Effective Ways to Remove Laundry Stains

Some people are able to gracefully avoid stains. Others are magnets for stains and can’t eat a simple snack without dripping spicy salsa or globs of chocolate ice cream down their shirtfronts.

If you are a stain magnet, or live with one, you need stain-removing help!

Betty is a genius at removing spots, from chocolate and grass to mildew and ink. But she doesn’t put much faith in all those miracle (and often toxic) potions you can buy at the supermarket.

“A lot of those stain-removing products you can buy at the supermarket leave spots on clothes,” she says. Some stain removers contain highly toxic solvents, or chorine bleach, both unfriendly to the environment.

Betty believes in two things: A bar of Ivory soap and a scrub brush. The key to preventing a spot from becoming a permanent stain is treating it before it bakes in the dryer. Also, remember:

  • Check your clothes for stains before washing them.
  • Double-check before drying.
  • When in doubt, soak spots in cold water.

Ivory soap works well for stains because it’s mild (with an almost-neutral pH) and it doesn’t contain moisturizers, deodorants, and other unnecessary additives. Other mild white bar soaps will work, too, but save those colorful, moisture-laden or highly perfumed soaps for unwinding in the bathtub. For stain removal, plain old soap works wonders.

1. Wet 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.

6. If all else fails, be prepared to live with the stain.

Like most rules, there are exceptions. Certain stains require different methods of attack.

Coffee: Betty says that coffee isn’t hard to get out if you get to it with soap and water right away.

Fruit: Betty always puts lemon on the stain first. If that doesn’t work, then she uses bar soap.

Mildew: Wash the garment in warm or hot water with oxygen bleach, depending on the fabric, and line dry or dry flat in direct sunlight.

Oil and grease: Sprinkle some 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 right out. (This trick works only for oil and grease, which need heat to dissolve.)

Rust: 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.

Tea stains: These are hard to get out, but Betty soaks tea stains in cool water and applies bar soap anyway.

Sweat stains: Line-dry the shirts outside. The combination of sunlight’s natural bleaching properties and drying at lower temperatures than in a dryer keeps sweat stains from turning yellow. It’s the heat of the dryer that sets the stains and makes them difficult to get out.

Adapted from Betty's Book of Laundry Secrets, by Betty Faust and Maria Rodale. Copyright (c) 2001 by Rodale, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Rodale Press.
Adapted from Betty's Book of Laundry Secrets, by Betty Faust and Maria Rodale.


Yvette Sloan
Yvette Sloan11 months ago


Dale O.

Thankfully, I am not a stain magnet but there are the times when these beasties pop up and there are several good suggestions here.

Catherine B.
Cath B3 years ago

Looking for remedy to remove paint stain from second hand Kindy school pants. Assuming it is paint of some sort. But could also maybe nail varnish that has been treated unsuccessfully. I have used bi-carb with dishwashing detergent. Vinegar and water half and half,
Hasn't worked.
Anyone Know? Many thanks in advance.

Richard Lerner
Richard Lerner3 years ago

All over very good tips how to remove laundry stains. Thanks for sharing it. Nice one and keep sharing.

Stain & Spot Removal

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton4 years ago

Thanks for the tips.

iii q.
g d c5 years ago

keeping those whites white is no easy task...
what about anti-perspirants & deodorants stains???
what about dulled whites because they were laundered with non-white items???

Tammy D.
Tammy D5 years ago

does anything work on yellowed shirt collars and arm pits? *nothing* ever seems to get out these stains, and then the shirt is useless. Very annoying. We switched from conventional deoderants to natural ones (without aluminum) but it doesn't seem to have stopped the problem.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Nancy Gregg
Nancy Gregg5 years ago

never thought of Ivory soap, but I will try it!