How to remove unknown stains

What's that spot on your child's new white T-shirt? The remains of a chocolate ice-cream cone perhaps? Or the muddy aftermath of a skateboard stunt gone awry? 

If you don't know the origins of a stain, all is not lost. Try one or more of the six remedies below for combatting unknown stains

First, be patient. Zapping a drip, drop, or splat without zapping the fabric itself requires a gentle touch, and the patience to repeat a stain removal treatment until the blight is lifted.

Soak or Rinse Unknown Stains in Cold Water

If you don't know what the stain is, rinse or soak in cold water before applying a stain-removal treament. 

Get into the habit of checking all your wet clothes for stains before tossing them in the dryer, as this can permanently set a stain.

Unfortunately, you're not always near a washing machine or stain stick when a clothing disaster strikes. 

Not to worry: Some remedies will work even on set-in spots and stains. So treat the stain as soon as possible. Pretreating works best on small spots and fresh stains.

But for old stains and protein stains, presoaking is key. 

These 6 solutions can help the next time you're called upon to tackle unknown stains

1.  Household Ammonia Mix

Mix one part of ammonia to eight portions of water. Apply directly on the stain, and let sit for 8 hours. Then wash the treated garment separately from the rest of your laundry.

2.  Enzyme Laundry Detergent Mix

Enzymes in laundry detergent helps remove protein-based stains, such as blood and chocolate, and are often quite effective on unknown stains.

Add one teaspoon of a laundry detergent that contains enzymes to one cup of water. Work the solution into the stained area until fully saturated, and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.

Wash as usual in the warmest wash water temperature safe for the garment. Check the care label tag for this information. 

3.  Dishwashing Liquid Mix

Mix one teaspoon dishwashing liquid and one cup of water. Apply to the unknown stain. Allow to sit for 30 minutes, machine wash.

4.  Hydrogen Peroxide 

No mixing required here! Use Just use 3 percent, undiluted hydrogen peroxide. Pour it directly on the unknown stain. Use a toothbrush to gently work it into the fabric. Allow the peroxide to sit on the garment for 5-10 minutes. Machine wash.

5.  Fels-Naptha Paste 

Shave off slices of Fels Naphtha laundry bar soap. Add one-part soap shavings to 10 parts of water.

Work the mixture into a paste. Apply to the stained area, wait 10 minutes, then launder as usual.

6.  WD-40

Yes, WD-40 - the stuff you use to get the squeaks out - can often get mystery stains out of clothes, too.

Apply it full-strength to the stained area. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before washing.

If, after all your efforts, that mystery spot is still visible, defer to the expertise of your dry cleaner. Professional chemicals can often dissolve greases and oils that detergents available to consumers can't.

You might like these:

  • How to Wash White Clothes

    White clothes are more prone to becoming discolored and yellowed than their lighter and darker cousins. Here's how to wash white clothes from start to bright, clean finish.

  • Laundry Stains Cleaning Tips

    Got kids? These laundry stains cleaning tips can help, while protecting your clothing investment.

  • Laundry Temperature: Hot, Warm, or Cold?

    Hot, warm, or cold? How important is the right laundry temperature? The answer is as important to your wardrobe as it is to your wallet. This laundry refresher course will have you setting the wash water temperature like a pro.

  • How to Wash Towels

    If you wash towels right, they'll last for at least five years. And they'll look color-correct, too. These tips can help.

  • How to Wash Dark Clothes

    Dark clothes are a fun part of our wardrobes. Here's how to wash dark clothes safely, and keep their bold colors intact in the process.

  • How to Unshrink a Sweater

    It is possible to unshrink a sweater that someone (not you, of course), popped into the dryer. This simple step by step guide can help with the resizing process.

  • How to Unshrink Wool

    It is possible to unshrink wool that someone (not you, of course) popped into the dryer and is now small enough for little Bruiser to wear.

  • The Sweater Wash Routine for Success

    Santa was good this year and brought you a bunch of new, fuzzy, warm sweaters. By now, they've been worn a few times and need a date with the washing machine. But you hold back, not wanting to lose that new look and feel.

  • How to Remove Summer Laundry Stains

    Summer is when Murphy's Law invariably comes into play: If something can spill, drip, ooze or run, it will do so. These tips for summer laundry stains can help.

  1. Clean Home
  2. Laundry and Stains
  3. How to Remove Unknown Stains


Have your say about what you just read!