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Stain Removal From Washable Fabrics

Special problem stains

  • Blueberry
  • Bluing
  • Cherry
  • Dye transfer (color bleeding in wash)
  • Fabric dye (except red and yellow)
  • Felt tip pen (permanent ink may not come out)
  • Food coloring (except red and yellow)
  • Hair dye, black or brown
  • Kool Aid®
  • Mercurochrome
  • Mustard
  • Stamp pad ink (except red and yellow)

To remove problem stain

  • Pretreat the stain with heavy-duty liquid detergent. Rinse. Soak fabric in dilute solution of all-fabric powdered bleach. If stain persists and garment is white or colorfast, soak entire garment in dilute solution of liquid chlorine bleach and water. Chlorine bleach may change the color of the garment or cause irreversible damage. Check for bleach tolerance on a hidden seam. If stain does not come out in 15 minutes of bleaching, it cannot be removed by bleaching.
  • If bleaching is not safe or does not work, use a commercial color remover according to package directions. Note that color remover will take out the fabric color as well as the stain. Do no exceed 160 degrees Fahrenheit. water with any synthetic fabrics. Launder.

Other problem stains

  • Blood
    Soak in cold water if fresh. If dried, pretreat with prewash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent, liquid detergent booster or paste of granular laundry product and water. Launder using bleach safe for fabric. Old stains may respond to soaking in enzyme product.
  • Candle wax
    Rub with ice and scrape off excess with a dull knife. Place folded paper towels over and under stained area and press with a warm — not hot — dry iron. Using clean towels, repeat until no more wax melts. Remove color with bleach or color remover as safe for fabric.
  • Crayon
    (A whole load of clothes)
    Scrape excess crayon with blunt knife. Wash in hot, soft water with soap (such as Ivory) and one-half cup baking soda for 10 minutes. If stain remains, work soap paste into stain. Wash five minutes. Rinse. To remove remaining color, use bleach or color remover as safe for fabric.
  • Fabric softener
    Rub stained area with bar soap (Ivory) and launder as usual. Repeat if necessary. To prevent stains, dilute softener before using.
  • Grass
    Sponge the stain with alcohol and let dry. Sponge with cool water, Work liquid detergent into the stained area. Rinse with water. Let dry. Soak in mixture of one quart warm water and one tablespoon enzyme product 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly. Launder in hot water with chlorine bleach if fiber content and fabric permit.
  • Hard water problems
    (Dinginess or graying, yellowing, general soil buildup, white or gray streaks on colored fabrics and stiff harsh feel to fabrics)
    Fill the washer with hottest water appropriate for the fabric. Add four times the normal amount of phosphate detergent and one cup of nonprecipitating water conditioner, such as Calgon or Spring Rain. Agitate just long enough to wet the clothes. Soak overnight or about 12 hours. Drain and spin without agitating. Launder, using regular cycle, no detergent, and one cup of nonprecipitating water conditioner. Repeat laundering with no detergent and one cup of nonprecipitating water conditioner until no suds appear during the rinses. To remove all dinginess, launder with nonprecipitating water conditioner and bleach that is safe for fabric.
    To prevent hard water problems, use adequate amounts of low-sudsing phosphate detergent or heavy duty liquid detergent and water as hot as safe for fabric. Soften the water with nonprecipitating water conditioner or install a water softening system. Note that water softening systems may increase the amount of sodium in the drinking water and cause problems for people on salt-restricted diets.
  • Ink — Solvent sensitive
    Pretreat with a prewash stain remover, denatured alcohol or dry cleaning solvent. First apply alcohol or dry cleaning solvent around the stain. Then apply it directly to the stain from the back over paper towels. Rinse. Launder with bleach safe for fabric.
  • Ink — Permanent
    Treat immediately. Permanent inks are almost impossible to remove. Force water through the stain to remove excess. Let air dry. Sponge with dry cleaning solvent. When stain is no longer being removed and fabric is dry, apply concentrated detergent. Soak in warm water with one to four tablespoons ammonia per quart of water. Repeat as needed.
    Some inks on white fabric may be removed with a dye stripper. Follow package directions. For stains on colored fabrics, check for dye stability in a hidden area before using.
  • Insecticides, pesticides
    If full-strength liquid concentrate spills on clothes, handle only with rubber gloves. Discard clothing immediately. Laundering does not remove concentrate to a safe level to reuse clothing. Launder other pesticide-contaminated clothing separate from general family laundry. If visible stain remains after laundering, rewash with hot water and heavy-duty detergent. Line dry.
  • Iodine
