How Do I Get That Stain Out?

Teresa Hunsaker, a family and consumer science educator from the USU Extension office, shares her tips on how to remove even the most stubborn stains.

Before attempting any of the following removal tips, it is important know the type of fabric or fiber content of the clothing being treated, and to consider any Use and Care labeling suggestions. It is also important to consider the color of the garment being treated. Some dyes are not colorfast to some treatments. So, before you completely treat a stain first test it by applying a drop or two in an inconspicuous area. If there’s no damage to that area use the following suggestions to remove your stain. These tips are for washable fabrics.


Scrape excess crayon with blunt knife, or melt onto a paper towel using a warm iron. Pre-treat with favorite pre-treatment solution. Wash in hot, soft water with soap (such as Ivory) and one-half to one cup baking soda for 10 minutes. If stain remains, work a soap paste into stain. Wash five minutes. Rinse. To remove remaining color, use bleach or color remover as safe for fabric.

Note: For dry clean only clothing, or really tough to remove crayon marks you might use Renuzit, Energine, Carbona or other solvent spot removers. You can buy these spot removers at drug stores and grocery stores, as well as some clothing and department stores. Placing the garment with the stain face-down on the paper towels, sponge the back of the remaining stain with one of these dry cleaning solvents.


Probably one of the best ways to get nail polish out of clothing or carpet is nail polish remover, especially if the nail polish has not had time to dry much. Do not use acetone nail polish remover on acetate, triacetate or modacrylic fabrics as they will dissolve. Send these materials to the dry cleaner and identify the stain. On other fabrics, apply nail polish remover or acetone to back of stain over absorbent material. Rinse and launder. If the nail polish has been allowed to dry for a long period of time it may be impossible to get out. Sorry.


Lipstick is a petroleum based product, so can be difficult in some cases to get out, depending on the quality and type of lipstick.
I usually get two types of lipstick removal questions coming in to my office. The first one is the easiest to address, the lipstick smudge. That is just a small amount of lipstick that is on a collar, or neckline, maybe from putting on a shirt after you have done your makeup, or maybe someone got lipstick on you when giving you a hug. Start with rubbing alcohol. Dampen a soft cotton ball or white clean cloth with rubbing alcohol and rub onto to smudge. Often, that alone will do the trick. If not, after the alcohol put a little bit of dishwashing liquid on the clean cloth and get a little sudsy with some water. Rub on the smudge remaining from the alcohol treatment. Even WD40 can get the stain out, but be careful, because then you will have to treat for the WD40 stain afterwards, depending on the type of lipstick and fabric combination.

The next type of lipstick stain we get plenty of call about are the ones where entire tubes of lipstick have gone through the wash/dryer and have gotten all over lots of clothing. Yikes!! This is a tougher one. If there are places that are large stains, try melting the lipstick out (similar to crayon) with a warm iron and some clean paper towels. Once as much of the lipstick is gently melted out, pre-treat with rubbing alcohol then dishwashing detergent or bar soap (like Fels or other soap). Rub the soap into each mark and launder with regular detergent, but add 1 cup washing soda to the load.


The oils from perfumes we spray on tend to find their way to a nice little stain if we are not careful—especially on lighter weight dressy fabrics—at least they show up more on these. If the fabric is washable (including hand washable) the following is simple to do:

Rub undiluted dish washing liquid into the stain—Dawn, Ajax, Joy, Palmolive. Allow that to sit for 20 to 30 minutes. Then launder as usual. Repeat if necessary. Dish washing liquid is specifically formulated to break down oils. It will break down the stain and allow the washer to wash them away. Line dry only—as heat can set the stain.

Some folks like to use a “Wet Spotter” just like the dishwashing detergent, and here is the recipe:

Wet Spotter:

To prepare a wet spotter, mix 1 part glycerin, 1 part white dishwashing detergent, and 8 parts water. Shake well before each use. Store wet spotter in a plastic squeeze bottle.

If the stain is on a “Dry Clean” only garment, try a dry cleaning fluid like Carbona, K2r Spot Lifter, Afta Dry Cleaning Fluid, or Energine—available in nice department stores, fabric stores, or even the laundry section of some supermarkets. Or, take to a dry cleaner.


Before you launder your clothing after getting gasoline in them, allow them to sit outside for a while to let them dry and to get the smell to dissipate. This does help. Gasoline is another petroleum based product which makes getting the stain out a little tougher. When using a laundry degreaser or oxidizer, such as Orange Degreaser or Oxiclean, follow the instructions for use as a laundry aid as directed on the container.

Next, apply heavy-duty liquid detergent, or powdered detergent mixed with water to make a runny paste, to the stain. Work the detergent into the stain. After pretreatment, wash the garment in hot water (if safe for the fabric) using the recommended amount of detergent for a regular laundry load. Rinse and inspect before drying. Repeat this treatment if removal is incomplete.


Typically most baby stains are protein based—baby formula, mother’s milk, and of course, dirty diapers. Protein based stains need to be treated with some kind of an enzyme product, such as Biz or Gain. However, here is another combination that seems to work really well for most baby stains.

Pour 1 cup of powdered Clorox 2 (I’ve never tried liquid) and 1 cup of Cascade dishwasher detergent into a pail, bucket or other container large enough for the stained item. Add the hottest tap water you can get—or even part boiling. Stir until Clorox 2 and Cascade seem to be dissolved. (It is tough never seem to get it all dissolved). Add the item and soak for a few hours or overnight. (Source: Tightwad Gazette)


Treat with prewash spray or pre-treat with a product containing enzymes. Launder with chlorine bleach that is safe for fabric, or use all-fabric bleach.


Stain Chart from Soap and Detergent Association

Tightwad Gazette

If you have any questions, call the Family and Consumer Science Education Department at the Weber County USU Extension office at (801) 399-8203 or online at

Add comment