How to Remove Stains: The Ultimate Guide

Don’t panic! From accidental spills to mystery marks, find out how to remove even the most difficult stains from all kinds of fabric

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Strategic stain removal: the ultimate form of “adulting” (yes, we said it). No matter how hard we try to keep things clean, spills and accidents happen to the best of us. From marks on your rug left by your potty-training pup to the coffee that spilled on your shirt while multitasking this morning, there is always a hack for that!

Stain Types

Understanding the type of stain you’re working with will make the removal process way easier and much more effective than just pouring on some detergent and hoping for the best. In fact, you can often ditch dangerous chemical cleaners and opt for more natural cleaning products that are safer for homes with pets and young children. In some cases, you can even remove stains using natural ingredients already in your kitchen, like vinegar, club soda and hydrogen peroxide. 

Once you determine the stain type, you can then figure out what products you’ll need and how to best use them. All stains can be broken up into three categories: protein-based stains, oil-based stains and oxidizable stains. 

Protein-Based Stains

A protein-based stain is basically any stain that comes from a living being. Think sweat, blood and urine. Compared to other stain types, protein-based stains are relatively easy to remove and respond best to enzyme-based cleaners, like liquid laundry detergent and spot-treatment sprays, or color-safe bleach. Be careful with silk, satin and wool, though. Some cleaners can actually damage these fabrics beyond repair. Instead, you should spot-treat protein-based stains on delicate fabrics with water and vinegar. Hot water can set these stains, so it’s best to use cold water until the stain has been treated.

Oil-based Stains 

Oil-based stains are the most difficult to remove, mainly because they’re subtle and easy to miss. Once an oil-based stain has gone through the washer and dryer, it could become permanent. Some of the most common oil-based stains come from salad dressing, lotion and cooking oils. The trick to removing them? Paper towels, hot water and dish soap!

Oxidizable Stains

Oxidizable stains are usually brightly colored—think red wine, ketchup and coffee. These can be some of the most terrifying stains, especially on carpets and upholstery. The good news is there is a very good chance you can completely remove an oxidizable stain, as long as it is treated immediately. Oxygen-based stain removers, hydrogen peroxide and color-safe bleach will be your best friends in this situation.  

Infographic on the types of stains

General Stain Removal Tips

Stain removal is not a “one-size-fits-all” process, but there are some general tips to keep in mind no matter what kind of mess you’re dealing with:

  • Stains are the easiest to remove while fresh.
  • If possible, rinse the fabric from the back of the stain instead of directly on top.
  • Don’t put the soiled item in the dryer until the stain is completely gone.
  • You don’t always need heavy-duty chemical cleaning products—natural cleaners and household products like hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and baking soda can work as well. 

Don’t throw away that rug or your favorite shirt just yet! We’ve compiled this step-by-step guide to removing even the most stubborn stains.

How to Remove Blood Stains

Type of Stain: Protein-based

Supplies you’ll need: 

Removal difficulty rating: Medium

From scraped knees to bloody noses, blood stains often look scarier than they actually are. As long as the spot is treated early enough, these stains can be just as temporary as the cuts and scratches that created them in the first place. 

How to remove blood stains from clothes and sheets:

  • Step 1: Run the spot under cold water for at least 15 minutes as soon as you notice the stain. 
  • Step 2: Spot-treat with a stain remover or a drop of laundry detergent and let it sit for 5 minutes. For a more natural approach, you can also use baking soda or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Step 3: If you used baking soda or hydrogen peroxide, let the stain sit for 15–20 minutes and rinse with cold water. Repeat steps 2 and 3 as needed and do not continue on to steps 4 and 5. 

If you opted to treat the spot with a detergent or stain remover, start lightly scrubbing the stain in a circular motion with a clean towel or washcloth soaked in cold water.

  • Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3, but with warm water this time instead of cold. Repeat as many times as needed until the stain is gone.  
  • Step 5: Run the fabric through a warm wash cycle in your washing machine, but make sure to wait until the stain is completely gone before putting it in the dryer. 

How to remove blood stains from upholstery:

  • Step 1: Drench a white towel or washcloth in very cold water and lightly scrub the stain. 
  • Step 2: Spot-treat with a stain remover or a drop of laundry detergent and let it sit for 5 minutes. 

You can also use baking soda or hydrogen peroxide here. In that case, you’ll need to let the treatment sit on the stain for 10–15 minutes before dabbing the excess with a washcloth soaked in cold water. Repeat steps 1 and 2 as needed, but do not move on to steps 3 and 4 unless you’re using detergent or liquid spray stain remover. 

  • Step 3: Soak the same washcloth in warm water and begin lightly scrubbing the stain in a circular motion. 
  • Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the spot is completely gone. 