    Sponge stain from back with a solution of one teaspoon sodium thiosulfate crystals (available at drugstores and photo supply stores) and one-half cup water or treat with commercial stain remover. Flush well with water. Repeat if necessary.
  • Mildew
    See GH5928, How to Prevent and Remove Mildew.
    Brush off mildewed area, preferably outdoors. Work gently so as not to further damage already weakened fibers. Gently rub detergent into stained area. Launder in hot water using chlorine bleach. If stain remains bleach with hydrogen peroxide. Rinse and launder. Old mildew stains may respond to flushing with dry cleaning solvent.
  • Nail polish
    Do not use nail polish remover on acetate, triacetate or modacrylic fabrics as they will dissolve. Send these materials to the dry cleaner and identify the stain. On other fabrics, apply nail polish remover or acetone to back of stain over absorbent material. Rinse and launder.
  • Paint — Watercolor
    (Except red and yellow)
    Rinse in cool water to flush out paint while still wet. Dried paint may be permanent. Try sponging areas with alcohol (dilute with two parts water for acrylic and modacrylic fabrics). Launder.
  • Pencil
    Use a soft eraser to remove excess. Be careful not to distort fabric weave. Spray with pretreatment aerosol product. Rub in heavy-duty liquid detergent. Rinse. Launder.
    Commercial pencil mark removers are available from some quilt supply stores or mail order suppliers. Dry cleaning fluid should not be used on most modern quilting fabric.
  • Perspiration
    Pretreat with enzyme product. If fabric has discolored, treat fresh stains with ammonia, old stains with vinegar.
  • Rust
    Do not use chlorine bleach on rust stain or in water containing large amounts of iron. For a rusty water problem, use a nonprecipitating water softener, such as Calgon or Spring Rain, in both wash and rinse water. For severe problems, install an iron filter in the system.
    Small stains may be removed with a few drops of a commercial rust remover or by repeated applications of lemon juice and salt to the stain. Do not let dry between applications. Rinse thoroughly and launder with a phosphate detergent and oxygen bleach.
    If safe for fabric, boil in solution of four teaspoons of cream of tarter per pint of water. Rinse thoroughly.
    Severe rust staining may be removed with a commercial rust remover, such as RoVer and Whink. Follow package instructions. Never use rust remover containing hydrofluoric acid near or in the washer. It will damage the porcelain enamel finish.
  • Scorch
    Excess heat on many fibers can cause permanent damage. Scorched areas will be permanently weakened. If fabric is thick and fuzzy, brush to remove charring. Rub liquid detergent into scorched area. Launder. If stain remains, bleach with all-fabric bleach. Melted or glazed areas on synthetic blends cannot be fully restored.
  • Yellowing, dinginess
    This condition occurs when insufficient detergent is used, wash water temperature is too low, too much detergent is used and insufficiently rinsed out, synthetics are washed with a light-duty detergent in cold water, or color is transferred from other non-colorfast items in the wash.
    Wash with hot water and a cool-down rinse on permanent press cycle with a cup of water conditioner instead of detergent. If discoloration persists, repeat or wash with the correct amount of detergent, an all fabric bleach, or diluted liquid chlorine bleach if safe for fabric. Pretreat entire garment with stain removal product and launder alone or with a very few other items in a full load of water as hot as the fabric can tolerate and 50 percent more detergent.
    As a last resort, use color remover on white items only. On silk, wool or spandex, yellowing may result from fiber alteration. This is not correctable.

Dye stains
Follow each step until stain stops coming out. Then wash garment according to care label instructions. These may be impossible to remove. Do not place dye-stained fabrics in a dryer.

Note
Today's dyes cannot be made colorfast with salt or vinegar.

References

  • Iowa State University Cooperative Extension Service. Quick 'n Easy Stain Removal. Ames, Iowa, 1986.
  • Johnson Wax. Form ED2-11. Laundry Products. Shout. 1989.
  • Maytag. Stain Removal Guide Form number 19 YG1087
  • North Central Regional Cooperative Extension. Stain Removal for Washable Fabrics. Publication 64. Extension Services of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, 1979.
  • Proctor and Gamble Educational Services. The How to Clean Handbook, 1986.
  • Purdue University Cooperative Extension. FACTS: A General Guide to Stain Removal. West Lafayette, Indiana, 1979.
  • Soap and Detergent Association. Laundering Problems — Causes, Solutions, Preventive Measures, n.d.
  • Soap and Detergent Association. Removing Stains from Washable Items, n.d.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. Removing Stains from Fabrics. Home and Garden Bulletin number 62. Washington, D.C., 1976.
  • University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Recommended Procedure for Removing Liquid Paper Correction Fluid From Clothing, n.d.

MP663, reviewed November 2002

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