Laundry Stain Removal Tips

Laundry stain removalFollow these general laundry stain removal rules before washing and use the correct products to easily remove laundry stains. Doing your laundry the wrong way can permanently set existing spots... and even create a few new ones. Doing it the right way means that many stains will disappear with minimal effort. Having the right products on hand makes everything easier!

There are a few general laundry stain removal rules to follow before washing. First of all, deal with the stain right away; the longer you wait, the more a stain can soak in, making it harder to clean. Identify the source of laundry stains, then follow one of the recommended stain removal methods from Stain Removal A-Z. Never rub a stain, which can spread it or damage fibers. Instead, blot patiently using a clean white towel. If you are using a laundry stain remover solution, pretest it on a hem or other out-of-the-way part of the fabric. After washing a stained item, check the stain before you put the garment in the dryer as laundry stains get set by heat. If the stain is still there, try again to remove it. If it won’t come out, let the garment air-dry, rewash it, or try the dry cleaners, even for a piece of clothing you wouldn’t normally dry clean. Be sure to tell the dry cleaner attendant the laundry stain removal methods that you have already tried.

Laundry Stain Removal Products


Because they perform better in both hard and soft water, detergents have essentially replaced old-fashioned laundry soap for laundering. They are available in liquid or granule forms with or without additives such as oxygen bleach and fabric softener, and in formulas designed for specific uses, such as cold water wash or high efficiency for low-sudsing front or top loading water-saving washing machines.


There are 2 types: non-chlorine (or oxygen) and chlorine bleach. The garment’s care label will tell you which one is safe for your particular item or if you should avoid bleach altogether. Some trims, buttons, and elastics may not react well to bleach. So while bleach might be safe for the fabric, it may not be safe for the whole item. Follow care instructions for best results.

Non-chlorine or oxygen bleach: Helps clean and brighten dingy items. Although it is often called “all- fabric bleach,” it may damage wool, silk, acetate and some flame-retardent fabrics. Check the care label. Note that some detergents have oxygen bleach as an additive.

Chlorine bleach: Helps laundry stain removal but can also strip away the color and/or damage certain fibers. It also acts as a disinfectant on bacteria and viruses, which is why it’s so useful for items like cloth diapers and baby bibs. Chlorine bleach works faster and is more effective in restoring whiteness than oxygen bleach, but it can weaken fibers if not used correctly. Chlorine bleach is not safe for silk, wool, mohair, leather, or spandex.

Prewash stain and soil removers:

Pretreatment products are available in many forms: aerosols, pump sprays, sticks, foams, gels, and liquids. Choose the most convenient one for you and use it as recommended for your type of fabric and type of stain. These laundry stain removal products are solvent-based which means petroleum-based or detergent-based – so they work well on removing oil-based stains from man-made fibers such as polyester.

Fabric softener:

This product makes clothes and household items feel soft and fluffy; it also decreases static cling. In addition, permanent-press fabrics treated with softener tend to dry faster and wrinkle less. However, it reduces the effectiveness of flame-retardant finishes on children's sleepwear and can inhibit the moisture management characteristics of high-performance fabrics used in active sportswear. Towels treated with too much fabric softener become less absorbent. In liquid form, fabric softener is added to the wash during the final stages of the rinse cycle. It is also available as packets or sheets that go into the dryer or as an additive in some laundry detergents. Whether or not you use fabric softener is a matter of personal preference.

Sort Smart for Laundry Stain Removal

So you’ve dragged those soiled and dirty clothes over to the washing machine. Now what? The first step is to sort them into appropriate wash loads. Eventually, all laundry has to be sorted by:

1. Color (whites and/or lights, darks)
2. Recommended water temperature (cold, warm, or hot)
3. Type of wash cycle (regular or cottons, permanent press or casual, delicate, hand wash)
4. Type of bleach that is safe to use on the fabric (chlorine or non-chlorine/oxygen)

How you begin to sort for efficient laundry stain removal will depend on the type of items you have. The first sort – by color – is easy because all you have to do is look at the items. Further sorting means you need to consult the care labels to determine the recommended wash cycle, water temperature, and bleach recommendations. Some care labels include printed instructions; others use symbols.

Sort 1: By Color
Put all the darks in one pile; all the lights in another. As you sort by color, check for spots and stains. Check the pockets, too. If candy, crayons, or pens are left in the pockets, they will stain clothes during washing. As you sort, pretreat stains. If you know the source of the stain, consult Stain Removal A-Z, before pretreating it.

Color alert! It’s not always easy to decide if an item belongs in the “dark” or “light” pile. Often, it’s a judgement call: prints with a dark background or predominantly dark colors go in the “dark” pile; prints with a light background or predominantly light colors go in the “light” pile. If you are dealing with a two-tone item, such as a dress with a white bodice and a black skirt, launder it separately the first few times, following the care-label instructions. If the dark colors run or fade, return the item to the store where you bought it for a refund.

Red alert! Brightly colored fabrics (especially red) and dark or over dyed items (especially jeans) may shed some of their color when first washed. To avoid transferring the dye to other items, launder new items separately the first few times. To be sure the color has stopped running, add an old white sock or handkerchief to the wash. If it comes out as white as it went in, you can safely wash the bright items with the rest of your laundry.

Fuzz alert! Items that may shed fuzzies should be washed separately. These include towels and anything made from chenille fabric. Sweatshirts and flannel items can also shed the first few times they are washed. Toss them in the wash with like-colored towels for the first few launderings.

Sort 2: By Water Temperature
Once upon a time, people believed that the only way to get clothes clean was to use the hottest water possible. But with the advent of improved laundry products, this is no longer true. The garment’s care label has recommendations for water temperature. One reason to follow these recommendations is to avoid shrinkage. But there are other reasons:

  • Water that is too hot can cause colors to fade, making garments look old and tired before their time.
  • Lower water temperatures minimize wrinkling.

Hot water (110°-140°F or 43°-63°C) is the best laundry stain removal choice for most heavily soiled items or items that must be as clean as possible, such as diapers. However, temperatures this high may cause unstable dyes to run or fade, can cause wrinkling in permanent-press fabrics, and may cause items to shrink.

Warm water (100°-110°F or 38°-43°C) minimizes the chance of shrinkage and is gentler on the fabrics, resulting in fewer wrinkles and less chance of dye loss.

Cold water (65°-85°F or 38°-43°C) helps protect sensitive dyes and further minimizes any chance of shrinkage. It’s the least effective temperature range for laundry stain removal for very dirty clothes but is a fine choice for lightly soiled loads.

Sort 3: By Wash Cycle Setting
The regular (heavy duty or cottons) setting has the most agitation, so it should be reserved for sturdy or heavily soiled clothes.

The permanent press (casual or colored) setting has a shorter agitation time and an extra cold-water spray or deep rinse that minimizes wrinkles. Use this setting for synthetics and clothes that have a moderate amount of soil.

The gentle or delicate/knits setting has slower and shorter or intermittent agitation and spin cycles. It’s generally recommended for lingerie, sheer or rayon fabrics, and machine-washable silks and wools.

Sort 4: By Bleach Requirements
As a general rule, you can eliminate the “dark fabrics” pile from this sorting step. In all likelihood, you won’t need to bleach the darks unless you have a spot or stain that requires special treatment with oxygen (non-chlorine bleach). Check the care labels to find out if bleach is safe for the item and which type of bleach you should use.

Good luck with your laundry stain removal!

Related Articles:

Clothing Stain Removal Tips

Carpet Stain Removal Tips

Fabric Stain Removal Tips

Upholstery Stain Removal Tips

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