The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

Stain Removal Guide

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Shirt with a coffee stain

Life's messy. Have a stain you're not sure how to get out?

How to remove stains from clothes:

  1. Deal with it as early as possible. The less time a stain has to soak in, the easier it will be to remove, although there are ways to remove old stains out of clothes as well.
  2. Pre-treat with a stain remover, then let it soak in.
  3. Launder according to the fabric care instructions, using the warmest setting safe for the fabric. If the stain remains, repeat the steps above. Do not put it in the dryer until the stain is removed.

Choose a stain substance below for more specific advice on how to get stains out of clothes:

Adhesives

  1. Apply ice or cold water to harden surface; scrape with a dull knife.
  2. Saturate with prewash stain remover or cleaning fluid.
  3. Rinse, then launder.

Baby Formula

  1. Pretreat or soak stains using a product containing enzymes.
  2. Soak for at least 30 minutes or several hours for aged stains
  3. Launder.

Baked Beans

  1. Working from the back of the stain, flush it with cold water.
  2. Pretreat it with a liquid laundry detergent, using an up-and-down motion with a soft brush to break up the stain.
  3. Rinse well.
  4. Sponge with white vinegar and rinse again.
  5. Repeat, treating the stain with liquid detergent, then with white vinegar until you’ve removed as much stain as possible.
  6. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover and launder with bleach that’s safe for the fabric.

Barbeque Sauce

  1. Treat the same as for baked beans.
  2. If the stain remains after laundering with bleach, rub in liquid laundry detergent and soak in warm water for up to 30 minutes.
  3. Launder again.

Beverages

  1. Sponge or soak stain in cool water.
  2. Pretreat with prewash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent, liquid detergent booster or paste of powder laundry product and water.
  3. Launder using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric, or oxygen bleach.

 

NOTE: Older stains may respond to pretreating or soaking in a product containing enzymes, then laundering.

Blood

Fresh Stains:

  1. Soak in cold water (do not use hot water as it will set blood stains).
  2. Launder. 


Dried Stains:

  1. Pretreat or soak in warm water with a product containing enzymes.
  2. Launder. 

 

NOTE: If stain remains, rewash using a bleach safe for fabric.

Bodily Fluids

  1. Pretreat or soak in a product containing enzymes.
  2. Launder using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric, or oxygen bleach.

Brown / Yellow Discoloration

  1. Use a rust remover recommended for fabrics.
  2. Launder. 

 

NOTE: Do not use a sodium hypochlorite bleach to remove rust stains because it may intensify discoloration

Do you have more cleaning questions? We've got answers!

Butter

  1. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover
  2. Launder, using the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric.

Candle Wax

  1. Scrape off surface wax with a dull knife.
  2. Place stain between clean paper towels and press with a warm iron. Replace paper towels frequently to absorb more wax and to avoid transferring stains.
  3. Place stain facedown on clean paper towels. Sponge remaining stain with prewash stain remover or cleaning fluid; blot with paper towels. Let dry.
  4. Launder.

 

NOTE: If any color remains, rewash using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric, or oxygen bleach.

Chocolate

  1. When the stain strikes, gently scrape off any excess chocolate.
  2. Once you get the item home, soak it in cool water.
  3. Then pretreat with a prewash stain remover
  4. Launder in the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric. 

Watch our video for more information on chocolate stains.

NOTE: If stain remains, rewash using a bleach safe for fabric.

Collar / Cuff Soil

  1. Pretreat with prewash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent or paste of powder detergent and water.
  2. Launder.

Coffee / Tea

  1. Sponge or soak stain in cool water.
  2. Pretreat with prewash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent, liquid detergent booster or paste of powder laundry product and water.
  3. Launder using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric, or oxygen bleach. (Note: Older stains may respond to pretreating or soaking in a product containing enzymes, then laundering.)

Cosmetics / Lipstick

  1. Pretreat with prewash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent, paste of powder detergent or laundry additive and water. Or, rub with bar soap.
  2. Launder.

Visit our guide for how to remove lipstick from napkins.

Crayon

For a Few Spots:

  1. Treat the same as candle wax or dampen the stain and rub with bar soap,
  2. Launder using hottest water safe for fabric.

For a Whole Load of Clothes:

  1. Wash with hot water using a laundry soap and 1 cup (212 g) baking soda.

 

NOTE: If color remains, launder using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric. Otherwise, pretreat or soak in a product containing enzymes or an oxygen bleach using hottest water safe for fabric, then launder.

Dairy Products

  1. Pretreat or soak stains using a product containing enzymes.
  2. Soak for at least 30 minutes or several hours for aged stains.
  3. Launder.

