Stain Removal Guidelines for textiles and other items

Before attempting to remove a stain, please be sure to determine that you really need to. Read our primer first. Some stains are better off left alone. Keep in mind you may damage your item irrevocably. If it is an important piece, seek the advice of a professional first.

We recommend that you use products containing the ingredient Sodium Percarbonate. This is a white, free flowing granular chemical used in the formulation of laundry products and many other cleaning products. Sodium Percarbonate consists mainly of hydrogen peroxide and soda, and functions as a bleaching agent, alkali provider and water softener at the same time. It it contains a high percentage of active oxygen which provides an excellent washing and bleaching effect.  It is environmentally compatible as it will break down into water, oxygen, and soda ash. Unlike chlorine based bleaches, sodium percarbonate is non-toxic and biodegradable.

Sodium Percarbonate is sometimes referred to as Oxygen bleach. Oxygen bleaches are found in products designed to remove organic stains (such as coffee, tea, wine, fruit juices, foods, sauces, grass and blood.)  Products containing oxygen bleach can be used in any place in or around the house to remove stains and odors.  They are efficient, safe and economical. If the odor problem persists, try putting several pieces of activated charcoal near the offending item.

Specific Stains and removal suggestions:


If the item is washable, spread dry baking soda on the area and dampen with water.  Rinse thoroughly in warm water. If the item cannot be washed, hold the stained area over a bowl of household ammonia.  The fumes can neutralize the acid. Rinse well.  Beware: ammonia can stain. 

Adhesive Tape

See grease


Rinse thoroughly with warm water as soon as the stain is discovered.  If the item can be washed, presoak it before washing in warm water.  Do not dry in a dryer or use an iron until you are sure the stain has been removed.  Bleach may be used on white cotton fabric. 

Baby Oil

See Grease stains


Treat immediately with Anti-clor, Bleach Stop or chlorine free oxygen bleach like OxyBoost.  If not available, rinse the fabric in copious amounts of cold water and rinse thoroughly. Be aware that full strength bleach will destroy silk and wool.  

Blood, Chocolate & Cocoa, Coffee & Tea

See Protein Stains.

Butter, Cream & Fatty Stains

See grease stains.


See wax

Deodorants & Antiperspirants

See perspiration

Dyes & Running Colors

No one treatment is successful in all cases. If the item is still wet when the running dye is discovered, force water through the area to remove as much dye as possible. Wash with a laundry detergent containing oxygen bleach.  White cotton and linen may be bleached.  Synthropol will often remove loose dye. Store the wet item in the freezer if synthropol is not immediately available.  

Fruit Juices & Berries

See protein stains


See wax


Some glue is water-soluble.  Try washing in cool first.  If that doesn't work, you may need to use a spirit solvent such as wood alcohol or amyl acetate.  Some glue can be dissolved using nail polish removed blotted on with a paper towel.

Grease and oil

If the item is washable, blot with paper towels to remove as much as possible.  Use an oxygen based presoak designed for removing grease stains before washing in warm water and a powdered laundry detergent which contains oxygen bleach. OxiClean works well.   Dawn dishwashing detergent will break up light oil, such as sewing machine oil.  Wash badly stained textiles using small loads and a full water level. Do not overload washer.

If the item is not washable, again blot with paper towels to remove as much as possible.  Sponge it with a spot stain remover or drying cleaning fluid. Do not use dry cleaning fluid, on carpets or fabrics with rubberized backing.  On upholstery and carpets, sprinkle with a mixture of cornflower and an oxygen based cleaning powder.  Remove with a vacuum and shampoo the area.  

As a last resort, kerosene will dissolve grease.  However, it leaves an oily stain behind which must be removed using the above methods. 


If the stain is still wet, blot up as much as possible using a paper towel. If you have some, apply an absorbent (loose chalk, talcum powder, starch or salt) to absorb excess ink and stop it from spreading. 

If the stain is ballpoint pen ink, try saturating the material with an alcohol-based hair spray. The alcohol content in the hair spray will break up the ink, allowing it to be blotted up with a paper towel. 

If the stain is a water based ink, it should come out in the wash.


Rinse immediately in cool water.  If the stain is old, try applying a solution of 1 tsp. sodium thiosulphate mixed 1cup warm water. Rinse well and launder as usual. 


Treat according to ingredients. Where contents cannot be determined proceed as for "Unknown Stain".


Mold & Mildew

Mold, fungus, and mildew are vegetative growths which are caused by spores in the air. They thrive in warm, damp, dark poorly ventilated environments.  To prevent the spread of mildew, you must kill the spores.  

