How to Remove Common Stains From Clothes

Getting stains on your clothes can be frustrating. Some stains seem impossible to remove. However, with the right techniques and products, you can successfully remove many common stains from clothing. Here is an extensive guide on how to remove a variety of stubborn stains from clothes.


Clothing stains are a common nuisance that most of us have to deal with. From coffee spills to ketchup drips, stains happen! While some stains come out easily in the wash, others require special treatment to remove completely. Knowing how to remove different types of stains is a valuable skill that can save your favorite shirt, pants, dress, or other garment.

This comprehensive guide covers tips and techniques for removing all kinds of stubborn stains from fabric. We will go over how to treat food stains, dirt and mud stains, makeup stains, ink stains, oil stains, blood stains, sweat stains, and more. With the right stain removal methods and products, you can successfully get clothes looking fresh and clean again.

How to Remove Food Stains

Food and drink spills leave some of the most common and troublesome stains on clothing. Here are tips for tackling stains caused by various foods and beverages.

Coffee and Tea Stains

Coffee and tea stains often leave a stubborn brownish residue on fabric. To remove:

  • Pretreat the stain by rubbing a bit of dishwashing liquid directly on the spot with your fingers. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes.
  • Make a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 1 part water. Dip a clean cloth in the solution and dab the stain repeatedly until it lifts.
  • For a stubborn stain, make a paste of baking soda and water. Rub the paste into the stain using a damp cloth or old toothbrush. Let it sit for up to an hour before rinsing. The baking soda will help draw out the stain.
  • Launder as usual, check that the stain is fully removed. Repeat treatments if needed.

Wine Stains

Red wine notoriously leaves behind a purple or pinkish stain. Here is how to tackle wine stains:

  • Blot up any excess wine immediately with an absorbent cloth. Do not rub, as this can set the stain.
  • Mix a solution of 1 tablespoon dish soap with 2 cups cold water. Sponge it onto the stain and let soak 5-10 minutes.
  • If the stain persists, dab white wine or club soda onto the spot to help lift it.
  • Rinse with cold water. Wash normally. Check that stain is fully removed, repeat process if needed.

BBQ Sauce, Ketchup and Mustard Stains

BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard and other condiment stains can leave a stubborn orange, red or yellow discoloration. To remove:

  • Use a dull knife or spoon to scrape off any thick condiment residue.
  • Apply dishwashing liquid directly to the stain and let sit 2-3 minutes.
  • Blot the spot with a cloth soaked in cold water, repeating until the stain is removed.
  • If needed, rub gently with a paste of baking soda and cold water. Let sit 1 hour before rinsing.
  • Wash as usual, re-treating if stain persists. The vinegar in these condiments makes them tricky but this method should lift even set-in stains.

Chocolate and Ice Cream Stains

Chocolate and ice cream can leave unsightly dried sticky stains. Try this:

  • Use a dull knife to remove any hardened chocolate or ice cream residue.
  • Apply dishwashing liquid and rub it into the stain a bit. Let soak 5 minutes.
  • If needed, rub baking soda and cold water paste into the spot and let sit 1 hour before rinsing. The baking soda will pull out the oils.
  • Launder as normal. Check that the stain has lifted, repeat process if needed.

Greasy and Oily Food Stains

Grease stains from foods like pizza, salad dressing, nuts, or butter require a degreasing agent. To remove:

  • Scrape off any solid bits of food gently with a dull knife.
  • Apply liquid dish soap or laundry detergent directly to the stain.
  • Let it soak in for 5 minutes.
  • Dab the spot repeatedly with a sponge and cold water until the greasy stain lifts.
  • Rinse thoroughly and wash normally. Re-treat if stain persists.