Deodorants

Light Stains:

  1. Pretreat with liquid laundry detergent. Launder.

Heavy Stains:

  1. Pretreat with prewash stain remover. Allow to stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Launder using an oxygen bleach.

Dye Transfer

  1. Attempt restoration of white fabrics that have picked up color from other fabrics by using a packaged color remover, following label directions.
  2. Launder.

 

NOTE: If dye remains, launder again using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric. For non-colorfast fabrics, soak in oxygen bleach, then launder.

NOTE: This type of stain may be prevented if proper sorting and laundering procedures are followed.

Egg

  1. Pretreat or soak stains using a product containing enzymes.
  2. Soak for at least 30 minutes or several hours for aged stains.
  3. Launder.

Fabric Softener

  1. Dampen the stain and rub with bar soap.
  2. Rinse out, then launder.

Fruit Juices

  1. Wash with bleach safe for fabric.

Grass

  1. Pretreat or soak in a product containing enzymes.

 

NOTE: If stain persists, launder using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric, or oxygen bleach.

Grease and Oil

Light Stains:

  1. Pretreat with prewash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent or liquid detergent booster.
  2. Launder using hottest water safe for fabric.

Heavy Stains:

  1. Place stain facedown on clean paper towels. Apply cleaning fluid to back of stain.
  2. Replace paper towels under stain frequently.
  3. Let dry, rinse. Launder using hottest water safe for fabric.

Ice Cream

  1. Pretreat or soak stains using a product containing enzymes.
  2. Soak for at least 30 minutes – longer if the stains are old.
  3. Launder, using the warmest water that’s safe for the fabric.

Ink

  1. Sponge the area around the stain with rubbing alcohol or cleaning fluid before applying it directly on the stain.
  2. Place stain facedown on clean paper towels. Apply alcohol or cleaning fluid to back of stain. Replace paper towels frequently.
  3. Rinse thoroughly. Launder.

Alternate Method:

  1. Place stain over mouth of a jar or glass; hold fabric taut.
  2. Drip the alcohol or cleaning fluid through the stain so ink will drop into the container as it is being removed.
  3. Rinse thoroughly. Launder.

NOTE: Some inks in each of the following categories _ ballpoint, felt tip, liquid- may be impossible to remove.

Want to know what those symbols mean on the tags of our clothing? Do you really need to sort your laundry? How often should you wash jeans? Find out!

Ketchup

  1. Remove any excess ketchup with a spoon or knife, but be careful not to rub it into the fabric.
  2. If the garment is washable, remove the garment as soon as possible and run cold water through the stain from the backside to force the stain out of the clothing.

 

Note: Avoid dabbing at it as this can spread the stain. 

Lipstick

  1. To remove most lipstick stains from napkins, put the napkin stain down on top of a couple layers of paper towel or absorbent towel.
  2. Dampen another towel with rubbing alcohol (70 or 90 percent), then dab, dab, dab the stained area.
  3. Look underneath and you should see lipstick on the paper towels. Keep at it until all of the stain is gone. Some long-lasting lipsticks may need more work to get off.

 

NOTE: You also can spritz a prewash spray onto both sides of the fabric, let set for a few minutes to let the spray work, then scrub with a small brush. Rinse, wash as usual and air dry. If a little color is left, repeat the steps and it should take care of the problem.

See more holiday cleaning hints from Heloise.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup or corn syrup stains should be removed as soon as possible.

  1. Begin by using a blunt kitchen knife to remove any excess syrup still on the fabric.
  2. For washable fabrics, flush with cool to warm water from the back of the stain.
  3. Pretreat with a stain remover or liquid laundry detergent and let sit for several minutes. Rinse well.
  4. Wash as recommended according to the garment label.
  5. Don’t put in the dryer until the stain is gone!

Mayonnaise

  1. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover.
  2. Launder, using the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric.

Mildew

  1. Launder stained items using a bleach safe for fabric and hottest water recommended for fabric.

 

NOTE: Badly mildewed fabrics may be damaged beyond repair.

Mud

  1. When dry, brush off as much mud as possible. 

Light Stains:

  1. Pretreat with a paste of powder detergent and water, liquid laundry detergent or a liquid detergent booster.
  2. Launder.

Heavy Stains:

  1. Pretreat or presoak with a laundry detergent or a product containing enzymes.
  2. Launder.

Mustard

  1. Flush under cold water to loosen the stain, and then pretreat with a prewash stain remover.
  2. Launder, using the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric. Add bleach to the wash also – preferably chlorine bleach. (Check the care label to see if it is safe for the fabric.)

