How to Take Out Stains

Accidents happen. Stain removal is a normal part of clothing care and housekeeping. Knowing how to take out stains helps keeps clothes looking fresh and new. It also reduces the cost of replacing clothes, carpet and furnishings. 

Stains occur when a staining agent reacts with the fibers of a fabric, according to Cornell University College of Human Ecology. Because the combination of stain agents and fibers are endless, there are numerous stain removal methods and techniques.

How to Take Out Stains

Building a Stain Removal Kit

In order to quickly and efficiently remove stains, certain stain removal products are essential. Most stain removal products are simply products that are already in your house and pantry. Others can be easily found at the grocery, hardware or drug store. By having a few basic stain removal products on hand, you can quickly deal with the majority of stains. 

Prewash Stain Treatment Products include the sprays, gels and sticks used on all different types of stains to help loosen and remove stains prior to washing with detergent. Spray treatments are effective on many grease-based stains, but require immediate washing after treatment. Stick and gel treatments often allow the washing of stained clothing for several days, according to label directions. Prewash products are the first step in removing most types of stain, as they are mild enough to cause little damage to the majority of fabrics. 

Detergents include your basic all-purpose laundry detergents, light-duty liquids for delicate fabrics, mild hand-washing liquids and basic laundry soaps. Many detergents include label directions for pre-treating stained items. 

Bleaching products are those that remove the color from stained fabrics using a chemical reaction. Basic, liquid-chlorine bleach provides effective stain removal on white fabric. All-fabric bleaches are safe for colored fabrics. Hydrogen peroxide has gently bleaching properties, but the fabric should be tested for colorfastness in a hidden area, such as a hidden seam or hem. 

Additional stain removal products found in the pantry or medicine cabinet include alcohol, ammonia, nail polish remover, baking soda, lemon juice and white vinegar. 

For serious stains, commercial color removers, paint removers and dry-cleaning fluid may be necessary. These types of treatments are usually reserved for the hardest to remove stains and are last-chance treatments.

Identification of Stained Material

Fabric for clothing, table linens and bedding are generally divided into two categories: washable and dry-clean only. The ability to wash an item is not always dependent on the type of fabric. A wool suit jacket may require dry-cleaning, while a wool sweater requires handwashing. Many materials are washable, but the trims and interfacings are not. The majority of clothing and linens contain "Permanent care labels" and other labels attached at a garment neckline or seam. These labels help identify the fabric type and the laundry recommendations. Following recommended care directions lengthen the life of the fabric and protect it from damage. 

It is essential to understand what material you are working with before applying stain removers. For example, chlorine bleach is not safe for use on wool, silk or many synthetic materials. It will often damage the fabric beyond repair. 

You should also know what material you are working with when trying to remove stains from carpet or upholstery. Synthetic materials react differently to certain stains and cleaning agents, especially if it is already treated for easy stain removal. Wool carpeting or upholstery often requires special care. Without understanding what type of material you are treating, you have no guarantees that it will not be damaged by the removal of the stain. 

Identify the Staining Agent

The staining agent is the substance that has stained the material. From dirt to food, stains can happen from almost anything. Stains are often categorized by their type and the general method of removal. 

Protein stains include the majority of bodily fluids and high-protein foods. Baby food, milk, eggs, blood, school glue and ice cream are all protein stains. 

Tannin stains are caused by organic sources, such as berries, coffee, tea, tomatoes, juices and alcohol. They are liquids that basically act as a dye, absorbing into the fabric. Many washable inks and water color pens are also considered tannin stains. 

Dye stains are often harder to remove than tannin stains. They include powdered drinks, inks, dye transfer in the wash, mustard, grass and tempera paint. 

Oil stains are your greasy stains. They can be from food and petroleum sources. They include oils, fats, ring-around-the-collar, lotions and makeup. 

Combination stains occur when there are more than one ingredient in the staining agent. These hard-to-remove stains often require treatment for each part of the staining agent. For example, a spaghetti sauce stain may need to be treated for both oil and tomato staining. 

Once you have identified the stained material and the staining agent, the steps for removal can be identified. The majority of stains can be removed through prewash stain treatment followed by washing in a high-quality laundry detergent. After washing, the fabric should always be inspected prior to being placed in the dryer. The heat from drying may set the stain, making it impossible to remove. Stubborn stains can be treated using bleach and other stain removal treatments, depending on the fabric and the stain.