You might be reading the title of this post and laughing, but if you're anything like me, you're planning to eagerly read on. For those among us who suffer from Stain Stress Disorder, or SSD (okay I made that up), this information is for you. There are so many tips and potions to try out there but this is a collection of my own personal anecdotes that I've collected over the years. That said I don't take stains lightly, so don't think they're not hardcore! ;)
1: Buy dark and/or patterned clothes.
This might sound like a no-brainer but darker colors and patterns conceal stains way better than clothes that are a solid, light color. I have learned to avoid buying white things for my boys, aged 4 and 2. Even my husband's white undershirts end up dingy and stained in no time. It's just really hard to keep white things white! Your water quality can even start to impact them negatively, as well as accidentally washing a white shirt with a load of dark colors, so even if stains aren't the issue whites can start to look yucky overall. I don't use chlorine bleach- I used to but I am happy to say we haven't even had any in our house for quite a while and even when I did use it, I would always end up with these yellow blotches on our whites from it! I don't know if I was using too much, if the bleach was interacting with some stains that already existed... but bleach is not something I miss using especially given the toxicity of it and the fact that it was making our whites have new stains.
2: Have a designated set of play/junk clothes that you do not stain treat.
For kids, who contribute to most of the stains that happen in my household, it's super helpful to have clothes you don't care about them ruining for when they'll be partaking in particularly dirty activities. I keep a whole separate bin of "play" clothes or "junk" clothes set aside for my kids. I have a promise with myself that I will not stain treat these clothes (although I sometimes relapse and try). They can get as dirty as possible and if they come out of the wash stained, it's fine because they're going to be filthy again within a matter of moments of my kids wearing them outside to play in our dirt pile. (Some kids have sand boxes... my kids have a mound of dirt.) It's also easy for my husband to grab clothes for the kids from this play/junk bin when he's dressing them to go outside because he doesn't have to ask me what I do or don't want them wearing and ruining.
3: Use bibs and aprons
Another no-brainer, or so it would seem, but once kids start eating solids around 6 months of age it all goes downhill when it comes to stains. You think baby poop is bad? (It's really not, I'll show you how to master that below!) There are certain foods that leave notoriously tricky stains- ORANGES, SWEET POTATOES, TOMATO SAUCE, PEPPERS, BERRIES, I'm talking to you! We like to use either these wrap-around bibs or these wipeable bibs in our house. I generally don't like cloth bibs because then THEY get stained and there are even more stains to drive me crazy, plus if there is Velcro it gets ruined or sticks to other things in the wash and ruins everything else! And for adults, use aprons when needed. Sometimes I'm too lazy to put one on and when I'm done cooking a meal I regret that decision!
1. Baby poop
I can't guarantee this works on the baby poop of formula fed infants because I have no personal experience with that, but it's a game changer for breastfed baby poop. Your number one weapon against breastfed baby poop? THE SUN. Yup, the good ol' sun. Here's what I generally do: launder as usual (I don't even rinse the poop off, it's water-soluble until solids are introduced at 6 months), remove from washer and while still wet, instead of putting into the dryer, set into the sun. Now this works better in the summer when it's sunny but it will still work in the winter or on overcast days. Note that the poop stain has to be WET with water in order for this to work best, so if you notice the stain is still there but the fabric has dried, just re-wet it with some water and set it back out in the sun. When I have an infant poop explosion in a car seat, I will take a wet, soapy rag and wipe off as much poop as possible, and then I will set the entire car seat out in our yard and let the sun work its magic. I've also done this with other things that are hard to wash... throw pillows, quilts. You get bonus points for using blue Dawn dish soap on your rag. For some reason it works extra well on baby poop. Now if you've done all of the above and you still have a stain, move onto "desperate measures" below.
2. Baby spit up
Can you tell I have a baby right now? So many baby-specific stains these days. I use Dreft Laundry Stain Remover for spit up. It keeps them from showing up as yellow stains even after being washed. I spray, rub, let set a minute, then launder as usual. As a side note, this stain remover is absolutely useless for any other kind of stain! And I'm pretty sure other things work just as well on spit up so this really isn't a necessity.
