Cleaning Stains in Crises Situations


Cleaning stains
Help! This is your guide to cleaning stains when household crises occur.

Chewing gum in your hair, a pen springing a leak in your pocket – life’s just full of surprises! Here’s a quick-look-up guide to household disasters.

If you can’t find your specific stain here, see Stain Removal A-Z for a more complete list.




Animal pee, pooh or vomit on floor or carpet. Remove the pee, pooh or vomit as soon as possible. Stash a stain cleaning crises kit containing the following items in your broom cupboard: paper towels, plastic grocery bags (for disposing of solids and used paper towels), a sponge and an enzyme-based cleaner (available at pet stores). Start cleaning stain by removing any solids. Next, blot up as much of the liquid content as possible. Soak the accident site with the enzyme cleaner. Rinse residue with plain water to avoid leaving any fragrant clues that might draw the pet back to use the same spot. See Pet Stain Removal for more solutions.


Baby pee, pooh or vomit on clothes or upholstery. First try cleaning stains with cold water, which may be all you’ll need to remove any of these protein stains if they’re fresh. Don’t use hot water, since hot water can cook the proteins, causing the stain to coagulate between the fibers in the fabric. Soak washables in cold water for half an hour, run the stain under cold tap water and gently rub the fabric against itself to loosen the stain. Then launder in your washing machine in warm water. For carpeting or upholstery, spray with cold water and blot with a clean cloth or paper towels. Repeat until the stain is gone. If residue remains, soak the accident site in enzyme cleaner. Follow the product directions. See Urine Stain Removal and Feces Stain Removal for more solutions.


Berry stains on clothing or kitchen towels. Berry stains are considered dye stains and they’re tough. For washable clothes and towels, pretreat the stain with a commercial stain remover (see Commercial Stain Remover A-Z). Or apply liquid laundry detergent directly to the stain. Work the detergent in well. Next, soak the fabric in a diluted solution of oxygen bleach (identified as “all-fabric” or “perborate” on the label – follow directions on the packaging). Launder in your washing machine. For dry-clean-only clothes, try cleaning stains by blotting a dry-cleaning solution on the spot. See Blueberry Stain Removal for more solutions.


Blood on fabric or carpet. If it’s fresh, cold water should be all you’ll need to remove this protein stain. Don’t use hot water for cleaning stains, since hot water can cook the proteins, causing the stain to coagulate between the fibers in the fabric. Soak washables in cold water for half an hour, run the stain under cold tap water, and gently rub the fabric against itself to loosen the stain. Launder in warm water. For carpeting or upholstery, spray with cold water and blot with a clean white towel (white, so there’s no chance of dye transfer), repeating until clean. See Blood Stain Removal for more solutions.


Candle wax on fabric or carpet. If the wax is still soft, blot up the excess with a paper towel. If it is hard, gently scrape the excess with a dull knife. Next, lay a plain brown paper bag or white paper towel (no dyes or printing inks) over the wax and run a hot iron over the paper. The heat will melt the wax, and the paper will absorb it. Continue cleaning stains by moving the bag or paper towel around to unsaturated sections until all the wax is absorbed. Remove residue by blotting with a dry-cleaning solvent. Test the solvent first on an inconspicuous spot. See Candle Wax Stain Removal for more solutions.


Chewing gum on upholstery, carpet or hair. Use ice to remove chewing gum from a variety of places: clothing, upholstery, carpeting and hard surfaces. Rub the ice on the gum until it freezes and hardens. To avoid water drips, put the ice in a plastic bag before rubbing it on the gum. Scrape away the hardened gum with a dull knife. If residue remains, remove it by blotting with a carpet stain remover (see Commercial Stain Remover A-Z). Before cleaning stain, test the solvent first on an inconspicuous spot. For gum in your hair apply a few drops of mineral oil, cooking oil or peanut butter to the gum and knead the gum until it’s soft. Keep pulling away bits of gum until it’s gone, then shampoo. See Chewing Gum Stain Removal for more solutions.


Coffee on clothes. For washable fabrics, try cleaning stains by soaking for half an hour in a solution of 1 teaspoon liquid laundry detergent (preferably one containing enzymes) per 1.75 liters warm water. Then launder in the washing machine with the hottest water that is safe for the fabric, using laundry detergent, not soap. Natural soap – including soap flakes, bar soap and detergent containing soap – makes tannin stains harder to remove. To remove stubborn tannin stains, you may need to wash with bleach. If all the sugars from one of these stains are not removed, they could turn brown in your tumble dryer, as the sugar is caremalized by the heat. See Coffee Stain Removal for more solutions.


