Fabric Stain Guide: Choose Your Fabric And Know How To Clean It

Which solution is the best for the type of material the stain is on? And what is the best solution for removing a certain stain? Removing a stain from a cotton shirt requires a different treatment than removing a stain from a silk shirt or blouse. In the same way, a grease stain needs a different treatment than a stain caused by food. Using a wrong product or method can lead to damaging your clothing. Each type of clothing and fabric has its own method and instructions.

Always check the label in a garment before attempting to remove a stain. Usually the washing instructions and what the item is made of are listed on there. For example: made of 100% cotton, wool, silk or polyester. If the label contains specific washing instructions, it is advisable to follow these strictly.

Removing a stain from cotton fabrics and clothing

Cotton: can soak, dry and endure heat (although you want to avoid the latter for most stains – warm water is fine, but dry heat will make the stain set). It is possible to bleach white cotton, however this will shorten the lifespan of the garment. Only use chlorine bleaching agents as a last resort and dilute this well before use. The best solvents for cotton are detergents and slightly acidic agents (lemon juice, vinegar, etc.).

Removing a stain from wool fabrics and clothing

Wool: is more sensitive to heat than cotton and must be treated with care. You can immerse it in water, but you will have to let it dry on a flat surface to prevent it from distortion. Only use solvents that are safe for wool and lukewarm (not hot) water. Bleaching agents and acid treatments will permanently damage the wool. Treat the stain immediately with water or wool detergent and take the garment to a dry cleaner as soon as possible.

Removing a stain from synthetic fabrics and clothing

Synthetic fabrics: the treatment varies depending on the material. Rayon and polyester can be washed and scrubbed rougher than cotton, but will be damaged by the use of bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide. It is usually a good idea to clean these fabrics with the use of normal laundry detergent, or with dish soap if the stain is greasy.

Removing a stain from silk fabrics and clothing

Silk: is very temperamental. You can treat the stains with water, but then do wash the garment completely. Dried water droplets on silk will look almost as bad as the original stain. Glycerine-based stain remover is also effective and neutral.

Regardless of what you use, test the stain remover on the inside of the material before you use it on a stain to ensure that the material will not be damaged. Applying water is the only method that you can apply immediately – but pay attention to the temperature.

What types of solvents (and stains) are there?

How do I choose the right treatment for a particular type of stain?

Treating a stain with water

Water is universal, safe to use on practically everything and is a cheap solution. It is effective as a fast treatment to prevent the stain from setting. It takes longer to soak in order to be effective for greasy stains, but significantly reduces the effect of discolouration (lipstick, hair dye, colours of other garments, etc.). Water is generally not a 100% effective treatment. But treating the stain with water directly almost always prevents the stain from setting.

Treating a stain with salt

Salt is cheap and almost always available. It can be applied to the wet stain to soak up the chemicals. Effective with sweat or deodorant stains, red wine stains and bloodstains.

Treating a stain with vinegar and lemon juice

Mild acids like vinegar and lemon juice are excellent for coffee and tea stains, grass stains and sticky remnants such as tape and glue. Vinegar is also effective against mould – perfect for laundry that has been in water for too long if you forgot to take the laundry out of the washing machine. Watch out: you can never treat wool with acids like vinegar and lemon juice.

Treating a stain with laundry detergent or dish soap

Laundry detergent and dish soap are very effective solutions and can be used on many types of fabric. Dish soap is often more aggressive than detergent and can affect sensitive materials if it is not washed out directly. Both products are effective against greasy stains and thus can be used with meat stains, gravy stains and, for example, chocolate stains.

Treating a stain with oxidate bleaches

Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizing bleaching agent. Hydrogen peroxide is a fairly aggressive solution for removing stains and is not suitable for all types of fabric. Oxidizing bleaching agents are often used for colourful stains like makeup stains, grass stains, blood stains, fruit stains and more. Oxidizing bleaching agents are less effective with fat and can damage sensitive materials. Dilute the agent for a milder treatment.

Treating a stain with glycerine

Glycerine (or Glycerol) is a fatty acid and is extracted from plants (usually soybeans) or animals (usually tallow). Glycerine is a component that is also used in hand soap, for example. Many types of fabric and clothing can be treated with glycerine, like ink and paint. Many popular stain removers that are available in the supermarket are made with glycerine.

Treating a stain with enzyme bleach

This method is very effective on organic stains and on stains with an bad odour (egg yolk, pet urine, blood, sweat, etc.). It can however not be used on wool or silk as the agents react with proteins and both wool and silk are made of proteins.

Treating a stain with dry cleaner solvents

Dry cleaner solvents are available in supermarkets and drugstores in a diluted form. Use them with caution. You are rarely better off using these products at home. It is wiser to bring your clothes to a professional dry cleaner.

Treating a stain with chlorine and bleach

These are rough, aggressive and ‘last resort’ products. Use this product carefully as it can seriously damage and discolour materials and clothes. Always test before use and only use if the label in the garment does not say “do not use bleach”.

Stubborn stains sometimes require multiple treatments in order to remove them. A combination of the above-mentioned treatments is often necessary for difficult stains. If you are unsure about the correct method, it is advisable to take the item of clothing to the dry cleaner or launderette.


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