How to remove stains from clothing

7 common culprits crushed.
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Getting a stain on your clothes is a nuisance. There’s nothing worse than pulling a white blouse over your head to see yellow sweat stains or the remains of a beetroot salad that landed in your lap… forever.

The key to all stain removal is to avoid putting the item in the “too hard” basket to launder with care when you have more time. Different types of stains require different treatment but, no matter the type of stain, what’s best is to address the stain quickly. The other important tip is to first treat a non-oily stain with cold water, rather than hot which may ‘set’ the stain into the fibres of the fabric.

Here are tried and tested methods for seven of the most common stains.

1. Makeup stains

The downside of a fabulous concealer that lasts all day is when your favourite white blouse wears it too. Collars, necklines and drips can all be refreshed by:

  • Putting dishwashing liquid straight onto the stain and gently rubbing with a little water on a damp cloth or your fingers.
  • Rinse in cool water and repeat the process, then rinse with hot water.
  • If you’re in a rush in the bathroom, another good trick is to use micellar water or shaving cream with the same method.
Makeup table
(Credit: Photography: Mindi Cooke | Styling: Rachel Honner)

2. Grass stains

Whether it’s the kids’ cricket whites or a linen blouse after a particularly vigorous garden party, grass stains sustained by direct impact on the lush green stuff can wreak havoc on elbows and knees. Grass is an organic matter so before you reach for the stain remover, first:

  • Soak the garment in cold water before applying any products
  • Pre-treat to loosen the stain before washing
  • Apply liquid laundry detergent directly onto the stain
  • Gently rub the affected area
  • Wash as normal in washing machine

For stubborn stains, try rubbing alcohol or bleach, depending on the fabric. Use according to instructions on the label and don’t use bleach regularly as it will break down the fabric over time.

White laundry with t-shirts hung on rail
(Credit: Photography: Simon Whitbread | Styling: Lisa Hilton)

3. Sweat stains

White shirts and school tunics, sundresses and sports uniforms all bear the brunt of high exertion. Follow an American Mum’s trick and attack yellowing by:

  • Making up a solution of two parts hydrogen peroxide to one part dishwashing liquid
  • Apply the mixture directly onto the stain, then cover with baking soda
  • Scrub the area with an old toothbrush, then leave for an hour or overnight if possible. Wash as usual in washing machine

Address lingering odours by dipping underarm area of garment ahead of washing in a solution of 1 parts vinegar to 1 parts water and allow to sit for 20 minutes. Wash as normal.

4. Beetroot stains

The health benefits are not to be ignored but you can’t miss a beetroot stain. Treat as soon as possible:

  • Blot stain with paper towel from outside inwards to avoid spreading
  • Mix one tablespoon of laundry detergent with two cups of water
  • Hold a sponge or cloth to the back of the stain and blot repeatedly with the solution until stain disappears
  • Wash as normal in washing machine
Hamptons style laundry with blue cabinetry
(Credit: Photography: Chris Warnes | Styling: Fiona Gould)

5. Oily food stains

Greasy tell-tale marks down the front of clothing sometimes seem impossible to move, and shadows of an oil stain may stubbornly reappear wash after wash.

  • Apply dishwashing liquid directly to saturate the stain and allow to sit
  • Gently rub the stain with an old toothbrush
  • Rinse with warm water and repeat if necessary
  • Wash in hot water according to care label on garment

6. Tomato food stains

Tomato-based sauces are fraught with danger, clinging not only to your pasta but your favourite top as well! Remove tomato-based food stains caused with a little help from nature:

  • Wash article as normal as soon as possible after stain occurs
  • Hang outside in direct sunlight to dry naturally
  • That’s it! Leave in the sunshine for several days if necessary to move stubborn stains.

This method works just as well for removing stains from tablecloths and napkins.

7. White shoes

Just because your white sneakers don’t see any action on the sporting ground, doesn’t mean they don’t cop a knocking on the street. Spot clean marks as they appear to avoid a big scrubbing session down the, err, track.

  • Use shaving cream on a soft cloth to buff marks and small scratches
  • Wipe away with clean, damp cloth

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