Get it Out! Tips for Clothing Stain Removal

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Everyone has done it--spilled red wine on a favorite blouse, or forgot to police pockets for crayons or ball point pens before they hit the wash. Stains are everywhere, and there are many ways to get rid of them, from home remedies to manufactured products. With so many choices, so much advice, how do you know what to use on what?

It's important to know your clothing.

Is it your stained clothing dry clean only, or hand-washable? Certain fabrics can be destroyed by the intended stain treatment. For example, silk and wool will be ruined by chlorine bleach. You'll also want to know what temperature washable items should be washed at, so that you're not using a hot wash on an item that can only be washed in cold water.

Dry clean only items should be taken to the dry cleaners as soon as you can, preferably within 24-48 hours. Provide as much information as you can about the stain, and what steps, if any, you took to remove the stain. Dry cleaners have an impressive arsenal of solvents that cater to the type of fabric and stain to help maximize removal. Giving them all the information you can will help save your garment.

It's important to know your stain.

To treat a stain efficiently on washable clothing, it's important to know where your stain falls in the different stain categories. Stains are broken down into five categories:

  • Protein
  • Tannin
  • Oil-based
  • Dye
  • Combination stains

Protein based stains

These tend to be organic in composition. Egg, blood, mucus, urine, cheese, milk, and baby formula fall into this category. The most important thing to keep in mind with protein stains: do not use hot water. Hot water will cook the stain into the fiber of the cloth, making it harder, if not impossible to remove.

Protein stains are easiest to remove when fresh by soaking in cold water--you can put in your washer and agitate in cold water only to help break up the stains. If the stains are old, scrape the material off the clothing if caked on, and then soak in cold water. Protein stains with a dye quality (such as beets, berries) may need an over the counter bleach product to remove the color.

Tannin stains

This category includes coffee, tea, beer, alcoholic beverages, tomato juice and washable inks. Treat these by rubbing in a detergent soap, such as Tide, Whisk or Woolite for delicates, and wash in hot water. Never use bar soap on a tannin stain, as it will set the stain and make it impossible to remove. Make sure you check your laundry soap ingredients, because more manufacturers are putting regular soap into the mix to save money. Set-in tannin stains may need bleach to remove them.

Oil-based stains

These are a lot like tannin stains in that they are best removed with a detergent soap and hot water. Oil-based stains include such culprits as butter, mayonnaise, hand and face cream, or greasy cuffs or collars. You'll rub a heavy-duty detergent directly into the stain (you can also use a pre-treatment stain remover such as Shout) and wash in hot water.

Dye stains

Welcome to one of the most difficult stains to remove, even when fresh. Blueberries, mustard, tempera paints, and Kool-aid are the usual culprits. They require a mixture of detergent soap and bleach that's safe for the garment to remove them. If you have a colored fabric, use a color-safe bleach. Rub in and wash in hot water.

Combination stains

The usual suspects here include ball point pen, candle wax, lipstick, hairspray, chocolate and catsup, to name a few. These stains require two steps to remove them, since they usually contain an oily part and a dye part. You'll want to rub the stain first with a dry-cleaning solvent (such as Shout or Spray-n-Wash), then after use a detergent soap. Wash in hot water, repeat until the stain is removed.

Treatments to Avoid

  • Dishwasher detergent on stains, as it's too strong and it can cause a reaction with skin when wearing
  • Vinegar may weaken some fibers, such as cotton and rayon.
  • Ironing candle wax will not remove the stain, but instead drive it deeper into the fabric.
  • Hairspray for ballpoint ink--the hairspray may give an additional stain because of the perfumes and other chemicals in it.

Be careful when using chemicals to remove stains. Never mix together stain removal substances, such as bleach and ammonia. This combination causes a toxic fume that can be very harmful, if not deadly. Other chemicals may react negatively when combined.

Related Categories on StartLocal

Dry Cleaners
Laundries - Commercial and Industrial

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