Reader-to-Reader: Your 20 Greatest Stain-Removing Tips

As readers, your generosity knew no bounds when it came to sharing your stain removing tips!

I was flooded with e-mail. I’ve included the top 20 stain-removing tips here, and I am certain you will now have more tricks up your sleeve for dealing with this common and expensive problem. (Who wants to buy a new tablecloth when the old one gets stained?)

And these solutions are non-toxic, to boot!

Note that I (Annie) have included your suggestions even when there are product recommendations (I deleted recommendations that I know are problematic for health or the environment). Please use your own sense, read labels, and proceed carefully with any recommendation. Thanks!


I put up an eco-friendly clothesline … and found that the sun will bleach baby poo so the diapers are sparkly white, and the sun will also almost completely lighten tomato-based stains like salsa and marinara

— Amy Abbott


1. The best thing I have found for removing a fat or oil stain—or the oily component of a more complex stain such as salad dressing or gravy (once it is dry)—is to rub cornstarch (or cornstarch powder, or even talcum powder) into the stain , let it sit for at least 20 minutes, and then brush it off with a dry washcloth or soft dry brush. You may need to repeat the treatment several times to fully remove the fat. It works especially well on silk and wool. So well, in fact, that further washing (or dry cleaning) is not needed. You can even speed up the process by placing a paper towel above and below the treated spot, and going over the area with a hot steam iron. This can be repeated several times as well, until the stain is gone. My husband loves this simple method. It has saved shirts, ties and trousers from dinner mishaps while he’s been on business trips! “Have cornstarch powder, will travel.”

2. Another stupendous product for fat, oil, tar, wax and grease removal is the citrus oil (actually, citrus turpine) as compounded into products such as CitraSolve. These are made from natural, steam distilled citrus oils, which are natural solvents. They are not non-toxic, but they have the lowest toxicity of all solvents—and of course, the smell wonderful! I have used the CitraSolve concentrate as a pre-laundry treatment for stubborn grease stains, and it works like a dream. My husband once got a fat stain on his favorite suede vest, which refused to come out with professional dry cleaning. Since he couldn’t wear it anyway, I decided that I had nothing to lose by experimenting. (The cornstarch did not work here!) I dabbed the CitraSolve on with a cotton swab and immediately pulled it out with a paper towel and a hot steam iron. This evaporated the CitraSolve, apparantly with the oil stain! To my utter amazement, there was not even any residual stain or ring from the CitraSolve! I was totally sold. Cornstarch and CitraSolve remain my only two constant fat stain removers.

3. Stains from fruit (including wine and tomato sauce) on washable fabrics disappear instantly when you pour boiling water over them in a bowl or basin.

4. Protein-based stains such as blood, sweat, and other body fluids, and tannin-based stains such as coffee or tea, are set by heat. These need to be initially rinsed out with mild soap, shampoo or dish liquid in cold water. If the stain looks as if it’s come out after this initial treatment, throw it in the wash as usual, to finish it off. For stubborn stains, or tannin stains that re-emerge over time, a truly wonderful new product to soak the items in, is Oxyclean, or other oxygen bleach. It’s also great for un-yellowing old linens. So far, it does not seem to remove color, just stains, but test it first on a colored item to be sure.

5. There are also enzyme products out there that digest stains. The Dutch have used ox-gall soap for decades (Ossengall Zeep), available at some specialty stores. And papaya enzyme is currently available in some health food stores as a laundry additive.

So, there you go! I hope this is helpful to you and your readers. Thanks for a helpful web site.

— Phoebe Alexander

Hello Annie
For stains, perspiration particularly, wet the area and soap up with a good plain laundry soap and then place it on grass in the sun, it must be green grass. Leave in the sun for a number of hours keeping it damp and well soaped all the time. I don’t know why or how this works but the stain just seems to rise to the surface (you can see it happen when it does ) and then rinses off quite readily. Fresh and clean and not a trace of perspiration stain. It will remove ingrained stains from pillow covers and pillow slips and especially those in men’s shirt underarms. The person who told me about it years ago said that it was given to her by an Italian lady. Hope this is helpful.

