt shaker. Pour salt onto the stain, making sure to completely cover the affected area. The salt will absorb the wine and then you can simply brush the grains away and launder the clothing normally.  
  • How to Remove Coffee Stains: The key to removing coffee stains is to act fast! Pour boiling water over the stained area to draw out as much of the stain as possible. If the spot has already set, you can make a paste of Borax, put it on the stain for a few minutes, then wash normally.
  • How to Remove Grease Stains: Oily, greasy stains might seem like a total lost cause—but they aren’t! Not necessarily, anyway. If you act fast, there are ways to save your clothes from a grease stain. These spots won’t respond to water, so you have to use either dish soap or other caking products. Cover the stained area with cornstarch, talcum powder, or baking soda to absorb the grease. Let the powders sit for five to 10 minutes, soak in undiluted white vinegar for 15 minutes, then rub the stain with dish soap before rinsing and laundering as normal.

How to Remove Stubborn Stains (Even Ones You Thought Were Impossible to Treat!)

Sometimes, as you know, life can be gross and messy. Here are some random stain situations that we typically meet with hopelessness. But when you have the right strategy, no stain is safe!

  • Wax in the Carpet: A spilled candle doesn’t have to ruin your date night in, but it still helps to act fast when it comes to removing the mess. If you get wax on your carpet, first get a bag of ice and freeze the waxy glob for 10 minutes or so. Then you’ll need to grab a paper bag or a towel and your steam iron. Place the paper or towel over the wax, then, using the steam setting, iron the stained area. The wax should then transfer to the other fabric. Magic!
  • Blood: Blood stains are protein based, so you should avoid treating them with hot water. Your best bet for removing this type of stain is a cold water soak followed by treating the stain directly with either hydrogen peroxide or baking soda. After lightly scrubbing the area, rinse with cold water and then launder normally on a cold cycle.
  • Nail Polish: Okay, we admit it: Nail polish is a tricky stain. According to Today, though, you can vanquish it. Again, time is of the essence when removing an unwanted glob of polish from a pair of pants or shirt. First, carefully remove any excess paint that may be pooled on the clothing. No rubbing! That only pushes polish deeper into the fibers of your garment.Grab a white towel and some acetone nail polish remover and blot away at the stain, working from the outside toward the center. Then give your clothing a cold-water rinse and throw it into the washing machine as you normally would.

We’ll say it again: Stains happen. Once you know how to remove stains, though, they lose their power over you. Good luck!

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