Stain Removal Secrets

A stain is a discoloration of a fabric caused by the presence of foreign matter.

Always test the removal method on a hidden part first, to make sure that it doesnt harm the fabric.


In all stain removal, prompt attention is most important.

Rinse non-greasy stains away with water.

Sprinkle talc on grease marks to absorb them.

Dab salt on wine or beetroot stains. Soak in cold water as soon as possible.

White wine will remove red wine stains.

Many stains can be removed by soaking and then washing, as long as the fabric is washable.

Professional cleaning is better when expensive garments or furnishings are stained, particularly if the mark cannot be identified or if there is a special finish to the fabric. In this case, avoid home treatment, mark the stain and, if possible, tell the cleaners exactly what was spilt.


1 Those removed by normal washing action.

2 Those removed by oxygen bleach (e.g., perborate, present in most washing powders).

3 Those for which soaking before washing helps.

4 Those requiring special treatments.


The methods recommended are those most likely to be effective and can be carried out under ordinary domestic conditions. However, there can be no hard-and-fast rules for stain removal. The age and concentration of the stain and the weave and finish of the fabric affect the chances of success. If chemical treatment is carried out on a fabric weakened by age or exposure of any kind it may be further weakened. Extra care must be taken when using chemicals marked ‘poisonous’ or ‘highly inflammable’.


For stains which require special treatment a number of products are available. Laundry borax Safe on most fabrics. Use it in solution 15 ml (1 tablespoon) to 500 ml (1 pint) of warm water for sponging or soaking washables. For white cottons, sprinkle borax on the dampened stain, stretch the item over a basin and pour hot water through.


Lubricates and softens stains. Use diluted, 1 part to 2 parts water. Methylated spirit Use neat as a solvent. It is inflammable and poisonous, so care is needed when using it.

White vinegar (or acetic acid) Useful on certain stains. Keep acetic acid away from acetates, and avoid contact with skin.

Household ammonia Useful for neutralizing acid stains. Use diluted, 1 part to 3 parts water, and use on wool and silk.

Household bleach (chlorine) Use on white cotton or linen only, dilute 14 ml (½ fl oz) to 1 litre (2 pints) of cold water. Grease solvents These come in several forms.. Liquids

should be used only in a well-ventilated room. Aerosols contain powder to absorb the stain as it is lifted out by the solvent. Paste/jelly solvents can also be used on wallpaper and stone. Turpentine substitutes, such as white spirit and lighter fuel, are useful as solvents. Petrol can be used as a solvent but it is dangerously inflammable.

STAIN TREATMENT Treat all stains as soon as possible. The longer they are left on the fabric, the more difficult they will be to remove.

If treated quickly, washing powder and water is often all that is necessary. If this does not remove the stain and alternative treatments are available, try the mildest one first.

Apart from those stains which should be soaked in cold water first, it is best to use warm suds immediately.

Tests must be made to see whether a chemical or solvent is suitable for all colours. Try to do this on an inconspicuous part of the garment or article.

Always place the area to be treated over an absorbent cloth or wad of kitchen paper. An old piece of towelling is ideal for this purpose.

In order to avoid a ring, first treat an area around the stain, and then work in towards the centre.

When a stained part of a fabric has to be dipped or soaked in a solution, hold the cloth by this area and then twist the unstained parts to prevent the solution spreading when the stained area is immersed.

If the stain is to be treated


Adhesives: Clear or contact adhesives on fabrics and upholstery. Treat with amyl acetate. Hold absorbent pad on stained side and dab from wrong side. Acetate should not be treated with acetone. Latex adhesive on fabrics and upholstery. If wet, it can be removed with a damp cloth. If dry, loosen with liquid grease solvent, rub off as much as possible, sponge or launder.


Beer Rinse or soak fresh stains in lukewarm water, then launder in heavy-duty detergent.

Spirit Rinse with clear, warm water then launder in heavy-duty detergent at the highest temperature for the fibre type.

Wine Rinse in warm water or soak and sponge in a warm detergent solution. Blood (and other proteinaceous stains such as egg, gravy, meat juice, chocolate, ice cream). Soak in cold water and salt, or warm detergent solution. Launder for fibre type. Soak stubborn

stains in hydrogen peroxide solution, plus a few drops of ammonia. Candle wax Lift off surface deposit with finger-nail. Sandwich stained area between clean blotting paper and melt out remainder with warm iron. Keep moving paper so that clear sections absorb wax. Use grease solvent to remove final traces.

Chewing gum

Harden the gum by placing the garment in a refrigerator, or holding it against a plastic bag containing ice cubes. The gum can then be cracked and picked off. Coffee and Tea These stains can normally be washed out in rich suds. Put into soak, or wash as soon as possible. Creosote and Tar Scrape off surplus. Treat stains with a grease solvent or petrol over an absorbent pad (caution: this is inflammable). Wash thoroughly to remove final traces of stain.


