Secrets to Removing 18 Stubborn Stains

Did you get mustard (or red wine or marker ink) on your new blouse? We know how to get it out.

Photo: Getty Images

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.

01 of 18

How to Remove Ink Stains

ink stain
Jeffrey Coolidge/Getty Images

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!)

02 of 18

How to Remove Food Grease Stains

pizza pie
Maciej Nicgorski / EyeEm/Getty Images

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

03 of 18

How to Remove Coffee or Tea Stains

Cup of coffee
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

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.

04 of 18

How to Remove Sweat Mark Stains

deodorant against blue background
Nichols/Getty Images

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.

05 of 18

How to Remove Snow and Salt Stains

salt shaker
Perch Images/Getty Images

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.

06 of 18

How to Remove Ketchup or Tomato Sauce Stains

A squeeze bottle of ketchup

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.

07 of 18

How to Remove Mustard Stains

Mustard squirt bottle
Smneedham/Getty Images

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

08 of 18

How to Remove Grass Stains

Grass and mud
Tina Rupp

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

09 of 18

How to Remove Lipstick Stains

tubes of lipstick
Nik Merkulov/Getty Images

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.

10 of 18

How to Remove Berry or Juice Stains

juice stain on a chair seat
Matthew Ward/Getty Images

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.

11 of 18

How to Remove Chocolate Stains

Sang An

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.

12 of 18

How to Remove Dirt Stains

Muddy, yellow boots on carpet
Wendell T. Webber

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.

13 of 18

How to Remove Ice Cream Stains

Ice cream dripping
Craig Cutler

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.

14 of 18

How to Remove Blood Stains

blood stain on white gauze
Westend61/Getty Images

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.

15 of 18

How to Remove Red Wine Stains

Wine spilling
Craig Cutler

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.

16 of 18

How to Remove White Wine Stains

Pouring white wine
Bill Grove/Getty Images

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

17 of 18

How to Remove Beer Stains

Overflowing beer mug
Thomas Acop/Getty Images

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

18 of 18

How to Remove Permanent Marker Stains

colored permanent markers
Andy Crawford/Getty Images

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

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