— Dell, Australia


Hi, Annie
Per your request for suggestions on non-toxic stain removal methods, the two best I’ve found are also the simplest: Long soaking in laundry wash water and long exposure to sunlight. I’m exceptionally lazy and am pleased with how often these work.

— Juli Ulvestad


Hiya! For fruit stains, pouring boiling water on the fabric where the stain is works.

Pouring salt directly on a wine spill to soak up the red wine from a white carpet worked for me once, another time baking soda did not.


I always use the cheapest shampoo (shampoo with no conditioner or other additives) to remove any type of stains from washables. Since I wash everything except for things that really need a professional press thus everything I own is “washable.”

I wash wool both knitted and woven, all cottons, all silks and any manmade fiber.

When you find a stain put some shampoo on it and work back and forth to get the shampoo right into all fibers. Of course on delicates you work it carefully, with less force. Then I either hand wash, or toss in a machine (most things go into hot water). My son is a chef, so on his white coats, I use a nail brush. The fabric is heavy and can take the brush.

This works on protein stains like blood and milk, oil or grease stains, coffee and tea stains, wine and just about anything. If a stain has been left in a long time, you might have to do it twice or more. The fabrics are not damaged in any way.

Peace — Margaret


I use one of the products in my store (The Clean Earth Shop) to remove stains from my clothes. It works wonderfully, is toxin free, and not tested on animals! The full MSDS sheet and label is available on the web site.

I know that you are probably looking for home recipes, but do take a look if you think a commercial product might interest your readers.


I have discovered a wonderful product mad here in Vancouver, called Pink Solution. It is environmentally friendly and made from 100 percent organic materials. Manufactured by Earthcare Sales Marketing. 207 Rabbit Lane, West Vancouver, B.C. Canada. 1-800-565-9972. (I just got the info from the tub I have).

I use it for EVERYTHING!! I have asthma and so I can’t use many cleansers, so this is a Godsend.

Yours truly — Linda Edens


I dont know if you would consider this non-toxic, or not. But, the best stain remover I have ever used, and now the ONLY one I use, is my homemade soap.

I make this soap from 100 percent vegetable shortening, which is mostly cotton and soy oils.

I use a bar of it down by my laundry area, just dampen it, and rub on the stain. I have not come across a stain yet that it does not remove.

Also, I make my own detergent from the same bar, I grate a bar, add 64 oz. of water, and heat, till the grated soap is melted, let cool and add some sweet orange oil, and bottle.

It is the best laundry detergent I have used, also.

For fabric softening, I fill my dispenser (also use your “downey ball”) with half white vinegar, half water. You can scent this with a FO, or EO, if desired. Your clothes come out SO soft! No vinegar smell is left, just soft, clean clothes.

Sincerely, Veronica L. Krammes


Hi Annie, I have had a lot of success with the product “Oxyclean” especially with organic stains … it works like magic and breaks down into soda ash. Thanks for all the good ideas.


I removed a ballpoint ink stain from a cotton garment, after I had tried many other things. The stain had dried and settled in the meantime.

With an eyedropper I put on some rubbing alcohol, then vinegar, also with an eyedropper. This did not seem to be enough, so I repeated the procedure and coated the stain with table salt after the applications of alcohol and vinegar and rinsed it under the tap in very hot water, and presto … stain completely gone! I picked this up from the Martha Stewart show on TV.


Removing black oil from skin or clothes — baby oil, oil based suntan oil (particularly useful info for sunbathers at the beach who step in oil spill debris)


I have used this method with a lot of success. The stain does need to be fairly fresh for it to work: Wet a clean, white cloth and apply to underside of item, i.e. if you drop mustard on your shirt put the wet cloth on the inside of your shirt, dab and blot with a clean dry cloth from the opposite side. Keep repeating until the stain is gone. I was told that this works because instead of scrubbing the staining substance into the threads of the fabric, you are pushing them back out. I have removed mustard & blood stains using this method.

If there is a greasy spill, I use corn starch to absorb the grease.

I have used lemon juice and salt to remove rust stains. This was after many washings. I wet the cloth, put a layer of salt( I used some coarse sea salt that I had, but any should work just fine) and then drizzled lemon juice over the salt. It took a while but the stain was removed. I read each and every one of your hints and remedies and enjoy your site very much! Keep up the good work!