Berry and Fruit Stains

Berries and very juicy fruits like watermelon can leave behind pink, purple, red or orange stains. To remove:

  • Flush the back of the stain well with cold water to force the stain out.
  • Rub liquid dish soap into the stain and let sit 2-3 minutes.
  • Sponge with cold water, changing rinse water often to avoid spreading the stain.
  • Blot with isopropyl or rubbing alcohol. This dissolves the pigments.
  • Rinse thoroughly and launder. Check that the stain has lifted, repeat if needed.

How to Remove Dirt and Mud Stains

Muddy footprints, grass stains, and ground-in dirt can be difficult to remove from clothing and fabric. Here are some effective stain removal methods for dirt and mud of all kinds.

Dirt Stains

  • Try to remove excess dirt by lightly brushing or shaking out the garment outside.
  • Apply a laundry pre-treatment spray and let soak in 5 minutes. This helps loosen dirt.
  • If needed, gently rub the fabric together under cool running water to help release dirt particles without abrasion.
  • Wash on a normal cycle, repeating if stain remains. Detergent and agitation from washing should remove most dirt stains.

Mud Stains

  • Allow thick mud to dry completely before removal. Damp mud can spread the stain.
  • Once dried, use a dull knife to gently lift and scrape off caked mud if needed. Avoid abrasion.
  • Apply laundry detergent or mix baking soda and water into a spreadable paste. Lightly rub paste into mud stain.
  • Let sit 1 hour. Rinse paste mixture out under cold water.
  • Launder as normal. Check to see if stain remains, repeat process if needed.

Grass Stains

  • Blot damp grass stain with paper towel or cloth. Do not rub, which can grind in grass and sap.
  • Spray stain with laundry pre-treatment. Wait 5 minutes.
  • Rinse back of stain under cold water while providing support behind it.
  • If needed, gently dab rubbing alcohol on the spot to dissolve grass pigments.
  • Wash normally and air dry in sunlight. The sun’s UV rays help lift grass stains.
  • Repeat if stain remains. Old, dried grass stains are challenging to remove entirely.

How to Remove Makeup Stains

Cosmetics like eyeliner, mascara, foundation and lipstick often leave behind stubborn makeup stains. Here is how to get clothing looking like new again:

Mascara Stains

  • Lay the garment flat and blot mascara while still wet using a clean paper towel or cotton pad.
  • Apply an oil-based makeup remover to the stain and gently rub it in using a cotton ball.
  • Rinse the back of the stain thoroughly with cold water.
  • If needed, use an old toothbrush and a bit of liquid dish soap to gently scrub any remaining mascara residue after soaking.
  • Wash normally, repeat process if stain persists. The surfactants in dish soap help cut through mascara.

Lipstick Stains

  • Use a clean absorbent cloth to blot up any fresh lipstick that hasn’t set.
  • Apply rubbing alcohol to the stain and let sit 1-2 minutes to dissolve lipstick oils.
  • If needed, gently scrub with an old toothbrush to help release embedded lipstick.
  • Rinse thoroughly and wash as usual. Check that the stain has lifted.

Foundation and Concealer Stains

  • Use a dull knife to gently scrape off any thick, caked foundation or concealer.
  • Apply a dime-sized amount of facial cleanser and work into the stain. Let sit 2 minutes.
  • Blot the stain repeatedly with a damp cloth rinsed in cold water.
  • If needed, spray spot with hairspray. Let sit 5 minutes, then rinse – the alcohol in hairspray cuts through makeup stains.
  • Wash as normal, check that the stain is fully removed.

How to Remove Ink Stains

Spilled pen ink and certain inedible fabric markers can leave behind very stubborn stains. However, the right stain removal methods can get fabric looking clean again. Here are tips for removing ink of all colors from clothing:

Ballpoint Pen Ink Stains

  • Lay garment flat and blot any fresh pen ink stain immediately using paper towels or a clean rag. Avoid spreading the stain.
  • Apply hairspray liberally to the ink spot. Wait 1 minute.
  • Rub the spot with a cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol, repeating until ink transfers to cloth.
  • Rinse back thoroughly under cold water. Wash normally. Check that stain has fully lifted.

