Stain Removal: How to Get Stains out of Clothes | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Stain Removal: How to Get Stains Out of Clothes

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Learn how to remove stains from clothing with these tips for stain removal.

Remove Oil, Ink, Blood, Food, Wax, Mildew, Grass, and More!

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Forget the laundromat! Whether it’s oil, grease, ink, blood, food, wax, mildew, grass, or lipstick, we’ve got you covered with these easy home remedies for stain removal.

How to Remove Oil or Grease Stains

  • Scrub a grease stain with a lather of laundry detergent and water. Distilled water works best for this since “soft” water cuts grease better than water with a high mineral content.

How to Remove Ink from Clothing

  • Put a piece of scrap fabric beneath the stained spot to blot any ink that may come through. Then, spray the stain evenly with aerosol hair spray from four to six inches away. Blot the surface of the stained article after spraying. You may have to repeat the process a couple of times. Finally, the garment should be regularly laundered.
  • Hairspray will also work to remove ballpoint ink stains from leather. Saturate the stain, let the spray dry, and then brush lightly with a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water.
  • Another approach to removing ballpoint ink stains from leather is to coat them with petroleum jelly. You may need to leave the jelly on the stain for several days before wiping it off.

Blood Stains in Clothing

  • If the stain is fresh and still wet, immediately sponge it with cold water and soak it for 30 minutes in cold water. Rub liquid detergent into the area, then rinse. 
  • If the stain remains or is older, soak in a solution of 2 tablespoons of ammonia per 1 gallon of cold water. Wash in cold water and dishwashing liquid to remove any vestiges of the stain left after the ammonia treatment. Repeat detergent treatment. 
  • If the bloodstain is on a large item such as a blanket—something you don’t want to soak completely—make a paste of cornstarch and water and slather it dry, brush it off, and keep repeating until the stain disappears.
  • Machine-wash the fabric using an enzyme detergent (most standard laundry soaps are enzyme-based), which breaks down protein stains. Ensure the blood has lifted before putting the fabric in the dryer, as the heat will set the stain.

Removing Food and Drink Stains

  • For fruit, berries, and juices, sponge immediately with cool water. If safe for fabric, pour boiling water through the stain. Work detergent into the stain; rinse. 
  • For alcoholic and soft drinks, sponge in cool water and glycerine. Soak for 30 minutes. If safe for fabric, sponge with rubbing alcohol.
  • For chocolate, scrub the stained area immediately with ammonia, then wash as you normally would.
  • For non-chocolate candy, vegetables, and ketchup: Sponge stain with cold water. Soak for 30 minutes.
  • For egg stains, scrape off the excess with a dull knife, then soak the stain in cold water. Launder as you usually would. If the article requires dry cleaning, sponge the stain with cold water and take it to the dry cleaner right away.
  • Fresh coffee and tea call for the “hot waterfall” approach. First, stretch the stained part of the fabric over a bowl, as if you were putting a head on a drum, and secure it with a rubber band. Then, pour boiling water over the stain from a height of two to three feet. Be careful not to burn yourself! Wash the article of clothing as you normally would, using a small amount of bleach if the fabric can tolerate it. The “hot waterfall” also works to loosen fruit and berry stains. It works with red wine if you first sprinkle a little salt on the stain. For more tips on how to remove red wine stains, check out this list of money-saving tips for the kitchen.
  • After a wine spill, blot up as much of the wine as you can, then rinse with cool water or club soda. Sprinkle a little salt on the stain and create a paste of salt and water. Then, if the fabric will stand it, pour boiling water through the stain with the cloth stretched over a bowl or bathtub. For tough stains, try blotting the stains with one of the following: 1/3 cup vinegar in 2/3 cup water; 2 tablespoons ammonia in 1 cup water; or rubbing alcohol, either straight or mixed with an equal amount of water. Rinse well and then launder as usual. In some cases, you may have to use an enzyme detergent to remove wine stains.


  • If spilled beer has dried on clothing or tablecloths, mix a solution of equal parts vinegar and dishwashing liquid, then sponge it onto the stain. Rinse with warm water and launder as usual.

Wax Stains from Candles

  • Small spots of hardened candle wax can be removed from tablecloths by rubbing them with a generous dollop of vegetable oil. Wipe off any excess oil, then launder as usual.
  • Another way to remove small amounts of wax hardened onto a tablecloth is to spread the affected area over a large bowl and secure it with rubber bands, then pour boiling water over the wax to melt it. Follow up by washing the tablecloth as usual.
  • For larger wax deposits on tablecloths, scrape off the excess with a dull knife, then place the stained area between two paper towels and press with an iron on a low setting. Replace the paper towels as the wax is absorbed into them, then launder when the paper no longer absorbs the wax. (If the fabric is especially sensitive to heat, avoid burning it by holding the iron a couple of inches above the towels. You will still get enough heat to melt the wax.)

Mildew Stains

  • To get rid of the black and gray stains caused by mildew, try moistening the stained area with lemon juice and salt, then drying the fabric in the sun. If this doesn’t work, sponge the stain with hydrogen peroxide and sun-dry it. 
  • If you have a leather item stained with powdery traces of surface mildew, wipe the affected area with a solution of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water. When the leather is dry, treat it with a conditioner such as castor oil.

Remove Grass Stains

  • To help remove grass stains from garments, work liquid laundry detergent into the stained area, rinse, then launder as usual.
  • Saturate grass stains on cotton with rubbing alcohol, let stand for 10 minutes, and launder as usual.

Lipstick Stains

  • Rub peanut butter on the lipstick stain. Before the peanut butter dries, wash the fabric with warm water and dishwashing liquid. This is hardly peanut butter’s only odd use—check out this article on uncommon household uses of peanut butter for more tips.
  • Use vegetable oil, shortening, or petroleum jelly. Cover the stain with the substance, let it sit for five to ten minutes, and then wash with warm, soapy water. Make sure to remove all the substance, or you’ll have a different stain to deal with.

Sticky Labels

  • How do you remove the sticky substance that is left after you remove a label? Depending on the surface, try rubbing it with vegetable oil or suntan lotion. If that doesn’t work, use nail polish remover. 

Do you have some tricks and tips of your own? We welcome your solutions! Just comment below!

About The Author

Heidi Stonehill

Heidi Stonehill is a senior editor for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, where she focuses much of her time on managing content development for the Almanac’s line of calendars. Read More from Heidi Stonehill

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