The Ultimate Stain Removal Guide for Clothes

by | Updated: March 7th, 2018 | Read time: 7 minutes

Everyone’s done it: Spilled coffee on your favorite t-shirt, dropped salsa in your lap or sat in melted chocolate…while wearing white pants. Immediately, you’re either in a state of rage, embarrassed or both. But not all hope is lost. Take comfort in knowing that most stains can be removed, and there won’t be a trace of clumsiness left behind.

Half a Lemon, White Vinegar, Detergent & Sponges on Blue Background are the Essentials for This Stain Removal Guide for Clothes |

For those who have been there, spilled that, this is your ultimate stain removal guide for clothes. But first, there are a few best practices to follow, regardless of the stain:

  • Immediately following the suggestions below, wash your fabric as soon as possible, before any stain has a chance to set permanently.
  • If stain persists, DO NOT put in dryer, as this will set the stain. Proceed with the other solutions provided.
  • Use an eye dropper for stain removal. It works well for the application of most treatment options below.


Stain: Coffee/Tea (black)

Stretch stained fabric over a bowl and carefully pour freshly boiled water over the stain (from about one foot above).

Stain: Coffee/Tea (with milk)

After following the step above, treat area with an oil solvent, like Ecover Natural Stain Remover.

Stain: Coffee/Tea (with sugar)

Follow the first step above, and then spray the area with a pre-treatment product.

  • If that didn’t work: Mix one part white vinegar with two parts water, and then dab the solution onto the stain.

Stain: Juice

Mix one tablespoon clear dish soap with 10 ounces warm water. Use to blot the stain.

  • If that didn’t work: Apply lemon juice to the stain and let dry in the sun.

Stain: Red wine

Coat the stain with salt, then boil water and stretch fabric over a bowl. Carefully pour boiled water through the stain (from about one foot above).

  • If that didn’t work: Try blotting the stain with either white wine or white vinegar.

Stain: White wine

Run cold water over stain. Coat with dish soap, and then dab the area with an enzyme-rich detergent.


Stain: Foundation

Dip a cotton swab into rubbing alcohol, and then gently dab the stain. Repeat the process with a cotton ball, dabbing until stain is gone.

Stain: Lipstick

Spray hair spray directly onto stain. Let sit for 10 minutes, and then wipe the spot with a damp cloth to get rid of any remaining residue.

Stain: Nail Polish

*Check the tag: If your fabric is made from acetate or triacetate, you will need to take it to a dry cleaner.

Lay the stain face-down on a paper towel. Carefully apply nail polish remover to the back of the stain, replacing paper towels as needed, to soak up the stain. Repeat this process as needed.


*It’s always a good idea to use a knife to scrape off any excess food from clothing.

Stain: Berries

Stretch fabric over a bowl. Pour boiling water through stain, and then dab the stain with white vinegar. Soak in cold water before laundering.

  • If that didn’t work: Mix 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 teaspoon dish soap. Apply to stain, let set for a few minutes and rinse thoroughly.

Stain: Butter & Cooking Oils

On both sides of the stain, sprinkle some cornstarch or talcum powder. Let it sit for 30 minutes, allowing the powder to soak up as much of the stain as possible. Shake off extra powder.

  • If that didn’t work: Try gently rubbing the spot with a mild dish detergent, and then rinse under hot water. Repeat as needed.

Stain: Chocolate & Chocolate Milk

Coat with dish soap or apply an enzyme-based detergent, and let stand for 30 minutes. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Stain: Gum

Either place fabric into freezer for about 15 minutes, or rub an ice cube over the gum until it freezes. Chip away all the gum you can. To loosen up any leftover pieces, lubricate the area with glycerin. Scrape off the rest. If any gum remains, dab with dish soap.

Stain: Ice Cream

Run cold water through stain, and then apply a stain pre-treatment. Soak garment in cool water mixed with a few drops of laundry detergent, and let soak for 30 minutes before washing.

Stain: Ketchup & Tomato- Based Sauces

Run under cold water, and then blot the stain with white vinegar. Gently apply diluted laundry detergent or stain pre-treatment before running through wash cycle.