Nail Polish

  1. Try nail polish remover but do not use on acetate or triacetate fabrics.
  2. Place stain facedown on clean paper towels. Apply nail polish remover to back of stain. Replace paper towels frequently.
  3. Repeat until stain disappears, if it does.
  4. Rinse and launder.

 

NOTE: Nail polish may be impossible to remove.

Red sauce or wine stain? We have a guide to get rid of any mess caused by a pasta dinner!

Paint

Water-based Paint:

  1. Rinse fabric in warm water while stains are still wet.
  2. Launder.

 

NOTE: Once paint is dry, it cannot be removed.

Oil-based Paint and Varnish:

  1. Use the same solvent the label on the can advises for a thinner.
  2. If not available, use turpentine.
  3. Rinse.
  4. Pretreat with prewash stain remover, bar soap or laundry detergent.
  5. Rinse and launder.

Perfume

  1.  Pretreat with prewash stain remover or liquid laundry detergent.
  2. Launder.

Perspiration

  1. Use a prewash stain remover or rub with bar soap.
  2. Launder using hottest water safe for fabric.

 

NOTE: If perspiration has changed the color of the fabric, apply ammonia to fresh stains or white vinegar to old stains; rinse.

NOTE: Stubborn stains may respond to washing in a product containing enzymes or oxygen bleach in hottest water safe for fabric.

Pine Resin

  1. Sponge the stained area with a dry-cleaning solvent; let it air-dry.
  2. Soak the stain in a solution of one cup of liquid laundry detergent and a few drops of ammonia (Caution: Never mix chlorine bleach and ammonia - the resulting fumes are hazardous) for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Launder using liquid laundry detergent.

Scorch

  1. Launder using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric. Or, soak in oxygen bleach and hot water, then launder.

 

NOTE: Badly scorched fabrics may be damaged beyond repair.

Shoe Polish

Liquid Shoe Polish:

  1. Pretreat with a paste of powder detergent and water.
  2. Launder.

Paste Shoe Polish:

  1. Scrape residue from fabric with a dull knife.
  2. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover or cleaning fluid; rinse.
  3. Rub detergent into dampened area.
  4. Launder using a bleach safe for fabric.

Soft Drink

  1. Sponge the stain with cool water or soak it in cool water for about 30 minutes.
  2. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover.
  3. Launder; if safe for the fabric, add chlorine bleach to the wash.

Tar

  1. Scrape residue from fabric.
  2. Place stain facedown on paper towels. Sponge with cleaning fluid. Replace paper towels frequently to absorb more tar and to avoid transferring stains.
  3. Launder in hottest water safe for fabric.

Tobacco

  1. Dampen stain and rub with bar soap; rinse.
  2. Pretreat or soak in a product containing enzymes.
  3. Launder.

 

NOTE: If stain remains, launder again using a bleach safe for fabric.

Typewriter Correction Fluid

  1. Let stain dry thoroughly, then gently brush excess off with a clothes brush.
  2. Send to professional drycleaner and mention the type of stain.

Watermelon

These stains fall into that mysterious category of "invisible stains." The drips dry up and the stain seems to disappear. But if left over time, the stains will oxidize into pale yellow or brown stains. To keep this from happening:

  1. Launder the item in the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric.

Wine

  1. Sponge the stain with cool water or soak it in cool water for about 30 minutes.
  2. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover.
  3. Launder; if safe for the fabric, add chlorine bleach to the wash.

For more information, visit our spaghetti dinner stain guide.

Wood Stain

Water-Based Wood Stain

  1. Lay down a thick layer of white paper towels. Place the stained clothing on top of the paper towels, with the stain face down on the paper towels.
  2. Pour a capful of acetone onto the stain. Dip a clean, white rag into the acetone.
  3. Blot the stain with the acetone-soaked rag. Press the stain into the paper towels. Move the stained fabric around the surface of the paper towels to clean areas after each blotting. Rub the stain beginning at the outer edges and working your way toward the center. Continue to blot and rub the clothing until the stain disappears.

Oil-Based Wood Stain

  1. Place a thick layer of white paper towels on a work surface. Lay the stained fabric facing down on the paper towels.
  2. Dip a clean, white rag into mineral spirits.
  3. Blot the stain, beginning at the outer edge of the stain. Push the stain into the paper towels to transfer the wood stain from the fabric onto the paper towels. Move the stained fabric from place to place on the paper towel surfaces. Continue to dip the rag into mineral spirits and blot the stain until it is removed.

Launder the garment

  1. Rinse the garment and launder as usual.
  2. Once the clothing is removed from the wash, inspect for any remaining stains.
  3. Repeat the stain removal process if necessary before placing the clothing in the dryer.