How to remove stains from clothes

Removing stains from clothes can seem daunting, but with the right techniques and products, you can get your clothes looking fresh and clean again. Here are some tips and methods for removing a variety of common stains from fabric.

remove stains from clothes

Supplies You’ll Need

Before you start working on removing a stain, gather the following supplies:

  • White distilled vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Dish soap (Dawn, Palmolive)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Baby wipes
  • Old toothbrush
  • Stain pretreatment stick or spray (OxiClean, Resolve)
  • Color-safe bleach (Clorox 2)
  • Laundry detergent (Tide, Persil)
  • Stain removal wipes (Shout, Zout)
  • Soft clean clothes or paper towels
  • Small bowl for mixing solutions
  • Dull knife or spoon
  • Spray bottle for solutions

General Stain Removal Tips

Follow these basic tips whenever you are working on removing stains:

  • Act quickly! Fresh stains are easiest to remove.
  • Check the care label and only use recommended cleaning methods for the fabric type.
  • Start with the gentlest stain removal method using household ingredients.
  • Avoid using heat to set stains. Wash in cold or lukewarm water when possible.
  • Pretreat stains before washing.
  • Blot stains instead of rubbing.
  • Rinse thoroughly after pretreating.
  • Air dry stained clothes if possible.
  • Wash and dry cleaned items a second time to ensure stain removal.

Removing Food Stains

Food stains are a common culprit on clothes and fabric. Here are some tips for removing them:

For Fresh Stains

  • Scrape off excess food residue gently.
  • Rinse the back of the stain under cold running water forcefully.
  • Apply dish soap or detergent directly to stain and gently rub from edges inward.
  • Rinse under cold water until soap removed.
  • Treat with enzyme-based pretreatment spray or solution. Let sit 5-10 minutes.
  • Launder as usual with detergent and appropriate temperature water. Air dry if possible.

For Dried/Set-in Stains

  • Pretreat with dish soap, vinegar, detergent or enzyme pretreatment. Gently rub into stain with toothbrush or spoon.
  • Let sit 15-30 minutes for pretreatment to work into stain.
  • Wash in warm or hot water (if fabric allows) to help lift stain.
  • Repeat pretreatment, letting sit hours or overnight before washing again if stain remains.
  • Use color-safe bleach for extra whitening and removal.

Tougher Food Stains

  • Marinara, ketchup, chocolate, oil – Preheat with dish soap and hot water. Rinse and launder.
  • Coffee, tea – Pretreat with solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water.
  • Greasy stains – Pretreat with baking soda paste (3 parts baking soda, 1 part water). Apply paste and let dry before washing.
  • Dairy-based stains – Use enzyme pretreatment spray or soak in mixture of dish soap and cold water for 30 mins. Enzymes help break down milk proteins.

Removing Ink Stains

Ink stains on fabric can often be removed with the right pretreatment and technique:

For Fresh Ink Stains

  • Place stain face down on paper towels to draw ink out of fabric.
  • Flush back of stain with cold running water.
  • Dab isopropyl alcohol onto stain using cotton swabs or cloth. Repeat until no more ink transfers onto the cotton.
  • Rinse and wash as usual once stain removed.

For Dried Ink Stains

  • Alcohol-based inks – Pretreat with rubbing alcohol. Let soak 5-10 minutes before washing.
  • Iron-based inks – Use lemon juice or oxalic acid solution. Rinse and wash.
  • Ballpoint pen – Use hairspray. Let sit 1-2 hours before washing.
  • Permanent marker – Pretreat with toothpaste. Gently scrub with toothbrush. Rinse and launder.
  • Highlighters – Pretreat with baking soda paste. Apply and let dry before washing with detergent.

Always check care labels and test removal methods before applying to stain.

Makeup Stain Removal

Remove makeup stains from fabric with these techniques:

  • Scrape off excess makeup gently using a dull utensil.
  • Press stain face down on paper towels to absorb makeup. Replace towels until no more transfers.
  • For light stains, use baby wipes to gently wipe. Launder after.

For Heavier Makeup Stains

  • Lipstick – Apply small amount of petroleum jelly to stain. Gently rub with fingers or soft cloth. Repeat until lifted. Wash normally after.
  • Mascara – Loosen with baby wipe. Pretreat with mixture of dish soap and vinegar. Rub into stain with toothbrush, rinse and wash.
  • Foundation – Pretreat with baking soda paste. Let dry, brush off baking soda, rinse and launder. Baking soda absorbs oils.
  • Blush – Dab rubbing alcohol onto stain to lift color. Avoid harsh rubbing. Rinse and wash once removed.
  • Eyeshadow – Use hairspray or lemon juice to pretreat. Let sit before washing.

Gently test removal methods on delicates and silks first. With the proper techniques, even heavy makeup stains can be removed.

Blood Stain Removal

Blood stains can be removed from fabric by:

For Fresh Stains

  • Rinse back of fabric under cold water while stain is still wet.
  • Apply hydrogen peroxide or enzyme pretreatment. Let bubble 5 minutes.
  • Dab stain gently with cloth, rinsing often to avoid spreading.
  • Rinse thoroughly and wash in cool water with enzyme detergent.

