Tips & Trends

Stain, Stain, Go Away: Our Handy Stain-Removal Guide

October 20, 2010 by

Stain removal techniques can vary depending on the fabric you’re treating.  When it comes to removing stains from cotton, the finish of the fabric is critical.  It is harder to remove stains from smoother finish fabrics than from those with a rougher texture.  Additionally, cotton fabrics in darker colors respond better to stain removal techniques than those in pastel colors.  However, common to all cotton, the first rule is to dab…not rub…when working on the stain.  Moving quickly, as soon as the accident occurs, also increases your chances of successful removal.  Never use hot water when removing stains from cotton.  Stains will typically set further with hot, and even warm, water.  Always, always, always, test your stain removal technique of choice on an inconspicuous area of the sheet, like the corner of the fitted sheet.  Check washing instructions to be safe.  if the fabric is dry clean only…don’t pre-treat…just throw on your shoes and head directly to the dry cleaners!

So, let’s summarize:

  • Review the washing instructions on the label of the fabric. Heed any special care instructions.
  • Move quickly once the accident happens
  • Dab
  • Cold or lukewarm water
  • Test anything you use on an inconspicuous area before applying to highly visible areas.

Now let’s talk about removing specific stains:


Hairspray is a great way to remove ink stains from cotton. Apply a little at a time and always wash the area well with detergent and water before it dries to prevent residue from forming. If you don’t have hairspray on hand, try nail polish remover.


The most important first step when removing a blood stain is soaking the stained area in cold water mixed with salt (1 teaspoon per cup) for at least an hour until the stain turns a faded brown color.  Salt can potentially cause some colors to fade, so, feel free to just use cold water if that is a concern. After soaking, apply a pre-wash stain remover to the affected area and rinse.  If the stain remains, soak it in a solution of ammonia and cold water.  Another effective remedy is applying a paste made out of meat tenderizer. Work the paste in gently and rinse.  The meat tenderizer breaks down the proteins in the blood which should release them from the fabric.

Makeup and lipstick

Dab, dab, and dab again using dishwashing liquid in cold water.  When the stain disappears, wash it as you normally do and check again before putting it in the dryer.  Lipstick is best removed using oil-based cleaning solvents.  Once applied, let the stain dry, scrape off the residue and wash as usual.  Again, double check the stain area before putting it in the dryer.  You may need to repeat the process and wash again.

Tea and coffee

Quick!  The number one key to removing these stains is acting immediately!  Run or soak cold water on the stain as soon as possible and wash.  If you are following the first rule of speed, another effective method is to pour enough salt on the stain to soak up the liquid.  Once you have managed the bulk of the stain, soak in cold water for an hour and wash as usual.

Red, Red Wine

Combine 1 teaspoon laundry soap or pretreatment (or dish soap) and 1 cup hydrogen peroxide in a small bowl. Soak a clean sponge in the mixture, squeeze it halfway dry, then gently dab the stain. Wash in cool water and air dry if the fabric is machine-washable.

Do you have any stain fighting secrets to share with our readers? Send them along!

May all your whites be white and all your colors be bright!

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