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How to Remove Every Type of Stain

A good stain-removing spray is priceless, but some tough stains need special treatment. In our comprehensive guide, top cleaning experts share how to remove just about any spot.

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Coffee spills

Coffee is so dark and pigmented that it can even stain your teeth. But the good news is that it’s water-soluble, so it’s often easier to remove than protein- or oil-based stains. Try separating an egg, beating the yolk, and dabbing it into the coffee stain for a minute before rinsing. Check out these other simple ways to remove coffee stains.

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Blood spots

Skinned knees, bloody noses, shaving nicks. You can get unexpected blood stains out of your favorite fabrics, but it’s key to do it as soon as possible—dried blood can leave a permanent mark. You probably already have some of the best blood removers, such as white vinegar, in your cupboard already. Soak the stain for five to ten minutes, then dab the blood away. Find out more about how to remove blood stains.

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Candle wax

Oily, sticky wax can be tricky to get out. Need to know to remove stains from candle wax? It’s doable with a few careful steps, say the experts at the American Cleaning Institute. Their time-tested method: First, scrape away as much of the wax as you can, using something hard and smooth like a spoon or credit card. Second, warm up your iron and put the stained fabric between two dry, clean paper towels. Press the area with the warm iron. As the wax melts and soaks into the towels, switch them with clean ones and repeat. Lastly, put the fabric stain-side-down on a cloth or paper towel and pat with your favorite stain remover. If the fabric is white, launder with regular bleach; if it’s colored, use a color-safe oxygen bleach.

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Grease and oil

Anyone who’s dripped salad dressing on their favorite shirt knows how tough it can be to get oily spots out of clothes. The key to removing them is to first soak up as much of the grease as you can with a powder such as baby powder, baking soda, or cornstarch. Find the instructions on how to remove grease stains.

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Melted chocolate

First, make a simple cleaning solution by adding a tablespoon of dish soap to two cups of warm water, recommends Meg Roberts, president of Molly Maid and an expert in how to remove stains. Scrape off as much chocolate as you can, then dab the stain remover on with a cloth or toothbrush. Rinse the cloth or brush after each dab, then dip it back into the soapy water and dab again.

Soak up the moisture with a dry cloth or paper towel. If the stain is still there, repeat the dabbing until it disappears or no more chocolate is coming up. Then wash the fabric in the hottest water that’s safe for the material, suggests the American Cleaning Institute. Didn’t come out? Launder again, this time with bleach.

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Grass stains

Softball and soccer games are great—until falling on the field ruins expensive jeans or athletic wear! The best way to attack stubborn grass stains is with a stain remover that contains enzymes. Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions, meaning other ingredients in the stain remover will work harder and faster. For grass stains, the housekeeping experts at Real Simple specifically recommend the stain remover Shout, which contains the enzyme subtilisin in addition to two strong cleaning agents.

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Crayon scribbles

Crayons are sticky and oily like candle wax, and you should treat these stains in the same way: Scrape away as much of the crayon as you can, put the fabric between paper towels, and press with a warm iron—switching out the paper towels—to melt the waxy residue away. Place material stain-side-down on a dry cloth and pat with a stain remover, then launder with a fabric-safe bleach.

toothpaste tube with a small amount of toothpaste on the capKrezodent/Shutterstock

Ink splotches

Whether your child “accidentally” wrote on your sleeve or a pen leaked into a pocket, we’ve got a few effective options for getting it out, from a homemade paste to good-old rubbing alcohol. Start with this: Apply plain white toothpaste to the pen mark, then rub vigorously with fabric to lift the stain away. Get the details on how to remove ink stains.

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Makeup

For something waxy or oily like lipstick or eyeliner, the makeup experts at Glamour recommend dipping a cotton pad in rubbing alcohol, then dabbing it on the stain. For lightly pigmented spots, try blotting with a makeup remover wipe. If that doesn’t work, the American Cleaning Institute recommends pre-treating with a paste made with powdered laundry detergent or a “cleaning booster” like OxiClean, then laundering.

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Paint drips

Act fast! Once water-based paint is dry, it won’t come off, according to the American Cleaning Institute’s guide on how to remove stains. If you get to it while it’s still wet, simply rinse the paint out under warm water, then wash as usual. For oil-based varnish and paints, dab the spot with paint thinner or turpentine, then rinse, treat with a stain remover, and launder.

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Urine

Because the smell can sometimes linger, certified house cleaning technician Donna Smallin Kuper, author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness, recommends using an enzyme cleaning spray like those sold in pet stores for pee. The enzymes digest the odor-causing proteins in urine, as well as the pigmented ones.

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Wine

Some cleaning experts swear by Wine Away, a stain-removing product made for red spills, such as red wines, fruit punch, tomato soup, and marinara. If you don’t have it on hand, Smallin Kuper suggests making your own stain remover by mixing equal parts hydrogen peroxide and blue dish soap like Dawn.

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Sweat stains

Ugh. There’s nothing worse than finding sweat stains under the arms of your favorite tank or T-shirt. Your secret weapon? Hydrogen peroxide. Mix two parts of it with one part dish soap, then scrub and let it sit for an hour. Here’s more on how to get rid of sweat stains.

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Vomit

Like with urine, an enzyme cleaning spray (like those made for pet stains) is the way to go to get rid of stains and smell from vomit, says Smallin Kuper. If the stain is on upholstery, like a couch, mattress, or car seat, use this process recommended by Roberts: Scrape clean and blot with paper towels to soak up moisture. Cover the spot with a large amount of baking soda. Let it sit for 15 minutes to further soak up moisture and odors, then vacuum it up. Next, spray on the enzyme cleaner. Dab with paper towels or a dry cloth to soak up moisture. Repeat the entire process if odor lingers.

Dry sauce stain on white shirt from dirty of eating and cookingFecundap stock/Shutterstock

Unknown stains

If there’s a weird spot on a favorite shirt, but you can’t remember how you got it, try hydrogen peroxide. Like bleach, it strips the color from stains by chemically changing the structure of the molecules of whatever made the spot—but be careful. Like bleach, it can also do more damage if your fabrics aren’t colorfast. Next, try these 13 simple cleaning tricks you’ll wish you knew sooner.