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Clean Clothes, Happier Planet

Tackling Stains
I know people who travel with a portable stain pen for disasters, but this doens’t hae to be the way. Even something as simple as Ivory soap works well for stains. It’s mild and it doesn’t contain moisturizers, deodorants, and other unnecessary additives. Other mild white bar soaps will work, too. For stain removal, plain old soap works magic. Here’s how:

1. Dampen the stained garment with cold water.

2. Rub a bar of Ivory soap directly into the stain, then rinse.

3. If that doesn’t remove the stain, rub Ivory soap on the stain again, and then soak the fabric for 30 minutes or so in cold water with a bit of powdered detergent dissolved in it. (If you forget and leave stuff soaking longer, it doesn’t really matter; you won’t hurt the fabric.) Rinse.

4. If that still doesn’t work, rub more bar soap into the stain, scrub it with a scrub brush (taking care not to damage the fabric), and rinse.

5. If a second scrubbing attempt doesn’t remove the stain, blot it gently with some color-safe bleach (oxygen-bleach, not chlorine bleach) diluted with water, then rinse with clean water to remove all of the bleach.

  • For coffee and tea stains, get to it with soap and water as soon as possible.
  • For fruit stains, apply lemon juice, if that doesn’t work, then try the bar soap method.
  • For oil and grease, sprinkle cornstarch or baking soda on the stain, then place the garment, stain side down, on a large rag on top of an ironing board. Iron with a hot iron on the wrong side of the stain. Most oil and grease stains will come out.
  • For rust stains, soak fabric spotted with brown rust stains (which sometimes come from hard water) in a solution of 1 part lemon juice and 1 part water for at least 30 minutes. Do not use chlorine bleach on rust stains.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

155 comments

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12:41PM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

already doing a lot of this

11:37AM PDT on May 27, 2012

To remove sweat stains from the under-arms of shirts and blouses, wet garment stain before washing and rub in a bit of toothpaste.
Launder as usual - that is, on machine settings appropriate for the material.

May have to be repeated if the sweat stain is extensive, but usually that will take care of it. (And the toothpaste "smell" only lasts a few minutes.)

1:41AM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

Thanks for the tips!

1:13AM PDT on May 23, 2011

This post should be appreciated. Thanks for sharing this information. mosquito hat

5:30PM PST on Feb 2, 2011

this turning down the thermostat on your h/w heater is for the birds!! I want HOT water not lukewram water in my shower and when I wash my dishes by hand......save money? If your h/w heater is electric, like mine is, TURN IT OFF at the circuit breaker when not in use!! I turn mine on about 20-30 min. before I need water and save up to $50 on my elec. bill!!

8:20PM PST on Jan 31, 2011

Thanks.

12:04PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

Great tips. Thank you!

6:47PM PDT on Jul 11, 2010

Thank you

10:42AM PDT on May 24, 2010

Some of the stain removal methods were new to me. Thanks!

7:55PM PDT on May 19, 2010

merci

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