3 Steps to Simplify DIY Stain Removal

by Ivory Soap

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1.  Reality Check

Do you really treat stains?  I don’t.  I NOTICE stains after they’ve been through the wash.  If you aren’t an avid stain treater, you really only need a bar of soap and a faucet.  Here’s my REAL stain routine:

  1. Shoot, there’s a stain on the shirt I just put on!
  2. Can I get away with it anyway?  I mean is it under the boob or something I can hide or people shouldn’t be looking at anyway?
  3. Wipe it with water.  No go.
  4. Rip off shirt, rub with wet bar of soap from sink (read: stain stick), toss in laundry pile.
  5. Launder as usual.
  6. Repeat ENTIRE process, including the surprise that it’s still there, until it’s finally gone or becomes a sleep shirt.
HOWEVER, I have bought and learned and used all of the below stain-fighting awesomeness in hopes that someday I will do it with some consistency.  So this tutorial is for those of you who want to:
a) like me, PRETEND you’re going to someday consistently treat stains when they occur, or
b) like me, be TOTALLY PREPARED for the once-every-six-months that you do catch it in time and have the energy to deal with it, OR
c) not like me, ACTUALLY treat your stains on time, with diligence.
But, if you treat stains like me and are okay with it, embracing the fact that you will never be Super Stain Eliminator, then you don’t need this post, and I envy your self-esteem.  But for the rest of us….

2.  Gather (the rest of ) your kit.

If you did our 3 Steps to Simplify Your DIY Cleaning Products, you already have these in your cleaning cabinet…

  • spray bottle of vinegar
  • spray bottle of alcohol
  • spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide
  • box of baking soda
  • bar of soap, like Ivory

You will need three more things…maybe. (UPDATE 7/4/2012:  SEE THIS POST)

  1. If you tend to get a lot of protein stains, like baby formula or blood, then you may want an enzyme cleaner.  The simplest solution is a box of BIZ, ZOUT, or other enzyme cleaner.  (I am experimenting with home-fermented enzyme cleaners to verify that they actually produce protease, and not just alcohol. Will get back to you. 5/23/12 update:  Red Devil Drain Maintainer liquid, and Rid-X Septic System treatment Ultra Liquid are both 100% Subtilis bacteria which is the typical active ingredient in enzyme detergents. A tiny squirt in your soak water should be amazing.  )
  2. If you tend to get really greasy stains, you will need a waterless solvent.  BAD STUFF, like a dropper bottle of mineral spirits, dry cleaning fluid, lighter fluid, or my preferred option AEROSOL Shout.  I’m just not comfortable with large amounts of flammable chemicals spilling in my laundry room. (Update 5/23/12:  ZOUT has an enzyme in it that EATS oil.  It’s the only stain killer on the market I found that has lipase it.  It is a GREAT alternative to waterless solvents.)
  3. If you tend to get a lot of coffee, tea, wine, juice, and other TANNIN stains, you will also need a non-soap detergent bar like Cetaphil or Dove or the liquid version, like commercial Ivory dish soap.  Tannin SETS PERMANENTLY in “real” soap.

3.  Learn the drill.

In general, here’s the combination stain routine.  Skip steps if you’re sure you don’t have a certain thing, and be sure to stop when it’s gone.  (Here’s the LHITS Simplified Stain Routine PDF) :

1.  Grease sets in water.  So if you suspect a serious grease component to your stain, start with a nasty waterless solvent.  OPEN A WINDOW.  Put stain face down on absorbent surface, apply solvent, tamp the back to transfer stain to other cloth, rinse with alcohol and tamp (which will remove ink). 

2.  Protein sets in heat.  If you suspect a protein component, then soak in cold water an hour or two.  If you’re sure there’s no protein, you can use warmer water.

3.  Tannin sets with soap.  After you’ve soaked it, rub wet garment with the bar of soap(read: high-tech stain stick) or non-soap bar or liquid detergent if it’s tea, juice, etc. and let it sit.  Rinse.

4.  Some stains dissolve in acid.  Spray with vinegar, wait, blot, rinse.

5.  Some stains dissolve in base.  Rub with baking soda, dampen, wait, blot, rinse.

6.  Some stains, like ink, dissolve in alcohol.  Spray with alcohol, wait, blot, rinse.

7.  Some stains need to be eaten.  Soak in enzyme cleaner, warm temp water, 30 minutes and launder.

8.  If it’s still there, wash in hottest water allowed with 1/2 cup peroxide (if allowed) in bleach compartment.

9.  Wear it anyway.

10.  Donate it.




Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea May 23, 2012 at 7:01 am

You forgot the “cut up into rags” step. 🙂

I’m interested to hear about your homemade enzyme cleaner experiments. I can’t do laundry around here without an enzyme cleaner.

