Smudges, drips, drops, and smears - no matter what their source, the key to keeping them from ruining your favorite clothes is to take quick action before the stain gets the chance to dry.
For most fabrics, this means blotting up the excess or rinsing the stain with cold water (don't rub; this spreads the stain and grinds it deeper) and then pretreating the spot.
But thanks to modern detergents, keeping your favorite clothes blemish-free is easier than ever.
Try the no-fail techniques (and homemade stain solutions) in this laundry stain removal guide the next time the kids show up with a splattered sweatshirt. Or dress. Or...
When mixed with water, powdered detergents are especially effective at loosening ground-in dirt before washing so it can be carried away during the machine wash.
Liquid detergents can help make oil, grease, and food stains disappear.
Prewash stain removers (available as sprays, sticks, and liquids) are effective on most fibers.
Either chlorine or oxygen bleach ("color-safe") in the wash cycle can help your detergent remove tough stains, including rust spots and dye stains.
But only chlorine bleach kills bacteria and viruses.
When pretreating, allow your stain-busting product to sit for a minute to a week, depending on the product.
Save time by keeping a stain stick or spray near the hamper, and dabbing or spritzing it on blighted clothes. Put them in the hamper and forget about them; then wash as usual following the label directions.
For those tough spots, the laundry stain removal guide below can help.
These stain busters usually eliminate all but the most stubborn spots.
First, be patient. Zapping a drip, drop, or splat without zapping the fabric itself requires a gentle touch and the patience to repeat treatment until the blight is lifted.
Try these laundry stain removal techniques (and my homemade stain solutions) and then wash the garment as usual.
1. Chewing gum: Rub the gummy spot with ice to harden it. Scrape away as much of the gum as possible with a dull knife.
Saturate what remains with a pre-wash stain remover. Rinse and wash as usual.
2. Blood: Rinse or pre-soak the garment in cold water and wash in cold water with laundry detergent.
Do not use chlorine bleach, which can make the stain worse.
3. Chocolate: Treat the spot with an enzyme laundry detergent mix (add one teaspoon of laundry detergent that contains enzymes to one cup of water.) Allow to sit for 30 minutes.
If a ring or slight stain remains, feather the edges or spotty areas with a cloth dampened with hydrogen peroxide. Rinse thoroughly with clear, cool water.
4. Coffee: Sponge with or soak in cold water. Apply a pretreating product on the stain. Wash as usual and air-dry; repeat if stain remains.
5. Cosmetics: Pre-treat cosmetics stains with a pre-wash stain remover or a liquid detergent. Wash the garment in the water temperature recommended for the fabric.
6. Crayon: Place the garment on paper towels, crayoned side up. Spray the crayon-smudged or melted-on area with WD-40. Let stand 10 minutes. Turn the garment over and spray the underside as well.
Allow to sit another 10 minutes. Using paper towels, blot on some hand dishwashing mix, replacing the towels as they absorb the waxy colors.
If crayons melted onto your dryer drum, too, spray a soft cloth with WD-40. Wipe clean.
7. Grass: Presoak or prewash the garment in warm water in a bucket or your washing machine (using the presoak setting) with a detergent containing enzymes.
Launder as usual with chlorine bleach if it's safe for the fabric. If the cleaning instructions advise against it, use oxygen bleach instead.
8. Ice cream: Apply the enzyme laundry detergent mix directly onto the smudge. Let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with cool, clear water.
9. Ink: Pull the stained area of the fabric taut over a clear jam or jelly jar.
Slowly drip isopropyl rubbing alcohol onto the spot until it lightens substantially. The liquid will dissolve the ink from the fabric and send it dripping colorfully into the jar.
10. Juice: Soak in cold water; then apply a pretreating product on the stain. Launder as label instructions recommend. Air-dry; do not place in dryer until the stain is completely gone.
11. Ketchup: Apply Fels-Naptha paste, followed by ammonia and vinegar mixes if needed. This also works for spaghetti sauce, mayonnaise, and salad dressings.
12. Mildew: Douse the garment with a diluted solution of bleach and launder as recommended for the garment. For mildewed leather, brush on an antiseptic mouthwash.
13. Mud: Brush off as much of the surface dirt as possible. Pretreat or presoak with laundry detergent. Launder as usual.
14. Perspiration, deodorants, antiperspirants: Use a prewash stain remover; if the stains are old, apply white vinegar. Rinse, then launder using oxygen bleach in the hottest water that's safe to use with the fabric.
15. Urine: Cover with salt until all excess liquid is absorbed. Rinse in cold water. If a residual stain remains, apply white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Launder according to the instructions on the item's fabric care label.
16. Wine: Generously sprinkle salt on the site of the stain to keep additional liquid from saturating the surface. Sponge or soak the stain immediately in cool water for 30 minutes. Apply a dishwashing liquid solution, continuing to blot until no more stain is coming off on your paper towel or rag.
Use this technique for soft-drink and fruit-drink spills, too.