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Laundry Care Basics: Stain Removal

Please note that this is the third article in our series on laundry care basics. Before you read this stain removal article, it would be a good idea for you to first read our article on colorfastness, presoaking, and sorting since some of those tips are important to stain removal. Here is the link: "Laundry Care Basics: Colorfastness, Presoaking, and Sorting."

The Most Important Tip On Stain Removal After treating a stain, never put the item in the dryer before you know 100% for sure the stain is completely gone! Dryer heat will "set" the stain, making it near impossible to remove! After you treat your stain, and then wash the item, look at the area that was stained very carefully before deciding whether or not to put the item in the dryer. Keep in mind that you may not be able to see the stain as well once the item is wet. Thus, when in doubt, allow the item to air dry and then examine the area again to make sure the stain is completely gone. If not, repeat the procedure again as many times as it takes before putting the item in the dryer. Once you add that heat, the stain will likely be there forever! Drying the item before the stain is completely removed is the most common mistake people make in stain removal! You'll become a stain removal pro if you take the extra time to let your item air dry and be 100% sure the stain is completely gone before putting the item in the dryer!

The Universal Rule On Stain Removal There is one important universal truth you should always remember about stains. Fresh stains are easier to remove than old stains! Thus, the faster you treat a stain, the higher the chance you'll be able to remove it completely and the less trouble you'll have doing so.

Pay Close Attention To Your Care Label The first step you should take in stain removal should always be to read your care label. Clothing manufacturers are required by law to give you pertinent information that can save your clothing. For example, if your care label says, "Do Not Use Chlorine Bleach," you should be careful to avoid any stain removal product that contains chlorine bleach (many contain this!) or you could discolor your clothing and/or weaken the fibers. Additionally, always heed "Dry Clean Only" warnings and never attempt to remove the stain yourself if your care label says this.

Initial Procedures For Most Types Of Stains As soon as you notice a stain, very lightly blot ("sponge") the area with an absorbant white paper towel, a white tissue, or a white cloth. Avoid colored paper or colored cloths because these can add to the stain. Do not rub the area or press on the spot!!! Instead, let the paper or cloth wick the liquid away from your fabric. Wicking will allow you to remove more of the substance causing the stain than rubbing or blotting hard. Further, rubbing and pressing hard will only spread the stain more. After wicking, wet the area with COLD water. If the stain was not caused by a liquid, try wicking after you add a little water. Never use warm or hot water because this will set many types of stain, especially blood, milk, grass, wine, and other organic substances. Let the item soak in cold water for at least an hour before washing and much longer if possible. Periodic gentle agitation will also help remove the stain.

Dealing With Stains That Contain Tannins Tannins are a wide group of naturally occurring dyes found in many plants that make stains much more difficult to remove. Tannins are found in many foods commonly associated with stains including coffee, tea, hot chocolate, fruit juice, tomato juice, ketchup, barbecue sauce, beer, wine, and all other forms of alcohol. Tannins are also found in many types of ink, cologne, cosmetics, over the counter medications (like calamine lotion), and some plants you'll encounter during yard work or while playing outside. There are two important things to remember when dealing with tannin stains. First, never use plain soap, the kind you use when you bath or wash your hands. Soap will set your tannin stain and make it near impossible to remove!! Second, use a plain detergent that doesn't have a lot of other stuff added. Keep in mind too that some natural "detergents" contain soap so you'll need to avoid these for tannin stain removal. After you wet the fabric thoroughly, apply some of the detergent to the stain and let it soak for a while but do not let it completely dry out before you put it back in the cold water bath for additional soaking. Adding a little plain ol' household vinegar to your water bath can also help remove tannins! For really stubborn tannin stains, especially old tannin stains, you may need to use bleach to remove them completely, but try a few applications of water with vinegar and detergent first. If you don't have access to detergent right away, it's important to at least use your wicking method described above to remove as much of the stain-causing substance as possible and then keep the stained area wet or at least moist until you can get some detergent. This will help to prevent the tannins from "setting" into the fibers so be sure not to skip this step!

Dealing With Greasy Stains If you notice a grease stain right away, i.e. it's fresh, first use a white tissue to wick some of the grease away from the fabric. Next, apply some baby powder, fine salt, or corn starch to the area to help soak up more of the grease. Remember not to rub it in or you could damage your fabric. Afterward, isolate the area with one hand while lightly tapping the underneath of the area with the other hand to remove most of the powder. Put the grease stain in water and apply grease-fighting dish washing liquid to the area and let it soak. Use any brand that gets the grease off your dishes well! However, do not let it dry out completely before putting it back into the water bath for more soaking. Since oil can easily spread to other fabrics, wash this item separately after pre-treatment. Additionally, if cold water and detergent doesn't work, try using warm or near hot water if you are dealing with a sturdy fabric. While some people use lighter fluid or WD 40 to remove grease stains, this is smelly, toxic, highly flammable, and dangerous to use around kids. These substances can also ruin delicate fabrics or the decorative trim or design on found on some sturdy fabrics.

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