Well-marketed stain removers usually do the job they claim they do: they get the stains out of clothing and fabrics. In fact, the enzymes used in these stain removers are better than good – they’re great!
The problem is that instead of letting the enzymes do their natural work, commercial brands will often add synthetic chemicals to boost the efficiency of the product or prolong its shelf-life. These added chemicals can irritate sensitive skin and instigate an allergic reaction.
Plus, if the stain remover comes in a spray bottle (instead of a stain stick, for example), each spray contaminates your indoor air quality.
Luckily, there are plenty of natural ways to remove stains without chemical additives and you already have them in your kitchen or bathroom.
Club soda is the first thing most people grab when they spill a drink. Club soda is just water infused with carbon dioxide and sometimes a little salt or baking soda. There are mixed reviews on whether club soda works any better than plain water… sometimes it does (the salt and baking soda help) and sometimes it just spreads the stain further onto the fabric.
Baking soda and distilled white vinegar are a more proven remedy than club soda for removing stains on most fabrics.
Cornstarch is great for food grease and can be used on leather, silk or other delicate fabrics.
Hydrogen peroxide works well on organic stains such as wine, chocolate, grass, blood or yellow armpit sweat.
Treating stains naturally
It’s always best to treat stains as soon as possible, ideally before the fabric is put into the washing machine. If the stain is fresh, carefully lift what you can without pushing the stain further into the fabric…
For food stains, use the edge of a dull butter knife to gently remove residual food without rubbing the stain. When dealing with liquid stains, be careful not to rub the stain. Instead, carefully blot it with a dry cloth.
Some fabrics and dyes are more sensitive than others. Always test an inconspicuous spot first to ensure the treatment won’t damage the fabric or alter the color. To do so, simply pour a small amount of stain remover on a hidden spot of the fabric. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes, then rinse. If the fabric was not damaged and its color did not change, then treat the stain.
Treating stains with baking soda or vinegar
Sprinkle a little baking soda on a spill to soak up any remaining liquid. Let it sit for a few minutes and gently dust or vacuum it off. Follow up by dabbing or spraying a mix of equal parts water and white vinegar directly onto the stain with a cotton swab or clean white cloth. Let it soak for 15 to 30 minutes, as needed. Blot and rinse immediately.
Remove organic stains with hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is a natural bleach that effectively lifts organic stains such as blood, grass, armpit sweat, wine and chocolate. Spray or dab the hydrogen peroxide directly onto to the stain. Let it sit for 15 minutes and rinse.
Remove stains from leather & suede
Use a cloth to very lightly rub the stain with a mixture of one part white vinegar and two parts linseed oil. Wipe with a clean cloth.
Remove oily stains from leather, silk or wool
Carefully blot a little cornstarch into the stain and let it sit for 20 minutes or so, until it absorbs most of the stain. For stubborn grease stains, try putting a paper towel below and above the stain. Use a warm steam iron over the cornstarch to help pull the oil from the fabric. Brush the cornstarch off with a clean cloth or toothbrush and repeat as necessary.
Oil stains have a funny way of magically coming back after you think they’re gone. Rinse the stain with a small amount of white vinegar to keep it from returning.
An alternate method for suede & leather: Pour a little white vinegar over an old toothbrush, scrub the stain very lightly and pat it dry.
Lift stains from carpets and mattresses
Pour white vinegar generously over the stain to soak and sprinkle a small amount of baking soda over the vinegar. Allow the mixture to bubble as it lifts the stain and let it air dry for several hours, then vacuum the baking soda residue. If the baking soda gets caked on, rub it gently with a brush before vacuuming. Repeat as needed.
Remove sticky chewing gum
Heat a small amount of white vinegar on the stove just enough so that it is warm, not hot. Carefully pour the vinegar over the gum and let it sit for a few minutes before removing and repeat as necessary.
Alternatively, put the gummed up fabric into the freezer for a few hours. Once the gum has frozen, break it free.
Healthier commercial stain removersWhen buying commercial stain removers, check for wording on the label that indicates the product is non-toxic and color-safe. The front of the label usually markets the product as free from chlorine, dyes, perfumes and synthetic fragrances.
Look for labels that say the product is biodegradable and contains ingredients that do not irritate sensitive skin. And look for naturally chlorine-free bleaches. The will typically list hydrogen peroxide, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), sodium percarbonate (soda ash) and/or other mineral-based ingredients.
Or try a natural enzyme stain remover that uses ingredients derived from plants and/or minerals.
A quick check of the Environmental Working Group’s database will give you an indication of the product’s safety.
Good To Know
- Wool and silk are animal proteins and are easily damaged by most stain removers. It’s usually best to let a professional handle stains on wool and silk.
- Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar can lighten some colored fabrics or harm some delicate fabrics, if left to sit too long. Always test fabrics first by leaving a small amount of the hydrogen peroxide or vinegar on a hidden area for at least 15 minutes. Rinse the test area when done.