Stain Removers A-Z

Use this list of useful stain removers to eliminate any spots you encounter!

You may not know this, but some of the very best stain removers are things you use every single day. Not only do these spot removers work great – they’re right at your fingertips! If you are looking for stain removal materials for a specific item, I have created pages for Carpet Spot Remover Solutions, Laundry Spot Remover Solutions, Clothes Spot Remover Solutions, and Fabric Spot Remover Solutions.

Below is a list of the most common spot removers. Some people may want to reach for their favorite Commercial Spot Remover to get rid of those nasty stains. Or, if you prefer to keep it 100% green, I have created a list of strictly Natural Spot Removers which can be just as effective at getting the job done.

Useful Stain Removers

Absorbent: Cornstarch, cornmeal, talcum powder, or fuller’s earth (which is available in pharmacies) can be used to absorb greasy stains.

Acetone: Use pure acetone or non-oily nail polish remover on stains like nail polish or correction fluid. Do not use acetone on fabrics containing acetate or triacetate. It will melt these fibers! Be careful, too, on rayon, silk, and wool. Use with caution and in a well-ventilated area: Acetone is quite flammable and gives off fumes.

Alcohol (isopropyl): A good solvent for some difficult stains, including grass and ink, but toxic and highly flammable; has antiseptic properties; requires sparing use in well-ventilated areas away from sparks, flames, or heat sources; necessitates the protection of skin and eyes and avoidance of prolonged exposure to its fumes; may cause some dyes to run; must be diluted with water before being used as a stain remover on acetate, nylon, silk, and wool.

Ammonia: Purchase the household version of ammonia, which works well on dried blood, perspiration, citrus, juice, felt-tip pen, urine, and other acid-based stains. Note, however, that ammonia can damage silk and wool fibers. For stain removal purposes, stay away from the sudsy or scented offerings. Test ammonia (and all stain removers) on an inconspicuous part of your fabric, carpet or upholstery first since it can cause some dyes to run. And never mix chlorine bleach and ammonia – the resulting fumes are hazardous.

Baking soda: Also known as bicarbonate of soda and sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is used in baking to aerate cakes and bread, but it has many other household uses. A gentle, moderately alkaline, non-toxic abrasive, baking soda cuts through grease and oil because it reacts with the fatty acids to form mild detergents. Use baking soda to clean, deodorize and buffer, and to extinguish fires. You can even use it to clean your teeth!

Bleach stain removers: Keep two types on hand – chlorine and oxygen (all-fabric) bleach. Read the fabric care label to determine which bleach is safe for your fabric. When in doubt, use the oxygen bleach. Never mix oxygen and chlorine bleach. When combined, they cancel each other out.

Borax: A mildly alkaline powder most often used as a laundry booster to enhance soil removal; a reasonably good deodorizer; useful in some stain removal applications.

Bran: A safe, stable, absorbent material for soaking up wet or oily stains on upholstery or carpets.

Club Soda: My favorite “Oh my gosh, how did I do that?” spotter. Use it on any fabric or surface that can be treated with water. A slight dabbing on dry-clean-only fabrics is also permissible, just be sure to test first! Use club soda on any spill – ask the waiter for some if you’re dining out – dab it on and blot it off. Club soda keeps spills from becoming stains and brings the offending spill to the surface so it can be easily removed. It’s totally safe. I always make sure to have a bottle on hand.

Color remover: Available where fabric dyes are sold, this product removes dye stains from whites that are washed by mistake with colored items. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute recommends Carbona Color Run Remover and Rit Color Remover.

Cream of tartar: I bet you have some of this in the kitchen cupboard, but how often do you use it? Well, here’s your chance. Mix cream of tartar with lemon juice and you have a wonderful bleach for white clothes spotted with food or other stains. It’s even effective on many rust stains.

Denatured alcohol: This is an industrial alcohol reserved for heavy-duty cleaning. Don’t use it near an open flame, and make sure to dispose outside the home any rags that were used to apply it. Launder or clean anything that you treat with it as soon as possible. Look for this in cans at hardware stores and home centers. When stronger action is required, purchase denatured or isopropyl alcohol, which is available in pharmacies. Note that these alcohols have a shelf life.

Denture cleaning tablets: The cure-all for white table linens with food stains and white cotton with stains. Dissolve 1 tablet per ½ cup water. Pour directly on stain or spot.

Detergent stain removers: For all-around stain removal on fabrics, choose a bleach-free liquid detergent with enzymes. For stain removal on carpets and upholstery, choose a bleach-free, lanolin free liquid hand dishwashing detergent, such as Dawn or Joy. A useful formula for stain removal is 1 tablespoon of liquid laundry detergent or liquid hand dishwashing detergent dissolved in 2 cups of warm water. You can also rub full strength liquid laundry detergent into stains. If you are treating a stain on an item that contains wool or silk fibers, do not use an enzyme detergent. Enzymes are “protein eaters,” and these fibers are proteins.

Dry-cleaning solvent: This is a generic term for solvent-based liquids and sprays that are particularly useful for oily or greasy stains. One popular version is a powder that you spray on, let dry, and then brush off. Generally, dry-cleaning solvents are formulated for both dry-clean-only and washable fabrics, but read the product label to be sure. Some are specifically formulated for specific types of stains, such as pet stains; others are formulated for specific textile categories. Many carpet cleaners and upholstery cleaners are dry-cleaning solvents. With any dry-cleaning solvent, repeated light applications are more effective than one heavy application. Always rinse out the solvent completely before laundering any item treated with solvent. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute recommends Afta Dry Cleaning Solvent and Stain Removers.