COLD WATER + soap. I have used all kinds of soap. Hand soap, dish soap... anything you have on hand will do. This works best when the blood is fresh. Growing up I got nosebleeds CONSTANTLY so I have been using this all my life. It usually works so well that I just throw the wet clothes into the laundry hamper to wash later. You might want to use a stain treater of some kind (see below for my favorites) if you can still see that the stain remains after your cold water and soap scrubbing. You can also do this on dry blood although it won't work quite as well and you probably will need some additional stain treater.
4. Greasy Stains
Dish soap, Fels Naptha (I've had hit or miss success with this), or the "desperate measures" solution below that contains dish soap.
5. All other stains (dirt, food, marker, ink, and mystery stains)
Treat with a stain remover. Depending upon the situation, I will sometimes rinse with cold water and then stain treat if there is gunk caked on or the clothes are too dirty to even put into my washing machine, but generally I just stain treat without rinsing. See below for recommendations on stain removers!
Favorite Stain Removers
1. Store bought and all purpose
My favorite stain treater ever is Spray 'n Wash Laundry Stain Removal Pre-Treater Stain Stick. I have no idea why it works so well but it works better than anything else I've tried. I also love that you can wait to wash for a week because most times it's just not practical to be doing a load of laundry on the spot whenever you have a stain situation! The other reason I like this product is because I have never had a problem with it bleaching our clothes. I went through a phase where I used Clorox 2 Stain Remover and Color Booster applied directly to stains and it works really well BUT it was so hard to tell what it was going to bleach! We use a lot of organic fabrics and I found it was most likely to bleach anything organic. I think it's because the dyes in many organic fabrics are not as strong as conventional dyes. Anyway, it irritated me that I ruined so many things so I stopped using it, but overall it's a fantastic stain remover when applied right to stains on fabrics that won't be bleached or faded by it (H&M "conscious" clothes have always been faded by it). It might have been my fault too because you aren't supposed to let it sit for longer than a few minutes I believe and I would go a looong time before washing after treating!
2. Desperate measures/homemade
If you have a stain you just can't get out and this doesn't work, nothing will. You think I'm kidding but I'm not. It's a miracle worker.
- 1 part blue Dawn dish soap
- 1 part baking soda
- 2 parts hydrogen peroxide
Mix together right before applying. I use an old toothbrush to rub onto stains. I like to let mine sit for at least a few hours up to overnight before washing. Now keep in mind the hydrogen peroxide might bleach things! Usually organic fabrics, in my experience. Like if something is the "natural" organic cotton color, this will make it turn white because hydrogen peroxide is actually used sometimes in non-toxic manufacturing to make cotton white. But usually I am desperate by the time I try this solution and it's either going to be a big stain ruining something or a big bleached spot and I'm willing to take the risk. I have used this as my everyday stain treater as well but it WILL make your washer full of bubbles if you treat too many things and wash them all together! You're also not supposed to put dish soap into your washing machine. You could rinse off as much as possible in the sink before you wash, or add less detergent, or run a rinse cycle before washing with detergent. You can repeat this treatment more than once on stubborn stains. We used to have a white Ikea slipcover couch and this potion was the ONLY thing that would get the stains out!
1. The dryer sets in stains.
Always check to see if stains have been removed before putting the item into the dryer. If not, air dry, retreat and rewash.
2. When all else fails, try the sun.
Sometimes I think I've got a stain that will never come out and in the process of air drying it, it randomly disappears. I think the UV rays from the sun work magic over time- especially on things like stains from red, orange, and yellow peppers.
3. The sooner you can treat stains, the better.
When my kids take their clothes off at the end of the day, I stain treat before I put them into the hamper. If something I love gets stained I might change my outfit in order to stain treat ASAP. I have waited until laundry time to stain treat but this gets overwhelming going through every article of clothing in the hamper before tossing into the washer, and I'm sure it doesn't work quite as well as catching them when they're relatively fresh! Rinsing with cold water also helps as I think when stuff dries on fabric it tends to stick more.