Permanent Marker Stains

  • Dab rubbing alcohol directly onto the stain. Let soak 1-2 minutes.
  • If stain remains, apply toothpaste to the spot and let sit an additional 2 minutes. The abrasives in toothpaste help draw out permanent marker stains.
  • Rinse thoroughly with cold water, gently rubbing with fingers if needed to release stain.
  • Wash as normal, re-treating if stain persists. It may take multiple applications.

Ballpoint Pen Ink on Delicates

  • Avoid using hairspray or alcohol which may damage silk or wool.
  • Blot stain immediately, avoid spreading ink.
  • Place stain-side down on paper towels and press firmly to wick out ink.
  • Flush back of stain thoroughly with cold water to force ink out of fibers.
  • If needed, gently dab spot with diluted dish soap using cotton ball. Rinse.
  • Wash delicates as directed, repeat process if stain remains. Handle gently.

How to Remove Oil Stains

Oil stains from car engines, lotions, butter, cooking oil and other sources can be tricky to remove. Here are methods to remove oily stains from fabric:

Motor Oil Stains

  • Rub talcum powder or cornstarch into the stain to absorb excess oil, let sit 10 minutes.
  • Apply dish soap to stain and scrub with an old toothbrush. The surfactants in soap cut through oil.
  • Rinse back of stain thoroughly. Launder using hot water to wash out oil.
  • If needed, rub liquid laundry detergent into stain and let sit an additional 30 minutes before washing.

Cooking Oil Stains

  • Blot up any excess oil immediately with an absorbent cloth. Avoid spreading.
  • Sprinkle cornstarch or talcum powder generously on the stain. Let sit for 30 minutes to absorb oil.
  • Use duct tape folded sticky-side out to blot and lift oil. Repeat with fresh tape sections until oil is removed. The adhesive grabs oil.
  • If needed, apply dish soap and scrub gently with a toothbrush. Rinse.
  • Wash normally in hot water. Re-treat if stain remains.

Lotion and Moisturizer Stains

  • Use a clean dry towel to blot up any excess liquid moisturizer or lotion immediately.
  • Apply a small amount of liquid hand soap or facial cleanser on the stain. Gently rub in using fingers.
  • Rinse back of stain thoroughly with cold water. Repeat if needed.
  • Wash normally. The detergents in hand soap help cut through lotions and creams.
  • For a stubborn stain, try rubbing with rubbing alcohol after soap treatment to further dissolve oils.

How to Remove Blood Stains

Removing blood stains can be challenging. However, prompt treatment and the proper technique can get clothing looking new again. Here are tips for removing blood stains:

Fresh Blood Stains

  • Rinse back of stain immediately under cold running water. This prevents setting.
  • Rub a bar of soap gently over the stain to break up blood proteins. Rinse thoroughly.
  • If stain remains, mix 1 teaspoon enzyme detergent with 1 cup cold water. Soak spot 15-30 minutes, then wash normally.

Dried Blood Stains

  • Dampen spot slightly. Apply a paste of meat tenderizer and cold water. Let sit 15-30 minutes to break up blood.
  • If needed, gently scrub paste with toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Soak in enzyme detergent solution or dissolve aspirin tablets in water and soak spot for 30 minutes to dissolve blood.
  • Launder, repeating process if faint stain remains. Avoid using hot water which can set blood stains.

Blood Stains on Delicates

  • Avoid scrubbing silk or wool. Blot stain instead.
  • Mix a solution of 1 tsp enzyme detergent per 1 cup cold water.
  • Soak delicate fabric in solution for 30 minutes up to 8 hours if needed.
  • Rinse delicates carefully in cold water. Wash gently by hand if needed.

