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The commercial stain removers you find in the supermarket 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 (and even the more natural 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.

Also read: Get the Scoop on Natural Laundry Detergents, Softeners, and Whiteners

In this article

Natural stain removers

In the sections below, we’ll see how to use these natural ingredients for a variety of natural stains.

  • Club soda, which is just water infused with carbon dioxide (and sometimes a little salt or baking soda), is the first thing most people grab when they spill a drink. There are mixed reviews on whether it works any better than plain water. Some folks say that it spreads the stain further into the fabric. (Personally, I’ve had good luck with club soda. But I’ve always used it at a restaurant or bar, immediately after spilling something on myself. )
  • 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. Just remember that hydrogen peroxide is also a whitener, so it can bleach some fabrics.

Treat stains as soon as possible

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.

Treat 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 an oily stain and let it sit for 20 minutes or so, until it absorbs most of the oil.  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 and 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 it. Wait a few minutes, then 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. Vacuum the baking soda residue once it’s dried.

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 chewing 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.

Non-toxic commercial stain removers

When buying commercial stain removers, check that the product is non-toxic and color-safe. The front of the label will usually market the product as biodegradable and free from chlorine, dyes, perfumes, and synthetic fragrances.

Still, you’ll want to see the ingredients listed on the back to make sure there are no toxic chemicals. Natural stain removers will often 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.

Either way, 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 any 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.

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