Cooking oil splatters on stove, counters or clothes. First, the stove and counters: wipe oil from counters and the stove with paper towels. Then clean stains by wiping surfaces with a moist sponge and a solution of dishwashing liquid and warm water or a 50-50 solution of vinegar and warm water. Check beneath the stove top (if it’s not sealed – follow owner’s manual instructions) and wipe up oil there to prevent a cooking fire.
For oil on clothes you must dry-clean. Blot the grease with a paper towel dampened with acetone-based nail polish remover. (Do not use it on acetate, however – acetone will dissolve the fabric.) For washable clothes, try cleaning stains using a commercial pre-wash stain remover or a liquid laundry detergent. Work the detergent into the stain. Immediately after pretreatment, launder the item in hot water (if that is safe for the fabric and colors). See Oil Stain Removal for more solutions.


Felt-tip marker on fridge, counter or furniture. First, try wiping the marks off with a paper towel or dry cloth. Depending on the surface and whether the marker ink it still wet, you may be able to remove the mark. If not, you can try cleaning stains by wiping with a clean cloth moistened with isopropyl alcohol. If that doesn’t work, try mineral spirits or paraffin. But be careful: these solvents are all flammable. Test them first on an inconspicuous corner of the material. See Ink Stain Removal for more solutions.


Glue spilled on furniture, sofa. Start cleaning stain by scraping up whatever you can using a dull knife. If the glue is white school glue treat it as you would a protein-based stain, which means no hot water – the hot water can cook the proteins. Instead, spray the spot with cold water and blot with a clean cloth, repeating until clean. If it is airplane model glue, blot it with a cloth moistened with dry-cleaning solvent or isopropyl alcohol.


Lipstick on clothing. Lipstick contains both an oily/waxy base and dyes. You must first remove the oily/waxy part and then you can try to remove the dye. For washable fabrics, begin cleaning stain by applying a dry-cleaning solvent. Next, rub with a liquid laundry detergent and scrub in hot water. This should remove the oily/waxy part. Then launder in your washing machine using a laundry detergent and an oxygen or all-fabric bleach. See Lipstick Stain Removal for more solutions.


Mud tracked in on rug. Mud wreaks havoc on a rug. Don’t despair: let the mud dry first, and you’ll have a better chance to clean stains. If the mud is ground in, brush it to the surface, then get up as much as you can with a dull knife. After that, vacuum. If you still see muddy paw or footprints, mix ¼ teaspoon dishwashing liquid with 1 cup warm water and blot the solution onto the rug with a clean white towel. Use another damp towel to rinse and remove soap.


Mustard on clothing. Mustard is a dye stain. Pretreat washable clothes and towels with a commercial stain remover. Or apply liquid laundry detergent directly on the stain. Work the detergent in well. Next, soak the fabric in a diluted solution of oxygen bleach (identified as “all-fabric” or “perborate” on the label – follow directions on the packaging). Launder in your washing machine. For dry-clean-only clothes, try cleaning stain by blotting with a dry-cleaning solution on a clean white towel. See Mustard Stain Removal for more solutions.


Nail polish on furniture, floor or carpet. Blot up excess with a paper towel. Then blot with a cloth moistened with acetone-based nail polish remover. Don’t let the nail polish remover seep into a carpet’s latex backing. To remove the nail polish remover, mix a solution of 1 squirt mild dishwashing liquid (containing no bleach or lanolin) with 1 liter of water. Wipe the wood or work the solution into the textile with a clean towel. Draw the solution out again by blotting with a dry paper towel. Rinse by lightly spraying with clean water and then blot the water up with fresh paper towels. See Nail Polish Stain Removal for more solutions.


Oil and grease on clothes. Start cleaning stain by blotting up as much as you can with a paper towel or carefully scrape solids up with a dull knife. For clothes that can only be dry-cleaned, blot the grease with a paper towel dampened with acetone-based nail polish remover. (Don’t use acetone on acetate, because it will dissolve the fabric.) For washable clothes, spray with a commercial prewash stain remover or use a liquid laundry detergent. Work the detergent into the stain. Immediately after pretreatment, launder the item in your washing machine using hot water (if that is safe for the fabric and the colors). See Oil Stain Removal and Grease Stain Removal for more solutions.