If you have a mildewed textile, treat as soon as discovered, before the mold has time to weaken the cloth. Slight, fresh stains can often be removed by washing with your usual laundry product and air drying. Chlorine bleach may be used for white untreated cottons and linens. Rinse thoroughly before washing. Vinegar added to the final rinse will help remove any traces of smell remaining from the bleach. If the fabric is not white, oxygen bleach should be used.

Bleach will kill mold and mildew on contact, but is extremely caustic to textiles and other porous surfaces. For non porous surfaces, mix one part of chlorine bleach with 3 parts of water, allow to stand on surface for 10 to 15 minutes, agitate with a soft scrub brush, rinse with water and allow to air dry. 

On porous surfaces, use a disinfectant cleaner designed for this purpose. The amount of time on a surface increases the effectiveness of these products.

To get rid of musty basements smells, try putting charcoal in bowls around the basement. Buy moisture absorbing "rocks" from local hardware and put them around the basement, too.  Spray a bleach/water solution on all surfaces that can take bleach without being bleached.  Use dehumidifiers, and fans to circulate air. Odoban (a commercial product available at Sam's Club) will also absorb odors. 


See protein stains


See protein stains

Musty Odors

Start by cleaning away the mildew.  See mildew stains. If your carpets are musty after having become wet, try sprinkling them with baking soda or 20 Mule Team Borax to absorb the odors, and then vacuum.  If that doesn't work, wash them using a SteamVac and a soap formulated to clean odorous carpeting.  Commercial carpet cleaners may have a drying room you can use.

To get rid of musty basements smells, try putting charcoal in bowls around the basement. Buy moisture absorbing "rocks" from local hardware and put them around the basement, too.  Spray a bleach/water solution on all surfaces that can take bleach without being bleached.  Use dehumidifiers, and fans to circulate air. Odoban (a commercial product available at Sam's Club) will also absorb odors. 

If you have a smelly quilt (smoke odors, etc.), first try airing it outside.  Put it on a line on a sunny day with a light breeze. Try closing it in a plastic bag with a cake of Lava or Dial Antibacterial soap.  That may absorb the odor.  

Nail Polish

Acetone and amyl acetate (nail polish removers) will remove nail polish from surfaces, but take care with synthetic fibers, as both of these dissolve some type of rayons. If the item is washable, follow up by laundering with an oxygen based laundry detergent. Otherwise, rinse area well. 


See grease stains


Pencil Marks (lead)

Try a soft eraser (Art Gum) for unwashable garments. Use a quality laundry powder or liquid on lead pencil marks, but never for indelible pencil. Soft pencil marks may be removed with a mixture of equal parts Dove liquid and Clorox 2 powder in warm or hot water. Soak thoroughly. Do not rub. Rinse completely.  Formula 409 sprayed on, gently rubbed in with a soft cloth or toothbrush, and then rinsed will also work. 

For fresh pencil marks, try this:

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup rubbing alcohol

7-8 drops of Palmolive liquid detergent

Mix and apply with a toothbrush

Another suggestion:  To remove pencil marks there is a recipe of 1 cup water, 2 tbs alcohol and 1 drop clear dishwashing liquid. I have had students tell me that the new clear Windex also works.

General cleaning solution, also good for household cleaning: 3 tablespoons of household ammonia to a squirter bottle (1 quart) full of water.

Perspiration Stains including Antiperspirant and Deodorant stains

Use an oxygen based presoak on the area before washing.  If odor remains, soak in a 50% vinegar and 50% water solution. Dry cleanable fabric such as wool and silk can be freshened by sponging with a ammonia diluted 50% with water, however, that may also damage the color.  Test on an inconspicuous area first. 

Protein Stains (coffee, fruit juice, blood, vomit, tobacco etc.)

Blot with paper towels to remove as much of the stain as possible  before washing with cool salted water (1tsp to 1 pint water).  Rinse with clear water.  If the stain remains, presoak using with an oxygen based product before washing again with a granulated laundry powder. Do not use hot water, dry the item in a dryer or use a hot iron as this will set any remaining stain.  Coffee and tea stains on cottons and linens can also be removed by soaking in borax and water (1 Tbsp. borax in 1cup of warm water). Wine and fruit juice respond well to be cleaned with 1 part water, 1 part ammonia solution. If a tobacco stain is stubborn, try applying a solution of 1 tsp. sodium thiosulphate mixed with 1cup warm water. Let soak and wash as normal. 

If the item cannot be washed, sprinkle with pepsin powder or spread with a thick paste of corn starch and water, let dry and brush off. Repeat if necessary.   Stains on wool, rayon and silk should be taken to the dry cleaner for spot treatment.  Often home attempts to remove the stain will remove the protein stain but leave a water stain, which is harder to remove. In a pinch you can hold the affected area in the steam from a rapidly boiling kettle or steam iron taking care that no droplets of water reach the item. Shake well and restore the nap by rubbing with a cloth of similar fabric. 


