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Tips for Getting Stains Out of Clothing

Tips for Getting Stains Out of Clothing

I have a reputation among my children as “the Stain Queen”. A name they’ve given me – a blessing and a curse. A blessing because they are right, I’ve never met a clothing stain I can’t beat. A curse because my kids have a laid back attitude about stains. Spill spaghetti sauce on a white shirt? Whatever! Red Jello on the sleeves? so what! Paint, blood, pen, chocolate, BBQ sauce, ketchup, fruit juice, juice. I’ve beat it all.

Before I had kids I knew how to concur the basics of getting stains out of clothing – wine, blood, a stain from a greasy burger, but once my kids were born I had to up my game. I’ve had a chart similar to this one from Martha Stewart hanging in my laundry room for as long as I can remember. It’s a fancy hanging system too. A 3-ring sheet protector hung on the shelf bars with two paperclips. It’s always worked so I never changed it!

Tools and tips for getting stains out of clothingHere are the basics that I always have in my laundry room for stain-fighting purposes:

  1. A spray bottle filled with Dawn soap and water. No exact science on how much water to Dawn but any other soap just won’t do. It has to be Dawn. Seriously. It’s the best grease fighting soap on the shelf.
  2. A full bottle of non-diluted Dawn
  3. A spray bottle of vinegar
  4. Oxi Clean Powder
  5. Hydrogen Peroxide (the only thing that removes blood)
  6. Hairspray (the only thing that removes pen/ink)
  7. Bleach
  8. An old toothbrush
  9. Tide detergent

To be honest, I use the Dawn/water mixture and/or vinegar on 90% of stains I encounter. The rest of the other stain-fighters are for the tougher stains.

Here are some tips above and beyond what Martha’s chart covers:

  • Wash stained clothes in your first load. That way, if the stain doesn’t come out, you can work on it a little more before throwing it back in the wash.
  • For grease/oil based stains, use non-diluted Dawn directly on the stain. Not a lot, just enough to absorb into the clothing.
  • If you try to treat a stain with the vinegar or Dawn/water mix and after washing it, it doesn’t come clean, sprinkle the stain with Oxi Clean, then spray it with vinegar. It will bubble a little, which means it’s working.  Let it sit for a few minutes before washing it again or longer if you’re not yet doing a load of laundry. If you wait until the mix has dried to the shirt, just spray it again with vinegar right before you plan to put in the wash. You may want to “work” the stain a bit too with an old toothbrush.
  • This Oxi Clean/vinegar trick will often work for those clothes that made it to the dryer before the stain comes out too.
  • For stinky bath towels, after you wash them, toss in a cup of vinegar and run the rinse cycle. Doing this regularly will keep out that musty smell.
  • For stink pits in shirts, put 1-2 cups of vinegar in a bowl and position the pits of the shirts so they are in the vinegar. Soak for a bit then launder as usual.
  • Tide is definitely the best. I haven’t tried too many detergents, but I used Dreft when my daughter was a newborn (since it’s supposed to be gentler on their skin). A few months after she was born and several blowout stains that just didn’t come clean, I switched back to Tide. I’ve tried a few other brands but Tide is really the be-all-end-all when it comes to detergents in my experience.
  • Blood can be tricky. Fill the lid of the hydrogen peroxide bottle cap and pour it on the stain. Repeat until it is very faded. Launder as usual.
  • Same with pen, just use hairspray. Spray the ink with hairspray, let it sit and spray again until lightly faded or gone. Launder as usual. VERY IMPORTANT: When fighting hair spray, put a couple layers of paper towels behind the fabric. Once you spray the stain, it will bleed through so you need something to “catch” it.
  • An item not on my “regular” supply list are fresh lemons. If you get rust stains on your clothes, the best weapon is salt, fresh lemon juice and sunshine. Lay the article of clothing in the sun. Sprinkle salt on the rust stain, squeeze a lemon on it and let it soak in the sun a couple hours. Launder as usual.
  • Remember to check the article of clothing BEFORE putting it in the dryer. Put a sticky note on the dryer door if you have to. Fighting a stain before the clothing has been dry will be MUCH easier.
  • Most of all, don’t give up! Almost all stains can and will come out with a little bit of work.


Are you fighting a stain battle you need some advice on? Leave a comment. Maybe we can find the solution together!




  1. Cindy White March 26, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Oh I love and agree with your stuff. But I’ve ran into a very interesting stain. My 3 yr old granddaughter visited and her mom…my baby girl..used our return address stamp. Well this must have fascinated her and she stamped her brand new monogrammed shirt all over. So if she gets lost they can return her but I’d like for the ink to go away!!! I’ve faded it but now it’s all air dried and I’ve almost given up….almost! I bought some borax and oxi clean and just trying to figure out what’s next?!?! Thanks for any tips!

  2. Profile photo of Mary

    Mary March 27, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Hmmm, I’m definitely not a professional, but I would start by soaking the shirt in a mixture of oxi clean and water (if really ALL over). Then laundry (don’t dry). If it’s just certain spots, I’d sprinkle each area with oxi clean and then spray with vinegar. Let it sit for a couple hours before washing. I’ve also read that you can soak some clothes right in vinegar and that often works so that’s another option or soak in a vinegar oxi clean mixture. Don’t give up! Sometimes it takes me several washes before finally finding the thing that works. I haven’t worked with Borax so I can’t say what to do with that but I’m sure someone online has a trick or two that involves Borax. Good luck!

  3. sandy August 23, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    I need to know how to get chocolate out of clothes

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