How to Remove Sweat Stains

Sweat and body oils can leave unsightly yellowish stains in clothing, especially around collars, armpits and cuffs. Here is how to tackle these stubborn stains:

White Vinegar Soak

  • Fill a sink or bucket with 2 parts cold water and 1 part white vinegar.
  • Soak garment 30-60 minutes, focusing on sweat-stained areas.
  • Rinse thoroughly. Vinegar helps dissolve alkaline sweat salts and oils.
  • Wash as normal. Air dry in sunlight. The sun’s UV rays further help lift sweat stains.

Baking Soda Scrub

  • Make a paste of 1 tbsp baking soda + 1 tbsp water.
  • Gently scrub paste into sweat stains using an old toothbrush.
  • Let sit 1 hour. Rinse thoroughly. Baking soda naturally absorbs odors and oils.
  • Launder as usual. Check that sweat stain has lifted. Repeat if needed.

Pre-treat Spray

  • Mist sweat stains liberally with laundry pre-treatment spray. Let sit 5 minutes.
  • Wash in detergent on the hottest setting safe for fabric. Hot water helps dissolve sweat residue.
  • If stain persists, rub spot with lemon juice and place in sunlight before washing again.
  • Avoid over-drying stained areas which can set the stain by oxidizing sweat oils.

How to Remove Miscellaneous Stains

Here are tips for removing a few other common stains that can afflict clothing:

Rust Stains

  • Mix lemon juice and salt into a spreadable paste. Apply to stain.
  • Let sit 1 hour in sunlight. The acid in lemon juice dissolves rust oxide while the salt provides gentle abrasion.
  • Rinse paste away thoroughly. If stain remains, repeat treatment.
  • Wash as normal. Avoid using chlorine bleach on rust stains as it may cause color loss.

Mold and Mildew Stains

  • First wash item with detergent and 1 cup white vinegar to disinfect and help remove mold. Vinegar kills mold.
  • If stain remains, apply lemon juice and let sit in sunlight 1 hour. Rinse.
  • If needed, use oxygen bleach paste. Let sit 30 minutes then rinse. The oxygen bleach removes embedded mold stains.
  • Wash again as normal, repeating process if faint stain remains.

Deodorant Stains

  • Rub stain firmly with bar soap to break up oils and aluminum salts in deodorant. Rinse.
  • If needed, rub with toothpaste. Let sit 10 minutes, then rinse.
  • For heavy stains, make a paste of cream of tartar and lemon juice. Apply and let sit 1 hour before rinsing.
  • Wash as usual. The acids dissolve the oil and aluminum-salt residue.

Stain Removal Tips and Tricks

Follow these general tips and tricks for the most effective stain removal:

  • Treat stains as soon as possible. The longer a stain sets, the harder it will be to remove.
  • Blot liquid stains instead of rubbing, which can force stain deeper into the weave.
  • Avoid using hot water, which can set many stains. Use cold water.
  • Rinse back of stain thoroughly to force it out through fabric weave. Avoid spreading.
  • Check care label and treat stains on delicate silk, wool, and special fabrics very gently to avoid damage.
  • When in doubt, try pre-treating spot with dishwashing liquid, an enzyme detergent or baking soda paste first. Let sit, then rinse.
  • Use old toothbrushes to gently work out stubborn stains after soaking in pretreatment solutions.
  • For best results, air dry treated stains in sunlight after rinsing methods. The sun’s UV rays help lift and bleach stains.
  • Always check garment after washing to make sure stain has fully come out. Re-treat if needed.

When to Seek Professional Cleaning

While many stains can be successfully removed at home, some very stubborn stains may require professional cleaning. Seek help from a specialty dry cleaner for:

  • Ink or dye stains that have fully saturated fabric and won’t budge.
  • Bodily fluid stains (blood, sweat, urine) that have heavily set into fabric.
  • Any stain you have tried repeatedly to remove without success.
  • Heavily soiled wedding dresses, heirloom garments, or cherished items where cleaning is critical.

Professionals have access to strong chemical solvents and stain removal techniques that the average person does not. For irreplaceable or heavily soiled garments, the cost of professional cleaning is worthwhile