How to remove dried blood stains:

  • Step 1: Gently brush the spot with a dry toothbrush or other soft-bristled brush.
  • Step 2: Run the spot under cold water for at least 15 minutes. 
  • Step 3: Spot-treat with a stain remover or a drop of laundry detergent and let it sit for 5 minutes. 
  • Step 4: Start lightly scrubbing the stain in a circular motion with a white towel or washcloth soaked in cold water.
  • Step 5: Repeat steps 2 and 3, but with warm water this time instead of cold. Repeat as many times as needed until the stain has been removed. 
  • Step 6: Run through a wash cycle on warm with color-safe bleach. If the stain is still there, do not put the fabric in the dryer. Instead, repeat steps 2–6 until the stain is completely gone. 

How to Remove Deodorant Stains

Type of Stain: Protein-based and oil-based

Supplies you’ll need:

Removal difficulty rating: Easy to extreme

There’s nothing worse than noticing a giant deodorant stain on your shirt long after you’ve left your house. Luckily, it’s usually super easy to remove a fresh deodorant stain. Those dark, old underarm stains on your favorite T-shirt, though? Those require a bit more work.  

How to remove fresh deodorant stains from clothes:

  • Step 1: If you catch a deodorant stain while it’s fresh, you will most likely be able to remove it completely by rubbing it with a dryer sheet. If you’re out in public and need to treat the stain in a pinch, you can use a stain-free section of your shirt instead.
  • Step 2: When you get home, let your shirt soak in hot water with dish soap to disintegrate the oil-based ingredients found in most deodorants. This will ensure the stain is really gone for good. 
  • Step 3: Run through the washer and dryer as you normally would. 

How to remove old deodorant stains from clothes:

  • Step 1: Fill a large container with water and add one cup of vinegar. 
  • Step 2: Let your shirt soak in the container for 30 minutes to an hour. 
  • Step 3: Remove the shirt from the vinegar solution and cover the stained spots with grease-fighting dish soap. Use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the soap into the stain. 
  • Step 4: Run your shirt through the washing machine on the hottest setting your fabric will allow (check the tag for details). Do not put your shirt through the dryer until the stain is completely removed. Repeat steps 1–4 until the deodorant stains are completely removed. 

How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothes

Type of stain: Oil-based

Supplies you’ll need: 

Removal difficulty rating: Extreme

Oil stains are tough to remove in general, but they’re even tougher after going through the washer and dryer without being treated first. These stains are subtle and often go unnoticed before that first wash cycle. As long as you follow these steps within the first few hours after the stain is made, you should be able to get your clothes as good as new!

  • Step 1: Use a paper towel or even a piece of bread to dab the stain. This will remove any excess oil.
  • Step 2: Sprinkle cornstarch or baby powder on the oil spot, just like you might use dry shampoo to soak up excess oil on second- or third-day hair. Let the powder sit for at least 15 minutes. 
  • Step 3: Gently brush off any excess powder and spot-treat with grease-fighting dish soap.
  • Step 4: Wash your stained clothing in your washing machine on the hottest setting appropriate for the fabric you’re treating (check the tag for specific details).
  • Step 5: If the stain is still there after a full wash cycle, spot-treat the area again with dish soap and hot water until the stain is completely gone.

How to Remove Grease Stains

Stain type: Oil-based

Supplies you’ll need: 

Removal difficulty rating: Extreme

Trying to get rid of grease spots on your clothes can really test your sanity, but it can be done! Follow the steps below before this stain has a chance to dry and fully set in. 

How to remove new grease stains from clothes:

  • Step 1: Use a paper towel to dab the stain and soak up any excess oil.
  • Step 2: Sprinkle baking soda on top of the spot and let it sit for 10–15 minutes. 
  • Step 3: Use a soft-bristle brush to gently scrub the baking soda into the stain. Brush off the excess baking soda. 
  • Step 4: Cover the stain with grease-fighting dish soap and let it sit for 15 minutes.
  • Step 5: Rinse out the soap in the sink using hot water. 
  • Step 4: Repeat steps 2–5 as many times as necessary until your clothes are stain-free. 

How to remove old grease stains from clothes:

  • Step 1: Soak the stain in hot water for 10–15 minutes
  • Step 2: Cover the stain with grease-fighting dish soap and let it sit for 15 minutes. 
  • Step 3: Using a soft-bristle brush, scrub the soap into the stain.
  • Step 4: Rinse out the soap and assess the stain. If the stain is still there, repeat steps 2–4 but with a stain remover or laundry detergent instead of dish soap. 

How to Remove Ink Stains from Clothes

Type of stain: Oxidizable and Oil-based

Supplies you’ll need: 

Removal difficulty rating: Extreme

Ink stains are a double whammy. Not only is ink an oxidizable stain, but most are also oil-based—making these stains twice as difficult to remove. To tackle this stain, you’ll need hot water, laundry detergent and a lot of determination. 

  • Step 1: Spot-treat by covering the stain with laundry detergent or vinegar, and let it sit for up to 5 minutes. 
  • Step 2: Use a clean, white washcloth to lightly scrub out the ink. 
  • Step 3: Rinse the stained area in the sink using the hottest water possible for the fabric you’re working with (check the tag for specific details). 
  • Step 4: Repeat steps 1–3 until the stain is completely gone. 

