OUT DAMNED SPOT!
The chemistry of stain removal.
By Arwen O’Reilly
Both absent-minded and a klutz, I have had my Gum/Wax/Tar
fair share of debilitating stains over the years, and Rub with ice and scrape off once hardened. With
cultivated every stain tip I could get my hands wax, if any excess remains, iron a paper bag over
on, even trying tricks from old, dusty, out-of-print it, which will absorb the wax.
books. Removing stains doesn’t have to be hard;
usually it’s just a question of knowing the right Blood
chemistry (and practice makes perfect). Cold saltwater and soap — not hot!
Different types of stains are more soluble in
different temperatures: hot water, for example, Avocado/Tomato/Ketchup
dissolves sugars more easily, while it will set many Enzyme detergent and a mild bleach (lemon,
proteins, like blood. Enzyme detergents will break white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide).
up long-chain molecules, and are more successful at getting rid of protein stains like grass. In a Grass
pinch, dishwashing soaps can help, too; they are Rub the back of the stain with rubbing alcohol.
designed to break down food proteins and grease, Scrub with non-gel baking soda toothpaste.
after all. At the very worst, you may have to try
a solvent. The following are a few of my favorite Sweat
tricks, old and new. (Always test on a spot that Ammonia or white vinegar, then soak with laun-isn’t easily noticed first, and wash stains from the dry detergent.
back, forcing them off fabric.)
Berries/Jam/Honey Use WD- 40 and rinse, or try acetone (nail polish
Boiling water, especially when poured from a remover). Dishwashing liquid and hot water help,
distance. This sounds like madness, but it is abso- too. For lipstick, try bar soap first.
lutely miraculous. Makes berry picking fun again.
Grease/Oil/Butter Use rubbing alcohol, turpentine, or acetone. Soak
Baby powder applied thickly, left overnight. Brush in milk or rub with toothpaste.
off powder in the morning (I use a toothbrush to
clear the caked powder off the stain). If there’s
still a mark, reapply powder, and if not, launder.
Pour white wine onto the stain! Another miraculous save. If you don’t have white wine, soda water
will do. After, pour salt onto the stain to absorb
the liquid. Try to get to it as quickly as possible.
Cornell’s Removing Stains at Home PDF
FabricLink’s stain removal site
Butler’s Guild stain removal site
makezine.com/05/diy_stains for more tips.
Borax and water mixture 3-to- 1 (for carpets, use a
non-gel shaving cream and scrub with a toothbrush). Glycerin also works magic.
Arwen O’Reilly is assistant editor of MAKE.