There are no simple rules. For many coloured fabrics and for those which are not washable, professional treatment is needed. Soak white and fast-coloured fabrics (NB. NOT wool, silk or fabrics with flame-resistant finishes) in a solution of heavy-duty detergent. Treat any remaining dye on white articles with dye-stripper. Follow the maker’s instructions. Flowers and Grass Sponge with methylated spirit. For bad stains, warm spirit carefully first by placing the open container in a bowl of hot water (away from naked flame). Wash in rich suds. To remove green colouring, moisten with glycerine, then wash. Fruit juice, see wine stains.

Grease, Fats and Oils (including boot polish, lipstick, wax polish). Heavy stains should be treated with a grease solvent before washing. Alternatively, soak in a washing solution, preferably of solvent with solvent first and washed afterwards, the best results will be obtained by washing immediately.

Many solvents are highly inflammable. Never use near a naked flame. Always work in a well-ventilated room, and do not smoke.

Do not use methylated spirits on acetates or triacetates. White spirit may be used.


Heat and water marks Rub with metal polish in the direction of the grain. For cigarette burns, try rubbing with fine steel wool followed by linseed oil. Alcohol is also effective. Wine/spirit marks Remove at once. Light marks may be removed with cigarette ash and linseed oil, then polished. Sticky marks Using a well-wrung cloth, rub with a solution of vinegar and warm water.

Scratches and dents If small, these can be disguised with iodine, shoe polish or commercial ‘Scratch Cover’ polish. Be sure to polish regularly. Dents may come out if you carefully use a warm iron over a damp cloth on them.

Faded wood Sunlight causes this. Regular treatment with ‘Scratch Cover’ polish improves this.


Preparations marked poisonous should be kept out of children’s reach. The cup or basin used must be very thoroughly washed afterwards.

Never soak wool, silk, leather, non-colourfast articles or articles which have flame-resistant finishes. Some articles which have metal fasteners may also be unsuitable for soaking detergent, then wash at the maximum temperature recommended for the fabric. This will remove most grease-bound stains.

Professional advice may be needed for fabric unsuitable for washing. Ink Washable ink Sponge or rub under cold water. Launder in heavy-duty detergent.

Permanent ink

Dab with methylated spirit using pad. Wash in detergent solution.


Dab lightly with cotton wool moistened in methylated spirit, or use grease-solvent. Sponge with warm water or launder. Felt-tip ink Dab small marks with methylated spirit and treat as for ballpoint ink. Felt-tip on wall coverings may be sponged with neat dishwashing liquid or methylated spirits.

Iodine Wash immediately. Old stains can be treated by soaking in a solution of ‘Hypo’ (sodium thiosulphate) and warm water.

Jam Fresh stains usually wash out. Soak old stains in borax solution of heavy-duty detergent solution. If some remain, try hydrogen peroxide. Launder. For fabrics

which cannot be washed, scrape off as much as possible and try sponging with a cloth moistened in a solution of dishwashing liquid. Follow with a clean cloth.


Wipe fresh stains. Soak for 5 mins in a weak ammonia solution — 5m1-500m1 water(1 standard medicine spoon to 1 pint). Rinse well. Launder in a solvent detergent solution at highest temperature for the fibre type.

Dried stains may be softened with glycerine before washing in a solvent detergent.


Treat with aerosol spray, followed by diluted ammonia. Alternatively, soak if necessary overnight in a strong solution of solvent detergent. Then wash. Metal polish Blot residue and dab area with white spirit. When dry, brush off powdery deposit. Then launder in heavy-duty detergent (if washable) according to fibre type. Nail varnish and Hair lacquer Wipe immediately with tissues or cotton wool, holding an absorbent pad under the stain. For all fabrics, use amyl acetate — test a small area first. Be particularly careful with acetates. Dab remaining colour with methylated spirit, followed by careful laundering in heavy-duty detergent.

Paints Prompt treatment is most important.

Some of the newer ‘silk’ paints can be washed out in mild detergent, or sponged carefully when stain is fresh.

Emulsion paint Sponge fresh stains with cold water, then launder. Oil-based paint Dab fresh stains with white spirit and sponge with cold water. Launder where possible. Dried stains on fabrics

require dry-cleaning. Perfume Rinse immediately. Lubricate a dried stain with glycerine solution before laundering. Perspiration Sponge

fresh stains with a weak solution of ammonia, then rinse. If colour is affected, sponge with vinegar and then rinse. Bleach white cotton in a solution of hydrogen peroxide or soak in detergent solution. For fabrics unsuitable for washing, dab with white vinegar solution — 5m1 of vinegar to 250m1(1 standard medicine spoon to half pint) of warm water —to clear stain and deodorize area.

Scorch marks Rub light marks immediately under cold running water, then soak in warm borax solution. Rinse well and launder if possible. On whites, careful bleaching with hydrogen peroxide (1 part to 4 parts of water) is a last remedy. If fibres are damaged, there is no remedy.

Shoe polish, see Grease, Fats and Oils.

Urine Cold rinse, then launder in heavy-duty detergent. Soak dried marks in detergent solution according to fibre type. Vomit, Soiled underwear and Nappies Remove surface deposit, rinse well under running cold water. Soak and launder in heavy-duty detergent solution according to fibre type. For fabrics which cannot be washed, remove deposit and sponge in warm water with a few drops of ammonia added. Blot.

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