How to Remove the Most Stubborn Stains (2023)

As much as we like to think a little soap and water will do the trick on removing common household stains, sometimes the hardest stains to remove call for a little patience and some much-needed elbow grease. Enter our handy stain-removal guide that promises to tackle even the most stubborn of messes (blood, sweat and tear-stains included).

For those moments where standard laundry detergent won't do, we rounded up our tried-and true tips for keeping your most cherished items as pristine as the were on the day you purchased them. Dealing with embarrassing, sweat-stained t-shirts? We have you covered. And because you're bound to eventually encounter a lap full of lo mein or an ill-timed ink stain, we included stain-removal tips that cover everyday mishaps. Since everybody's gotta spill, drip, or trip sometime, here's your first-things-first strategy for addressing common household stains on machine-washable clothes. Take the fancy stuff straight to the cleaners and read on for recommended cleaning treatments for the most common everyday stains.

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How to Remove Ink Stains

How to Remove the Most Stubborn Stains (1)

To stop the stain from spreading, create a "dam" around it with petroleum jelly. Then apply isopropyl alcohol with an eyedropper or a clean toothbrush. Dab with a cotton ball and mineral spirits to remove any residue. Let dry, and rinse with a dish-soap solution. (Vow not to let this deter you from using actual pens—you don't want to completely lose the ability to write the old-fashioned way!)

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How to Remove Food Grease Stains

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Sprinkle cornmeal or talcum powder on the spot until it is absorbed. Brush off with a dry cloth.

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How to Remove Coffee or Tea Stains

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In a spray bottle, combine 1 cup white vinegar and 1 cup water. Spritz the stain, then blot with a damp cloth. Next, dab with diluted ammonia (1 tablespoon clear ammonia in 1 cup water)—a step probably best saved for once you're home from the office, to avoid drawing attention to the aroma. Blot with a clean, damp cloth, followed by a dry cloth.

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How to Remove Sweat Mark Stains

Treat perspiration marks with a prewash stain remover, then launder the clothes in the hottest water recommended for the fabric, using an enzyme detergent and an oxygen bleach.

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How to Remove Snow and Salt Stains

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The calcium chloride in salty melted ice is alkaline and can leave behind a brownish stain. First neutralize with a vinegar solution (1 part white vinegar to 1 part water). Blot with a towel from the edge of the stain inward. Follow this with a solution of warm water and dish soap, then remove with a damp towel.

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How to Remove Ketchup or Tomato Sauce Stains

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Apply a combination solvent (as are most standard store-bought stain-fighters). Use an eyedropper and diluted vinegar to remove any remaining color. Finish by thoroughly flushing the spot with cool water in a regular wash cycle.

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How to Remove Mustard Stains

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Saturate the stain with white vinegar, then apply a dish-soap solution.

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How to Remove Grass Stains

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Treat with Shout and let sit for 15 minutes. Use a clean toothbrush to rub in the solution before washing as normal.

How to Remove Lipstick Stains

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Apply an oil solvent, available at drugstores, and let dry, then remove as much residue as possible. Treat with a liquid detergent (like Woolite) and very little water. Rub to form suds, then rinse. Use an eyedropper and diluted vinegar to remove any remaining color. Rinse with cool water.

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How to Remove Berry or Juice Stains

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Scrape up any solids, then apply a solution of warm water and dishwashing soap. Remove soap residue with a damp towel; blot. If the stain persists, blot on an ammonia solution with a warm, damp towel.

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How to Remove Chocolate Stains

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Scrape off the excess with a plastic knife or a spatula. Then apply a solution made of 1 tablespoon enzyme detergent and 2 cups water to the delicious offender and let sit for 20 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. Use a combination of water and a mild detergent to clean the residue.

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How to Remove Dirt Stains

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When the stain is dry, gently scrape off any excess loose particles with a plastic knife. Next, apply a solution of a little dish soap and warm water. Remove the soap residue with a damp towel; blot. Repeat until the dirt stain is gone.

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How to Remove Ice Cream Stains

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Flush with cool water. Apply a prewash stain-removal product (like Shout), then soak in a sink filled with cool water and a few drops of detergent.

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How to Remove Blood Stains

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First flush the area with cold water, then daub it with a paste made from an enzyme detergent (such as All brand laundry detergent) and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes. Place diluted ammonia in an eye dropper and treat the area. Rinse and finish with a regular wash cycle.

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How to Remove Red Wine Stains

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Blot—don't rub—with a clean, damp cloth, then use a fresh cloth to apply white wine. (Who knew?) Blot again. Still there? Sprinkle on baking soda, let sit for 20 minutes, and remove with yet another cloth.

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How to Remove White Wine Stains

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Dab with water and a little clear dish soap. Rinse with a clean, damp cloth. Easy peasy.

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How to Remove Beer Stains

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Soak in 2 cups cool water and ¼ cup white vinegar. Sponge off the stain, then wash the item as normal.

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How to Remove Permanent Marker Stains

Apply Amodex Ink and Stain Remover ($11; to the area. Rub in with a clean, stiff-bristled toothbrush until the ink is almost gone.


How do you get rid of stains that won't come out? ›

Douse the stain with white vinegar, then apply a paste made of equal parts baking soda and vinegar. If this doesn't work, immerse the item overnight in a bucket of water containing a few tablespoons of detergent and vinegar. Rinse and wash the following morning.

How do you get the most stubborn stains out of clothes? ›

Sponge or soak stain in cool water. Pretreat with prewash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent, liquid detergent booster or paste of powder laundry product and water. Launder using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric, or oxygen bleach.

Can some stains be permanent? ›

Unfortunately for everyone, some stains are permanent. They simply become part of the fabric. Continued attempts to remove them will cause dye loss or fabric damage, known as chafing or fraying.

What stains are permanent? ›

Below are common stains that can highly cause “permanent” stain and suggestions how to remove / lighten the mark.
  • Watermark. Watermarks are often seen on soft furnishings like carpet, sofa and mattress after flooding or caused by leaking air conditioner. ...
  • Red Wine Stain. ...
  • Curry Stain.

What is the best stain remover for set in stains? ›

OxiClean has the best overall value for its ability to tackle tough, set-in stains on clothes and throughout other household areas. We think it's the best laundry stain cleaner on the market and can replace several products in the laundry room. OxiClean is also easy to use in most cases.

Does hydrogen peroxide remove stains? ›

Hydrogen peroxide works differently than vinegar and is better at removing different types of stains. Hydrogen peroxide doesn't actually remove stains—it just makes them invisible! It breaks up strong chemical bonds in stains including ink, and in doing so it makes the stains colorless—but they're still there!

How do you remove stains from clothes that have been dried? ›

Mixing 1 part dish soap to 2 parts peroxide and water. Applying the mixture to the dried stains. Putting on a glove and rubbing the mixture gently onto the stain. Letting it sit overnight.

Can you remove permanent stains from clothes? ›

Methylated spirits and rubbing alcohol (which can be found at your local DIY store or chemist) are often very useful, but if you'd rather use items you have lying around the house, alcohol-based hairsprays and alcohol-based antibacterial hand soaps (in liquid form) are also good choices.


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