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 in deeper) and then pretreating the spot.
But thanks to modern detergents, keeping your favorite garments blemish-free is easier than ever.
These 17 stain removal tips can save your beloved clothes from ending up in the rag pile.
When mixed with water, powdered detergent is 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.
These stain busters usually eliminate all but the most stubborn spots. And for those, the stain removal tips and techniques below by type can help. (See "Homemade Stain Solutions" on this page for the ingredients mentioned here.)
The best way to remove blood stains is to rinse or presoak the garment in cold water and wash in cold water with laundry detergent.
Don't use chlorine bleach, which can make the stain even worse.
To remove chewing gum, rub the gummy sport with ice to harden it. Scrape away as much of the gum as possible with a dull knife. Saturate what remains with a prewash stain remover, rinse, and launder as usual.
Treat the spot with enzyme laundry detergent mix; allow to sit for 30 minutes.
If a ring or a slight stain remains, feather the edges or spotty areas with a cloth dampened with hydrogen peroxide, rinse thoroughly with clear, cold water.
To remove coffee stains, sponge with or soak in cold water. Apply a pretreating product on the stain. Wash as usual and air-dry; repeat if the stain remains.
Pretreat the spot with prewash stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. Wash the garment in the water temperature recommended for the fabric.
Scrape off surface wax with a dull knife. 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 liquid 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.
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 care label instructions advise against it, use oxygen bleach instead.
Apply the enzyme laundry detergent mix directly onto the smudge. Let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with cold, clear water.
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.
Soak juice stains 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.
Apply Fels-Naptha paste, followed by ammonia and vinegar mixes if needed. This also works for spaghetti sauce, mayonnaise, and salad dressings.
To remove mildew stains, douse the garment with a diluted solution of bleach and launder as recommended for the clothing. For mildewed leather, brush on an antiseptic mouthwash.
Brush off as much of the surface dirt as possible. Pretreat or presoak with laundry detergent. Launder as usual.
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.
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.
Generously sprinkle salt on the site of the wine stain to keep additional liquid from saturating the surface. Sponge or soak the stain immediately in cold 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. Wash as label instructions recommend.