7 Common Stains and How To Clean Them

Fight back against red wine, grease, candle wax, and more. We've got all the tricks and tips to combat these nasty stains.

We’ve all done it … dribbled gravy on grandma’s heirloom white linen tablecloth, or spilled red wine on our new cream-colored carpet. These everyday mishaps are enough to set your teeth on edge. Not to worry, though. Nearly all stains have a “counterstain,” and with a little pre-planning and some appropriate care, you can save your tablecloth, carpet, or favorite outfit from those awful stains.

Combating Common Stains

Here are some basic tips for using household items to combat these 6 common stains:

1. Red Wine Stains

Perhaps one of the more difficult stains to get out is red wine. There are, however, quite a few different ways to get wine out of your clothing and home furnishings using items found around the home. The most important thing to remember is technique. Always remember to “blot the spot,” because rubbing almost any stain is likely to make it worse.

For carpeting and upholstery, first blot the spot with a clean dry towel, getting as much of the liquid up as possible. Next mix up a solution of one tablespoon laundry detergent or dishwashing liquid, one tablespoon white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide, and two cups warm water. Soak a clean sponge in the mixture, squeeze it mostly dry and blot the stain with the sponge. Continue to blot, re-submerging and wringing the sponge as needed, until the stain dissolves.

When the stain is gone, wipe one more time with a clean, damp cloth. Another easy remedy is to use salt or baking soda. Just sprinkle the salt onto the stain while it is still wet. Leave the salt on for a few minutes, or more if you are able until the salt picks up the stain — the crystals will begin to turn red as the liquid is absorbed—and blot with a moist towel. Fluff the carpet when done, so it doesn’t stay matted down.

For clothing and linen that doesn’t require dry-cleaning, follow the blot method mentioned above and use any of the following remove the stain; white wine vinegar and water, dish soap and hydrogen peroxide, salt or baking powder, or, of course, the ever-popular club soda. Afterward, wash your item of clothing in the hottest water it can handle in your washing machine. For items that do require dry-cleaning, simply leave the stain for your dry cleaner to handle.

2. Butter or Oil Stains

Salt or baking soda can help absorb the grease on your tablecloth while it’s still fresh, and keep it from soaking further into the fabric. After absorbing the offending stain, rub liquid detergent into the stain and launder it in the hottest water that the fabric can handle. If you have immediate access to detergent or dish soap and some hot water, you can skip the salt altogether.

3. Coffee and Tea Stains

As with wine stains, blot the spot with a clean cloth, towel, or sponge. Next, you can mix some warm water and one-third of a cup of vinegar and two-thirds of a cup of water and continue to blot the spot until it disappears. For clothing and linens, wash in your washing machine in the hottest water the fabric can handle.

4.  Berry Stains (Cranberry, Blackberry, Blueberry, etc.)

Blot the spot, then wash with warm water and vinegar or dish soap. For clothing and washable items, wash with detergent and warm to hot water.

5. Dessert Stains

For dessert stains, like chocolate, on your clothes, linens, and upholstery, remember to use only cold water to remove the stain. This is because most desserts contain milk and/or eggs, and hot water will cook the milk and eggs into your fabric, making it even more difficult to remove. Blot some detergent or dish soap on the spot, and rub the spot clean as best you can with cool water until gone. For washable items, place in the machine and wash with detergent and cool to warm water. If the stain is still there, repeat the process before it dries. For desserts that have crusted and dried, scrape as much of the dessert off of the item before treating.

6. Candle Wax Stains

Let the wax dry first as it is easier to remove when dry. If you want it to dry faster place an ice cube over the wax to harden it. Remove as much as possible with a butter knife, spoon, or spatula edge. Next, place a clean paper towel or rag over the stain, and press with a warm iron to melt and transfer the wax. Continue to do this with fresh towels until the wax is gone. Rub a little liquid detergent or dish soap into the stain and wash in warm or hot water. If you don’t have access to an iron, just skip right to the detergent and wash in the hottest suitable water for the fabric in your machine. If the wax coloring stains your fabric, try an all-fabric bleach to remove the dye.

7. Gravy Stains

Blot up as much of the liquid as possible (don’t rub!). Then mix 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide with 1/4 cup liquid dish soap. Work the mixture into the stain, then let it soak for 20 minutes. Rinse with cool water and launder as usual.  If you’re not sure if the fabric is color-safe, it’s best to do a patch test first.

Remember never to use bar soap on any stain, because this can make the stain set in faster.

Do you have any home stain fighters? Share with us in the comments below!

Sherie Blumenthal

Sherie Blumenthal is a Food Access Coordinator with Lots to Gardens, an urban gardening and community nutrition initiative sponsored by St. Mary’s Health System in Lewiston, Maine.

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