For Dried Stains

  • Soak fabric in cold water 30 minutes up to a few hours to rehydrate stain.
  • Apply meat tenderizer solution. Let sit 15-30 minutes.
  • Spray with peroxide, wait 5 minutes for it to work.
  • Launder with cool water and enzyme detergent. Add color-safe bleach for whitening. Air dry.

If Stain Remains

  • Make a paste of cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide. Let sit 1 hour.
  • Spritz with hairspray. Let sit 30 mins to an hour before washing.
  • Pretreat overnight with diluted ammonia to dissolve blood proteins. Rinse and wash after.

Always check clothing labels – ammonia can damage wool and silk. With patience and enzyme cleaners, even dried blood stains can be removed.

Sweat and Deodorant Stain Removal

Remove unsightly sweat and deodorant stains with these techniques:

For Light Stains

  • Mix dish soap with warm water. Swirl into stain 2-3 mins.
  • Launder with detergent and color-safe bleach. Air dry in sunlight.

For Heavier Staining

  • Deodorant marks – Rub petroleum jelly into stain. Let sit 1 hour before washing.
  • Sweat stains – Soak in enzyme pretreatment or vinegar/dish soap mixture. Let sit overnight if needed.
  • Oily stains – Sprinkle generously with baking soda. Let sit at least 6 hours before brushing off and washing.
  • Discoloration – Make a paste of cream of tartar and lemon juice. Rub into stain, let sit 1 hour before washing.

For Extreme Cases

  • Soak in oxygen bleach spray several hours to lift stain and deodorize.
  • Wash twice with activated oxygen bleach detergent in hot water.
  • If stains remain, gently rub with rubbing alcohol. Rinse and re-wash.

Avoid using heat to dry until staining is fully removed. With repeated treatment, even severe stains can be removed.

Mud Stain Removal

Banish tough mud stains with these tips:

Fresh Mud Stains

  • Let mud dry before rinsing so it doesn’t grind into fabric.
  • Once dried, scrape off excess mud chunks with dull utensil. Avoid rubbing.
  • Apply detergent or dish soap directly to stain. Gently dab and lift outward from center of stain.
  • Rinse fabric and check for detergent residue.
  • Pretreat with enzyme spray. Let sit 5-10 minutes before washing.

Dried or Set-in Mud

  • Soak fabric in cool water with detergent, borax to loosen dried mud.
  • Make a solution of 1 part vinegar mixed with 3 parts warm water. Spray or sponge onto stain.
  • If still stubborn, make a paste with vinegar, dish soap and baking soda. Gently scrub with toothbrush.
  • Launder using hottest water safe for fabric. Add borax or oxygen bleach.

Tougher Mud Situations

  • Dirt bike gear – Pretreat with degreasing dish soap. Let sit 1 hour before washing.
  • Play clothes – Soak overnight in OxiClean solution before washing.
  • Delicates – Avoid bleach. Use enzyme spray and gentle detergent instead.

With proper pretreatment and detergent, even thick mud can be removed. Avoid excessive heat when drying until soils are fully lifted.

Grass Stain Removal

Remove pesky grass stains with these techniques:

For Fresh Stains

  • Rinse back of fabric with cold water. Avoid hot water as it can set stains.
  • Spritz stain with vinegar or alcohol-based hairspray. Let sit 5 minutes.
  • Rub a small amount of dish soap into grass stain using soft cloth.
  • Rinse soap then wash in cold water with enzyme detergent. Air dry.

For Dried/Set-in Stains

  • Apply non-gel toothpaste. Gently scrub with toothbrush then rinse.
  • Generously spray stain with hairspray. Let sit 1-2 hours before washing.
  • Make a hydrogen peroxide + baking soda paste. Rub into stain, let sit 20-30 mins before washing.

If Grass Stains Persist

  • Soak fabric 30 mins to a few hours in a solution of dish soap, vinegar and lukewarm water before washing.
  • Treat with enzyme pretreatment spray. Let sit overnight before washing.
  • Wash in hot water with oxygen bleach if fabric allows. Air dry for best results.

Avoid chlorine bleach, as it can react and create yellow discoloration. With some elbow grease, clothes can be grass-stain free.

Removing Dye Stains

Banish troublesome dye stains with these techniques:

For Fresh Stains

  • Immediately flush back of stain under cold running water.
  • Soak fabric in cold water + color-safe bleach 30+ mins.
  • Wash stained item alone with detergent and color-safe bleach added. Air dry.

For Dried/Set-in Stains

  • Apply non-gel toothpaste. Gently scrub with old toothbrush then rinse.
  • Soak 1-6 hours in oxygen bleach solution before washing.
  • For white fabrics, wash in hot water with chlorine bleach added to lift dye.

For Tough Stains

  • Make a hydrogen peroxide + cream of tartar paste. Apply to stain, let sit 1 hour.
  • Spray or sponge liberally with solution of dish soap, vinegar and warm water.
  • Use lemon juice + cream of tartar paste. Place fabric in sunlight to bleach staining.

Always spot test and check clothing labels before using harsher bleaching methods. With the proper technique, dye stains can be removed from fabrics.


Removing stains from clothing and fabrics is achievable with the right techniques and products. Acting quickly when stains occur makes removal easier. Always start with gentle techniques first before moving to more abrasive cleaners if needed. Check care labels to prevent damage and avoid excessive heat until stains are fully removed. With some time and the proper method for the type of stain, clothes can be looking fresh again.

Sharing Is Caring:

As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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