If it difficult to remove rust stains from fabric without damaging colors.  Be aware you may do more harm than good.

Light stains may be treated by sprinkling the area with salt, rubbing with lemon juice and placing in the sun.  If the stain is so bad the item is ruined anyway unless it is removed, try this: mix 4 tsp cream of tartar in one pint of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Immerse textile in that liquid and let soak until stain is removed.  Rinse thoroughly.  


Scorch marks, like bleach damage, are actual changes in the composition of the fiber.  They generally cannot be removed.  If the damage is light, try immediately washing the textile.  The fabric itself will still be damaged but the color change may be removed. 

Shoe Polish

See grease stains

Soot & Smoke

For washable items, readers have recommended the original Pine Sol in the washing machine as well as Wisk and Odor Out (available in gallon jugs at Wal-marts or Sams Club.) 

For carpets and other unwashable items, sprinkle with cornstarch, talcum or loose chalk. Leave overnight, then vacuum off. Repeat if necessary. A spray on dry cleaner will work also. 

Tar & Asphalt

This is almost impossible to remove.  On fabric, pre-treat with a laundry pre-soak and wash as normal.  Do not dry in a dryer.  You may have some success pre-soaking with a petroleum jelly like Vaseline, then washing in hot soapy water.  This works well on non textiles as well, as does dry cleaning solution.


If the stain if from a metal object rubbed against a textile, a light solution of lemon juice should be used as a pretreatment before the item is washed.  If that doesn't work, lightly dab on a dry-cleaning solution.  Rinse thoroughly.

If the stain is on a metal fabric, and that fabric can be washed, boil in salt water.  (2 Tbsp. to 1 pint of water). 


Treat carefully.  Start with non invasive procedures such as simply rinsing with water.  If this doesn't work, and the item can be washed, pretreat with oxygen based bleach.  Wash and rinse thoroughly.  If the stain persists, try dabbing on a dry-cleaning solution or ammonia.  Beware: this can damage colors. 


See protein stains


Candle wax and chewing gum can be handled in a similar manner. Scrape away as much as possible first. Placing the object that has been stained into a freezer or rub it with ice until the staining agent is quite hard, and brittle, and then the material can be literally shattered off the object that has been stained. 

If wax remains, placed the stained item between clean white paper towels and press with a hot iron, changing the towels as they become stained. The color left behind by crayons can usually be removed through repeated laundering of the item using oxygen based bleach.

If the material is washable, soak in kerosene and wash in hot soapy water. For unwashable articles, use dry cleaning fluid. Several applications may be necessary.


See protein based stains.

Wood sap

Mix a solution of 1 part enamel paint thinners to 4 parts dishwashing liquid formulated to remove grease. Pretreat with this solution, and then wash in hot water.  

The grass stain

The correct answer is all of the above: Blot first with banana oil (amyl acetate), then blot with detergent solution and flush with water; blot with ammonia solution and flush with water; blot with vinegar solution and flush; sponge with alcohol, blot and flush; remove final traces with bleach solution as many times as it takes, flushing with water after each application; apply vinegar solution to remove excess chlorine, then flush with water. It works most of the time, especially if the stain is fresh.


Use of Enzymes

In the area of industrial cleaning generally called 'linen supply', the washing resistance of fabric enormously affects the profitability of business. Maximum care is taken, therefore, not to damage fabric in washing, and the use of enzymes such as cellulase is avoided because they 'thin down fabric'.

However, with regard to many protein-based or blood stains found on rented linen in hospitals or the work clothes of butchers and cooks, isn't the use of an enzyme essential in order to break down protein? Though counting cellulase out, isn't some kind of enzyme necessary? In other words, when it comes to protein-based stains, the action of surfactants is too weak.

In Japan, with comparatively fewer chances of there being a necessity to remove meat-juice stains from table-cloths, the application of protein-dissolving enzymes in washing has been rather limited. In Europe, a series of 'standard stained cloths', such as a 'blood-stained cloth' or a 'milk-stained cloth', was traditionally used in evaluating washability, available from institutes that promoted standardization. Detergent manufacturers purchased such cloths for use in their research into superior detergency for protein-based staining.

Individual stain treatments can stretch only so far. Whenever a stain is determined to be protein-based, it should be allocated to a solution containing an enzyme capable of breaking it down. The development of biotechnology has brought the enzyme manufacturing industry closer to us. New words such as 'bio-washing' and 'bio-bleaching' have already appeared. It will be an area of challenge that we should rise to, without dwelling on failures made in the past.

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