Angie May 23, 2012 at 7:31 am

I wish I would have seen this a year ago. My washing machine is leaking some kind of lubricant oil into my clothes if I make the load too heavy. Lucky me, “too heavy” seems to be getting smaller and smaller these days. We have a lot of ruined t-shirts (and dress shirts) and we’ve finally decided to just replace the washing machine. I don’t think any of the old stains will come out, but at least now I’ll know what to do if any show up in the future! 🙂

MMarie May 23, 2012 at 7:55 am

I know you don’t want a lot of chemicals but I only use one stain remover and it is the absolute best. Google: Zout Laundry Stain Remover Spray – it’s in a red bottle. It is magic. The surprising one for me (because it wasn’t listed on the label) is that it disolved blood. Just gone. I hadn’t even laundered my sheets yet and it was already gone. I’m a drippy eater, everything ends up on my shirt, and I just got in the habit of keeping this in the bathroom so when I go to shower at night I spray any stains and toss it in the hamper. Plus it isn’t aerosol like Shout which is a big plus.

Adica May 23, 2012 at 8:31 am

I find that soaking in oxygen bleach for a few hours (~$1/pound if you buy from the dollar store) will get rid of nearly anything organic-based.

For juice (especially from berries), I find that the easiest way to get rid of it is to pour some vinegar onto the stain(s) and let it sit while you boil a kettle of water. When the water’s boiling (or at least very hot), pour over the stain to rinse out the vinegar. Repeat as needed. I usually only have to repeat it two or three times.

Ivory Soap May 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm

MMarie, I checked out the ingredients to ZOUT: http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=brands&id=4002250&query=zout&searchas=TblBrands

That’s one great enzyme cleaner. It will eat protein, starch, AND FAT!!!!! (It contains lipase) Outside of ZOUT, the only way to get rid of a fat stain is aerosol shout, lighter fluid, or other waterless, flammable solvent.

Ivory Soap May 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Ooo, Adica, we do the boiling water trick on berries too. It’s magic. I’ve never even had to do the vinegar, but YES, since berries have no fat you can skip the first step, and since there’s no protein, you can use screaming hot water. The only no-no with berries is SOAP since they’re a tannin.

Alysia May 24, 2012 at 7:15 am

This is GREAT!! My husband runs chainsaws and is always coming home with saw grease/oil, tree sap, and other unknown stains that I have struggled to get out. I will be putting these tips to use.

My mom is a nurse and used to have to wear those white nursing outfits…she is a pro with blood stains. She has always used hydrogen peroxide to get out blood. Pour/spray on some hydrogen peroxide let it bubble up, then scrub and repeat until the stain is gone. Works great.

Also, to remove tree sap (this is going to sound weird but it has worked the best for me) pour (oil (vegetable oil works fine) on it and rub in and all the gooey stuff comes off. Oddly enough I haven’t had too much trouble with the oil setting in when I do this. But I do wash the garment immediately after treating.

Stevi May 24, 2012 at 7:16 am

I’ve found the Mechanic’s Waterless Handsoap (i.e. Goop) will remove oil stains that have not only been washer/dryer set but are also years old! I just scrub it onto the spot, let sit for however long I forget about it, wash as usual, be giddy that it worked. LOL

Hmelcookie May 27, 2012 at 8:06 am

Washing Soda (not baking soda) is a great stain remover for anything greasy. Actually, I’ve had great success with it removing all stains. Soak it in washing soda and water until the stain is gone. Also, if you do have those annoying grease spots (especially noticeable on dark clothing) that have already gone through the wash, you can rub Dawn dishwashing soap on the spot and leave it overnight. Throw in the wash the next day and it should be gone!

switty May 27, 2012 at 11:59 am

peroxide will remove blood – often old blood stains too! Just pour in on the spoot, watch it bubble up and blot with a clean white cloth (or paper towel). repeat as needed then launder. It really works!

Lena June 5, 2012 at 11:47 am

Great post and comments, thanks !

For grease stains caused by food, IMMEDIATELY apply talcum powder (baby powder works fine) and let set. A crust will form as the talcum powder absorbs the grease. Use a brush to get rid of the entire mess. Launder as usual.

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