6 Tips For How To Get Stains Out: Life Kit There are so many different kinds of stains — grass stains on your shorts, a wine stain on your carpet or a grease stain on your shirt — but with the help of some household products and chemistry know-how, you can be a stain removal master.
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How Do I Get This Out? Your Guide To Stain Removal

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How Do I Get This Out? Your Guide To Stain Removal

How Do I Get This Out? Your Guide To Stain Removal

How Do I Get This Out? Your Guide To Stain Removal

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/789172148/789557328" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The stain kit reporter Elissa Nadworny's mother gave her when she left home for college. It contains stain remedies like white vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Becky Harlan/NPR hide caption

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Becky Harlan/NPR

The stain kit reporter Elissa Nadworny's mother gave her when she left home for college. It contains stain remedies like white vinegar and rubbing alcohol.

Becky Harlan/NPR

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You've wiped ink on your sleeve. Or dribbled dressing down your shirt. Perhaps it's the catastrophic red wine spill on a friend's tablecloth.

A stain like that can make us think we're ruined, or at least it's ruined. The average American throws away about 80 pounds of clothes a year because they are stained or faded, according to scientists at the Procter & Gamble Company – 80 pounds from each one of us.

That giant pile of wasted clothes is bad for the environment and our bank accounts, especially because, odds are, nothing is ruined.

You can get most of those stains out. Here are some tips to keep your clothes fresh and clean.

1. Don't wait until laundry day!

Act fast, treating the stain as soon as you notice it. The longer the offending mark sits on your clothes, the more it is embedded in the fabric. And synthetic fabrics, like polyester, nylon or blends, suck in the stain even more. Sometimes it's as simple as running cold water through the spot — the most important factor is just to give it some attention early on.

2. Think like a scientist.

Stains are made up of components, often different chemicals, so you need to identify what you're working with. "There's so many different kinds of stains," explains Sunny Escobar, a senior scientist for Procter & Gamble — the company behind Tide and Downy and lots of other laundry products. She says that there are a million different ways to treat stains, but if you break them into categories, that can help you apply some simple rules.

  • Let's start with oil-based stains. This includes food like soup, mayonnaise, spaghetti sauce or salad dressings. The fix: Use liquid dish soap. (I always remember those commercials for Dawn after an oil spill, how rescuers used dish soap to clean the animals. That's basically what we're doing to our clothes.)
  • There are also pigment stains  — which includes ink. The fix: Use rubbing alcohol and blot the ink with a paper towel or cotton ball. White vinegar can also help on pigment stains, getting out the remaining color of things like grass or mustard. 
  • For bloodstains: First try cold water. If that doesn't work, hydrogen peroxide could give you an added boost — just be sure to test a little of the fabric to make sure it doesn't discolor it. If it's an old stain, you can try soaking it in ammonia. 
  • For berry stains — strawberries, blueberries, even red wine from grapes — running boiling hot water through the stain can help. This is a fun party trick. See how it's done here:
You can treat a red wine stain by pouring boiling water through the fabric.

3. No need to memorize anything — just make a cheat sheet.

I keep an index card full of simple remedies near my laundry machine and at my desk. (I'm messy!)

4. Keep a few household items handy: Make a stain kit!

When I went to college, my mother gave me a stain kit (I'm messy, remember!). I still use that same box today. What's in it:

  • Rubbing alcohol 
  • White vinegar
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Dish detergent 
  • Wet spotter
  • Glycerine 

And a bunch of stain removal supplies: cotton balls, Q-tips, an eyedropper and safety pins, so you can mark where the stain is!

5. Be patient and keep at it.

Sometimes a stain doesn't come right out, but that doesn't mean it's hopeless. Stubborn spots require a few rounds of attack, so have some patience. Other stains might need more than one remedy. To get guacamole out, for instance, you might use dish soap first, and if a bit of green pigment remains, you can use white vinegar to get out the color.

6. Whatever you do, DON'T PUT IT IN THE DRYER!

At least not until the stain is out. You can throw something in the washer — and if the stain persists, you can try to get it out again. But once the dryer's heat locks in that stain, forget about it. So make sure you wait until you're completely satisfied before you dry it.

Sylvie Douglis produced the audio portion of this story.