We’ve all been there. You’re on a date, wearing fresh white clothes, and suddenly a meatball rolls off your fork and onto your shirt. Or, you’re rushing out of the coffee shop on the way to work and someone accidentally bumps into you– as a result, the hot coffee spills down the front of your classic white button-down shirt.
Sometimes it seems like stains seek out clothes made of white material. You never have an accident when you’re wearing a dark shirt! Luckily, there are ways to remove stains from whites before they start to set in– and the best stain remover may be sitting in your pantry. Here’s a basic guide to get those pesky stains out.
The most important step, and this applies to any stains on any materials, is to keep them from setting. If it’s given time to set, it’s basically impossible to get the stain out later, so you need to start acting now.
The first thing is to remove any excess gunk. Liquids probably won’t have this, but anything thick enough to scrape (tomato sauce, mud, the like) needs to be removed immediately.
Next comes pre-treating, which depends on where you are at the time. If you’re out somewhere this is where it’s helpful to carry a stain pen with you – something like a Tide pen – to start treating the stain right away. If you’re at home, you can soak it in the sink, using the right combination of water and the right cleaner. There are different types of stains and materials to take into consideration, leading us to:
Different fabrics react differently to stain removers, so it’s important to know what you’re working with before you get started. Always check your tags for care instructions before applying harsh bleaches or other solvents.
Here are a few common materials and the best stain remover method for each:
Cotton : Cotton is a very durable fabric, but try to avoid using bleach, even if it’s diluted. First try using a detergent or an acid, such as white vinegar or lemon juice in warm water.
Polyester: For polyester, it’s best not to use bleach at all. Use dish soap or laundry detergent.
Linen: Linen is generally sturdy but becomes weaker when it’s wet. Don’t use undiluted bleach on linens– either dilute it or use a more gentle, natural detergent.
Wool: Look for detergents that are specifically marked as safe for wool, mixed with lukewarm water.
Silk : The best stain remover for silk is glycerin, avoiding bleach altogether. You’ll want to rinse the entire garment, not just the stained area.
Different stains, along with each separate type of light material, call for different methods of removal. You may even need to treat some stains a couple of different ways to remove both oil or grease and color. Here are some common stain removal methods and what stains they’re best used for:
Absorbents : Absorbents, including salt, corn starch, and talcum powder, are effective for leeching oil or grease out of fabric. After prepping the fabric with water or club soda, sprinkle an absorbent over the stain and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then scrape it off.
Mild Acids : Vinegar and lemon juice are effective on liquid stains, like coffee or tea. These acids won’t damage fabrics, so it’s a good idea to try them with any stain before moving onto harsher methods.
Detergents : Dish detergents are particularly adept at removing oil and grease stains.
Bleach : There are two types of bleach: oxidized and chlorine. Chlorine is very harsh and should be avoided as much as possible for most fabrics. Oxidized bleach, like hydrogen peroxide, is good for treating greaseless color stains– say, from sweat, makeup, or wine.
Glycerin : Glycerin can be bought at any grocery or drug store, and is also effective at removing colors. Use glycerin for treating ink or dye stains.
Read more: Stay Safe When Cleaning
After you apply whatever you decide is the best stain remover for your particular mishap, wash the garment like you normally would. Before it goes in the dryer, check to see if the wash cycle cleared up the last of the stain, or if there’s any remaining. If the stain is still prominent, take it to a dry cleaner and let them have a go at it.
Never apply pressure when you’re trying to remove a dark stain from a white material. The pressure can force the stain further into the fabric, making it more likely to bond and set. Soak the fabric in a stain remover of your choice or lightly dab the stained area with a cotton ball or damp rag. Don’t use hot water, and no drying or ironing the fabric until the stain is completely gone.