Enzyme presoak stain removers: These products break down protein stains, such as blood, grass, and baby formula. A laundry detergent that contains enzymes can also be used for presoaking.

Erasers (art gum and regular): Mildly abrasive for rubbing away pencil marks, greasy spots, and dirty fingerprints on painted walls and wallpaper; keep a couple on hand as stain removers only, and rub them clean after use.

Glycerin: Particularly useful for stains on carpets and upholstery, glycerin softens hardened stains. It is especially effective for mustard and curry stains, and is available in pharmacies.

Hair spray: A solvent used to remove ink stains; success results from its high content of denatured alcohol, a highly toxic and flammable ingredient; conveniently comes in a handy spray bottle; should be used sparingly and in good ventilation; cheaper types tend to work better and have fewer additives that may contribute stains of their own; should be used with care if applying to acetate, silk, or wool.

Hydrogen peroxide: This is useful for stubborn stains such as bird droppings, feces, and chocolate. Be sure to use a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide, the type sold in pharmacies as a mild antiseptic.

Kitty litter (non-clumping type): Get the plainest kind available, and use as an absorbent for greasy or oily spills in your garage or driveway, or for large liquid cleanups like vomit.

Lemon juice: This is nature’s bleach and disinfectant. I don’t know where we’d be without it. If you have spots on white clothes, apply some lemon juice and lay them in the sun. Apply a little more lemon juice prior to laundering or pre-spray and launder as usual. This is really effective on baby formula stains.

Meat tenderizer: A combo of meat tenderizer (unseasoned, please, or you’ll have a whole new stain!) and cold water is just the answer to protein-based stains such as blood, milk, etc.

Nail polish remover: I caution you to use non-acetone polish remover first. It’s much less aggressive than acetone polish remover.

Non-gel toothpaste: This is just a fancy name for old-fashioned plain white toothpaste. Gels just don’t work, so don’t even try.

Paint remover: Use the water-rinsible variety to soften hardened paint stains (both oil and water based). Paint remover is available where paint is sold.

Petroleum jelly: It softens hardened grease, tar, and oil stains.

Prewash stain removers: Your favorite brand of stain remover is often the first line of defense against stains. But be sure to read the label, as the product may not be suitable for all fabrics. And there may be a recommended time frame for use.

Rubbing alcohol: This is good for removing ballpoint ink, pencil, mascara, and colored candle wax residue, even from dry-clean items. Don’t purchase rubbing alcohol with added color or fragrance; it may damage the fabric.

Rust stain removers: Choose a commercial rust remover, available in supermarkets and hardware stores, or a 5% oxalic acid solution, which is available in pharmacies. Oxalic acid is poisonous, so always wear rubber gloves, rinse garments thoroughly to get rid of any traces of the rust remover, and avoid contact with skin and eyes. Always follow package directions carefully. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute recommends Rit Rust Remover (for washable white fabrics) and Whink Rust Remover (for colorfast fabrics).

Salt: Sprinkling salt on spilled red wine will keep the wine from staining until you can launder it. Mixed with lemon juice, salt is one of the best stain removers for mildew spots.

Shampoo: Any brand will do. Cheap is fine. I save the small bottles from hotel stays and keep them in the laundry room. Great for treating ring-around-the-collar, mud and cosmetic stains.

Shaving cream: That innocent-looking can of shaving cream in your bathroom is one of the best spot and stain removers available. That’s because it’s really whipped soap! If you have a spill on your clothes (or even your carpet), moisten the spot, work in some shaving cream, and then flush it with cool water. If the offending spot is on something you’re wearing, work the shaving cream in and then use a clean cloth to blot the shaving cream and the spot away. A quick touch of the blow-dryer to prevent a ring and you’re on your way. The best thing about shaving cream is that even if it doesn’t work, it won’t set the stain, so the spot can still be removed later. Keep a small sample can in your suitcase when you travel. It’s saved me more than once!

Soap (pure): This stain remover can be used as a mildly alkaline cleanser; useful for loosening oily or greasy stains; should not be used on fruit stains, as it will set them.

Sodium thiosulfate: Pure sodium thiosulfate, or “fixer,” sold in pharmacies and photo-supply stores, is used to remove iodine and chlorine-bleach stains. Unless it is kept very tightly capped, this product has a shelf life of only several months, so you will probably want to buy only on an “as needed” basis.

Vegetable oil: For loosening dried grease stains for easier removal; should be combined with abrasives (ashes, rotten stone) for rubbing the stains on finished wood.

Waterless hand cleaner: Use a waterless hand cleaner, sold in grocery stores and drug stores, as a prewash for stubborn oil and grease stains. Work the cleaner into the fabric and remove it with warm water.

WD-40 Lubricant: Check out your garage of the “fix it” cupboard. If you don’t have any, pick up a can the next time you’re at the hardware store or home center. Why? Because we’ve all had those nasty grease stains and oil stains on clothes: salad dressing misses the salad and gets the blouse, or grease splatters when you are cooking – or crayon, lipstick, Chap Stick gets on your clothes! WD-40 is your answer. Spray some on, wait 10 minutes, then work in undiluted liquid dishwashing soap and launder as usual. Works well on everything except silk!

White vinegar: This is the only variety of vinegar that can be used for stain removal. The others will add stains, not take them away! White vinegar is particularly effective on old perspiration stains and for neutralizing pet stains and odors on carpets or upholstery. It can also help restore color that has been damaged by the stain itself or by the treatment process.

Keep these stain removers on hand so you can act quickly and those spots won't stand a chance!

Related Articles:

Best Stain Removal Products

Removing Stains: Tools & Techniques

How to Remove Stains

Return from Stain Removers A-Z to Stain Removal A-Z

Return to Home Page