How to Remove Coffee Stains

Type of stain: Oxidizable stain

Supplies you’ll need:

Removal difficulty rating: Easy

We’ve all been there—you’re on your way to work with a thermos of fresh coffee in your hand. Ready to take a sip, you don’t notice the broken lid before it leaks coffee all over you. Until you get home, you may be able to get away with blotting the stain with a damp paper towel and removing any leftover residue with a to-go stain remover pen. Once you’re home, though, you should follow these steps to make sure the stain is gone for good.  

How to remove coffee stains from clothes:

  • Step 1: Soak the coffee-stained spot in cold water for 10–15 minutes. This might be enough to remove the stain! If not, continue on to step 2. 
  • Step 2: Spot-treat the stain with liquid laundry detergent or a spray-on stain remover. Let it sit for 5 minutes. 
  • Step 3: Use a clean, damp washcloth to gently scrub the stain in a circular motion until the stain disappears. 
  • Step 4: Rinse out the detergent with warm water. 
  • Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 if necessary. 

How to remove coffee stains from carpets and upholstery:

  • Step 1: Use a clean washcloth soaked in cold water to dab the coffee stain (don’t scrub just yet). If this doesn’t remove the stain, move on to the next step. 
  • Step 2: Spot-treat the stain with a spray-on stain remover. Let it sit for 5 minutes. 
  • Step 3: Use the same washcloth to lightly scrub the stain in a circular motion until the stain disappears. 
  • Step 4: Rinse any excess stain remover out of your washcloth. Then, soak the washcloth with hot water.
  • Step 5: Use the washcloth to scrub out any remaining coffee stains.
  • Step 4: Repeat steps 2–5 until you have successfully removed the stain. 

How to Remove Red Wine Stains

Type of stain: Oxidizable stain

Supplies you’ll need:

Removal difficulty rating: Difficult

The only thing more terrifying than a red wine stain is being the guest who spills red wine at someone else’s house. Don’t panic just yet! It’s totally possible to remove red wine stains from clothing and carpets in just a few simple steps. 

How to remove wine stains from clothes:

  • Step 1: Blot the spill with paper towels or a dry washcloth to soak up any excess wine. Be careful to not rub or wipe the spot. 
  • Step 2: Saturate the spot in vinegar. Be sure to use white vinegar, as colored vinegar will just make the stain worse. Let the vinegar sit for 3–5 minutes.
  • Step 3: Without washing out the vinegar, pour laundry detergent over the spot. Let it sit for 5–10 minutes. 
  • Step 4: Rinse the stain with warm or hot water. 
  • Step 5: Repeat steps 2–4 until the stain is gone. 

How to remove wine stains from carpets and upholstery:

  • Step 1: Blot the spill with paper towels or a dry washcloth to soak up any excess wine. Be careful to not rub or wipe the spot. 
  • Step 2: Mix one cup of cold water, a half cup of hydrogen peroxide and one tablespoon of laundry detergent in a spray bottle or bowl. Spray or sponge the mixture onto the stain. Once it’s saturated, continue blotting the spot. 
  • Step 3: Continue spraying and blotting until the stain is fully removed. 
  • Step 4: If the stain persists, try pouring some club soda over the spot and let it sit for an hour. 
  • Step 5: Finish cleaning the spot by spraying it with cold water and blotting with a clean washcloth soaked in warm water until the leftover residue is gone. 

How to Remove Stains from a Mattress

Type of stain: Various

Supplies you’ll need: 

Removal difficulty rating: Medium

Removing stains from mattresses can be a bit tricky. Each mattress is made of different materials and layers, so it can be tough to figure out which methods and products to use. No matter if you’re sleeping on a pillow top, memory foam or traditional spring mattress, there are a few universal tips to keeping your bed clean and stain-free. 

  • Step 1: Soak up the liquid from your spill with a clean towel. Don’t wipe or rub the spot—it will transfer the stain around your mattress. Instead, press down and dab until your towel comes up dry when patting the surface.  
  • Step 2: Use the hose attachment of your vacuum cleaner to remove any excess liquid or crumbs that might still be there. Vacuuming your mattress is a good habit to get in every couple of months to prevent the build-up of crumbs and dust mites.
  • Step 3: Get a spray bottle and fill ¾ of the way with water. Mix in a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide, a tablespoon of baking soda and a tablespoon of stain remover or laundry detergent. Shake up the bottle and spray the stain lightly to start—mattresses take a while to dry and can get mildewy quickly.                                                                                                           
  • Step 4: Let the solution sit for 5 minutes and blot the spot again with a clean towel. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the stain has been lifted.  

Hey, accidents happen! But with quick and strategic action, there is no mess you can’t handle. Treat your stains as soon as possible by getting the cleaning supplies you need in minutes with Gopuff.  

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