Paint drippings on floor or carpeting. Start cleaning stains by blotting up as much dripped paint as possible using paper towels. If it is latex paint, spray with clean water and blot. Repeat until you’ve removed as much paint as possible. If it is oil-based paint, blot with a clean cloth or paper towel moistened with paint thinner or turpentine, refreshing cloths or paper towels repeatedly. If vestiges of the paint remain on the carpet, moisten the pile with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and let that stand for an hour. Blot with a clean paper towel. See Paint Stain Removal for more solutions.


Pen ink on your pocket. Before cleaning stains, remove the pen and put it in the refuse. Remove the item of clothing, making sure not to smear the ink stain on anything else. Place the stain face-down on white paper towels. (Put plastic beneath, to keep the ink from bleeding through and staining the surface you’re working on.) Blot with a cloth moistened with isopropyl alcohol, forcing the stain into the paper towels. If that does not work, try mineral spirits or paraffin. Be careful, because these solvents are flammable. Also test them first on an inconspicuous corner of the material. Rinse with water and launder in your washing machine. See Ink Stain Removal for more solutions.


Suntan lotion on clothing. Blot excess lotion with a paper towel or carefully scrape up the excess with a dull knife. On washable clothes, clean stain by spraying the soiled area with a commercial prewash stain remover. If you do not have that product, apply liquid laundry detergent directly to the stain and work it in. Immediately after pretreatment, launder the item in your washing machine in hot water (if that is safe for the fabric and colors). With dry-clean-only clothes, blot with a paper towel dampened with acetone based nail polish remover. (Acetone will dissolve acetate, however, so don’t use on that fabric.)


Tar on shoes. Remove as much of the tar as possible by gently scraping with an old spoon. Remove further residue by blotting with a clean, dry paper towel. Next, apply isopropyl alcohol to a paper towel and blot or gently rub. Repeat several times using clean paper towels with freshly applied alcohol. If any tar remains, try wiping with a soapy solution of warm water and a squirt of dishwashing liquid. Put a small amount on a cloth and gently blot or rub. Rinse by spraying lightly with clean water and wipe dry to finish cleaning stain.


Water or alcohol stain on furniture. If it’s a fresh stain, soak up any excess water or alcohol with a paper towel and then rub the spot vigorously in the direction of the grain with the palm of your hand or a cloth dipped in furniture polish. If it’s an old, dry stain, you’ll need an abrasive/lubricant combination: use a few drops of mineral oil with rottenstone (a fine abrasive available at hardware stores) sprinkled on top or apply a paste wax with a very fine grade of steel wool. At a pinch, you can even use cigarette ash and mayonnaise to clean the stain. No matter what combination you use, rub gently with the grain using a clean, dry cloth. See Water Stain Removal for more solutions.


Wine on carpet. Blot up what you can with paper towels. For large spills, work from the outside in to contain the spill. Next, lightly apply a solution of ¼ teaspoon mild dishwashing liquid and 1 liter of water. Work the solution into the affected area. Blot with clean paper towels to remove. Rinse by lightly spraying with water. Blot to remove excess water. Do this until all soap foam is gone. Then spray lightly with water and don’t blot. Instead, lay a pad of paper towels down, put a weight on the pad and let the towels dry. If the stain persists, moisten the pile with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Let that stand for an hour. Blot with clean paper towels to finish cleaning stain. See Wine Stain Removal for more solutions.


Wine on table linen. Regardless of the type of wine, if the fabric is washable, soak it for half an hour in a solution of 1 teaspoon liquid laundry detergent (preferably one containing enzymes) per 1.75 liters of warm water. Then launder in your washing machine using the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric and laundry detergent, not soap. Natural soap – including soap flakes, bar soap and detergent containing soap – makes tannin stains harder to remove. To remove stubborn tannin stains, you may need to wash with bleach. If all the sugars from one of these stains are not removed, they could turn brown in the tumble dryer, as the sugar is caramelized.

I hope this advice on cleaning stains brings you spot removal success!


Related Articles:

How to Remove Stains

Removing Stains: Tools & Techniques

Stain Removal Tips


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