Stain: Mustard

Run fabric through cold water, and then apply a dish soap solution. Let sit for 15 minutes. Dab on a stain pre-treatment or diluted laundry detergent before washing.

  • If that didn’t work: Dab stain with white vinegar.

Stain: Soy Sauce

Flush stain with cold water. Blot with white vinegar and follow with hydrogen peroxide, if needed. Rinse, and then apply a stain pre-treatment solution.

  • If that didn’t work: Try dabbing the area with an ammonia-based solution, rinse and use a stain pre-treatment.


Stain: Dirt & Mud

Once stain is dry, use a knife to scrape off as much as you can. Dilute some laundry detergent with water, and then pour onto stained area. Rub to create suds. Rinse and repeat, as needed.

  • If that didn’t workMix one part white vinegar with one part water. Apply a small amount to the stain. This will at least help lighten the dirt/mud color.

Stain: Grass

Apply a stain pre-treatment solution and let sit for 15 minutes. Using a clean toothbrush, rub solution into stain.

  • If that didn’t work: Mix up one part white vinegar with two parts water. Using a clean toothbrush, work the solution into the fabric.


Stain: Candle Wax

Place the piece of clothing in the freezer or freeze the wax with an ice cube. Chip away as much as you can. Apply a dry cleaning solvent, and then wash per usual.

  • If that didn’t work: Follow the above steps until you’ve chipped away the excess wax. Sandwich your garment in between paper towels. Place on an ironing board and run a warm iron over the paper towel until the wax is heated enough to be absorbed by the towel. Replace paper towels as needed, and repeat the process until all the wax has been absorbed.

Stain: Ink (Ball-Point Pen)

This remedy will have you feeling like a mad scientist. Using petroleum jelly, carefully build a barrier around the stain to keep it from spreading any further. To the stain directly, apply some rubbing alcohol. Then, using a cotton ball dipped in nail polish remover, blot the stain. Note: Open a window for extra ventilation, if needed. Once the fabric is dry, rinse with a dish soap solution.

Stain: Ink (Permanent Marker)

Moisten the fabric with water. Wet a paper towel with non-oily hair spray. Dab the paper towel over the stain until the marker is transferred onto the paper towel.

  • If that didn’t work: Place your fabric stain side down on a paper towel. Dip a wash rag in rubbing alcohol and carefully dab the stained area. The ink should begin to seep from the fabric into the paper towel; replace the paper towel, as needed.

Stain: Paint

Dilute laundry detergent with warm water and apply to the stained area. As the paint softens, wipe away excess paint. Rinse and repeat until paint is removed.


Stain: Baby Formula

Dab at the area with detergent, and then let it soak for a few hours before washing.

Stain: Blood (Wet)

Soak in cold water. Dip a cotton swap in ammonia and carefully dab wet stain.

Stain: Blood (Dry)

Let garment soak in salt water for a few hours. Rinse it out, and then treat the area with an ammonia solution.

Stain: Collar Ring

Use a stain pre-treatment.

If that didn’t work: 

  • If the stain is fresh, apply ammonia directly to the stain and rinse thoroughly.
  • If the stain is old, apply white vinegar directly to the stain and rinse thoroughly.

Stain: Pet Urine

Dab the area with laundry detergent. Let sit for 15 minutes before washing.

Stain: Poop

After carefully removing any excess soiling, turn fabric over or inside-out. Run cold water through the stain. In a bowl or bucket, mix warm water and laundry detergent. Place garment in warm water and let soak for 30 minutes. Wash in a warm-water cycle.

Stain: Underarm Yellowing (Fresh Stain)

Dab the area with shampoo before throwing in the washing machine.

Stain: Underarm Yellowing (Old Stain)

Mash up 4 digestive enzyme tablets and scoop powder into a small bowl. Add one tablespoon of water and stir to create a paste. Apply paste to the stain, and then let it sit for one hour before washing.

Stain: Vomit

After scraping off any excess vomit, apply a stain pre-treatment. Let it sit for 30 minutes, and then wash in a warm-water cycle.  

  • To disinfect: Add chlorine-free bleach to the wash cycle.

Congratulations! You are now a stain removal guru. Now go conquer those messes!