Thanks — Rita


Hi Annie,
One that I’ve found really works is to soak ballpoint ink stains in milk. It sometimes takes a while and some “topping up” of the milk, but the stain does completely disappear.

Cheers, Nyree


To remove red wine stains, use white wine.

— Barbara Spring


Aloha Annie,

Just received your first newsletter and although I don’t recall how I became a subscriber I sure am glad that I am. I just know I am going to enjoy this one. Thank you so much. As for the stain removers I try anything from baking soda pastes, white vinegar, cornstarch pastes, soaking in hydrogen peroxide solutions. It may help depending on the fabric and stains. Of course I recommend testing the material first as some may discolor the fabrics. I would be interested in any that you find as I never use chemicals to clean. My favorite cleaner for the kitchen was found on a web site for the University of Michigan, I believe, when I was looking for bleach alternatives. They found that spray bottles, one with hydrogen peroxide, 3 percent is fine, and one with vinegar, (which I dilute to lesson the aroma) sprayed on surfaces kills bacteria and germs, even E.coli. They say that they may be mixed in one bottle but results were more efficient spraying one and then the other. Don’t know if this is news to you but thought it was worth sharing. The hydrogen peroxide really sparkles up my stainless sink too. Again thanks for the wonderful newsletter and I look forward to future issues.

Aloha, Mary


I removed even old red wine stains from clothing by squeezing lemon juice directly onto the fabric and letting it stay until stain disappeared. Good for fruit stains also.


I have marble top tables. They stain easily. To remove the stains, I rub the area with lemon juice and set the table in the sun. Works like a charm, and the lemon juice doesn’t scar the marble table top.

By Annie B. Bond

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Nora M.
Nora M.6 months ago

That's interesting that you can get tomato sauce stains out of things by pouring boiling water on them. I wish I'd known that earlier. Just last week I threw away a pair of jeans after I dropped a plate of spaghetti on myself. I had no idea how to get those stains out of the pale fabric. How would you do this if the stain was in the carpet?

Ann Brown
Ann Brown1 years ago

To remove blood stains from your home carpet /rugsadd a bit of salt and detergent.This mix it with lukewarm water and apply it on the blood stains.Blood stains will vanish within seconds.

Sian Griffiths
Sian Griffiths2 years ago

I have tried vanish soap and salt on a woven wool vintage stripe dress. The dry cleaner didn't remove several red marks that I thought were blood. Being vintage, I don't know what they are. Shall I try lemon?

Sian Griffiths
Sian Griffiths2 years ago

I have tried vanish soap and salt on a woven wool vintage stripe dress. The dry cleaner didn't remove several red marks that I thought were blood. Being vintage, I don't know what they are. Shall I try lemon?

Sian Griffiths
Sian Griffiths2 years ago

I have tried vanish soap and salt on a woven wool vintage stripe dress. The dry cleaner didn't remove several red marks that I thought were blood. Being vintage, I don't know what they are. Shall I try lemon?

Helen Wu
Helen Wu2 years ago


Mint Victoria
Mint Victoria3 years ago

Most of us love to start the day with a cup of hot coffee but unfortunately we do not have the time to use a coaster or saucer so that we can avoid putting stain on our lovely table cloths. While there are those who have their coffee at the office and let the Twin Cities janitorial service do the cleaning for them, those who drink coffee at home need to learn the proper way of removing such stains. Thanks for the info!

Beth P.
Beth P.3 years ago

Thanks for the great tips, our customers at our laundromats are always asking for environmental friendly stain removal tips.

Innovative Drycleaning

Sharing your knowledge with regards to dry cleaning especially on stain removal is of great help to online readers. It is easy to find a reliable dry cleaning Monroe County service provider and it would be very helpful if one learns a thing or two on effectively removing stains. They will know the various kinds of fabrics and how to properly care for each one. Thanks!

Bobbi M.
Roberta Mcfadden3 years ago

Tip number 1 is amazing! I used the method of the cornstarch with the hot steam iron on a pair of my husband's favorite 100% wool, dry-clean only dress pants and it worked first try. The oil stain had been in there for about 1 year and we had given up on getting it out. The pants would have been thrown away except they had gotten hung back up in the closet. I found them while cleaning the closet and decided to give it a try. Yeah! Thank you!