If your house is anything like mine, laundry stains are a daily fact of life.
For many of us, laundry tops the list of household jobs we’d rather not do. It’s often voted the one job we’d gladly hire someone to help with if we could. Especially with small children, stains make laundry even tougher.
Even some of my most crunchy friends will turn to conventional stain sticks and sprays to get stains out. Yes, even friends who make their own deodorant, toothpaste, and laundry soap still use conventional stain removal methods.
And who could blame them, since many natural stain removal methods don’t seem to work on tough stains?
Why Use Natural Stain Removal Methods?
When you switch to natural cleaning, you can’t just spray it all with Shout, wash it in Tide, and call it a day… so what to do?
Conventional laundry stain treatments are some of the most toxic cleaning products available. They contain harsh detergents, solvents, parabens, and a host of artificial colors and scents.
Then there’s chlorine bleach often used for white clothes that’s a major health concern. A 2010 study reported well over a quarter of a million children under the age of 5 were injured by household cleaners. Bleach was the leading source and can be lethal if ingested (most reported cases were from kids ingesting bleach, usually from a spray bottle).
Pre-Made Natural Stain Remover
Already know you want a natural stain remover, but don’t want to DIY it? Branch Basics has a non-toxic natural stain remover that works really well. You can use their cleaning concentrate and Oxygen Boost to pretreat the stained area.
Another good option is Truly Free. I’ve used their natural liquid laundry detergent for years. Truly Free has an Oxyboost stain fighter, as well as an enzyme stain remover and a laundry stain stick.
Both of these brands offer good non-toxic options if you just want something quick and all-purpose. If you want to create your own stain removers though, then read on!
I borrowed some wisdom from my grandma’s era and with the help of my professional stain creation experts (aka my children). I compiled a helpful list of effective stain treatments for various types of stains. You can keep this list handy for reference when you’re doing laundry. I’ve also included a printable version (at the bottom of this post) in case it will be helpful to you too.
How to Remove Stains From Clothes
Removing stains naturally takes a little more know-how and work than the conventional products. When used correctly, these methods can remove some of the toughest stains (and you won’t have to keep the poison control number on hand!).
TIP: Always treat stains from the back, rather than the front, to avoid rubbing the stain in more.
Natural Stain Remover Supplies
First, you’ll need the following staples on hand:
Optional, but nice:
How to Treat Different Types of Stains
Here are some of the most common stains and how to treat them naturally. Be sure to check the product care label first before proceeding.
- Paint Stains: Soak in rubbing alcohol for 30 minutes and wash out.
- Tea or Coffee Stains: Immediately pour boiling water over the stain until it’s gone. If it’s an old stain scrub it with a paste of borax and water and wash immediately.
- Grass Stains: Scrub with liquid dish soap or treat with equal parts hydrogen peroxide (3%) and water.
- Mud Stains: Let the dirt dry and brush off what you can, then scrub with a borax/water paste and clean in the washer immediately
- Tomato-Based Stains: For ketchup and other tomato products, treat with white vinegar directly on the stain and wash immediately.
- Nail Polish: Use a clean cloth or paper towel to immediately blot up the nail polish before it air dries. Use a cloth dipped in dishwashing liquid and warm water to dab up the stain, then rinse in cool water. If there’s still a color stain, then make a paste with equal parts cornstarch and white vinegar. Apply to the area and let sit for 20 minutes before scrubbing off with a toothbrush. Rinse with cold water and launder.
- Ballpoint Pen Ink Stains or Marker: Soak in rubbing alcohol for 30 minutes or spray with hair spray and wash out.
- Red Wine Stains: I use a mixture of soap, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide. You can get the recipe for my red wine stain remover here (there’s also an option for upholstery).
- Wax Stains: Do not try to clean hot wax off of fabric, as this only pushes it deeper into the fibers. Once the wax has cooled, place an ice cube over the area to harden the wax. Scrape off as much as you can with a dull knife or spoon. Dab some enzyme-based stain remover (Branch Basics or Truly Free have good options) over the area. Use a clean cloth or soft toothbrush to work in the cleaner. After 15 minutes rinse with warm water and then launder.
- Dingy Whites, Sweat Stains, or Deodorant Stains: Soak the stain directly in a mix of 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water for 30 minutes. Then add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to the wash water. For really tough yellow stains, make a paste of 3% hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and rub into the stain. Leave on for 5 minutes before laundering.
- Other Food Stains: Treat with a mix of 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water and soak.
- Grease Stains and Oil Stains: For oil-based stains sprinkle the area with dry baking soda to remove any loose oil or grease and brush off. Then, soak in undiluted white vinegar for 15 minutes, rinse, and scrub with liquid dish soap before washing
- Vomit, Urine, Poop, Egg, Gelatin, Glue, or Other Protein-Based Stains: DO NOT WASH IN WARM WATER!!!!! This will set in the smell. Soak in cool water and then wash with an added mixture of 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 cup baking soda in the washing machine.
- Blood stains: Like other protein stains, hot water will only set the stain in. To remove blood stains rinse/soak in cold water, then apply hydrogen peroxide to the area before tossing it in the wash.
If you want an easy way to remember all of these treatments, here’s a convenient printable guide!
How to Handle Really Tough Stains
When I encounter stains that don’t respond to the methods above, I’ll use stronger products that still contain natural ingredients. My favorite is Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, which gets an “A” from the Environmental Working Group, and is an amazing all-purpose natural cleaner. Be sure to use Sal Suds NOT castile soap, which won’t work the same.
It can be used directly on really tough stains in a pinch, though I prefer to make a natural stain spray:
Natural Stain Remover Spray
The closest non-toxic alternative I’ve found to stain removal sprays is this homemade version. It takes under two minutes to make and can be kept by the washing machine for easy use.
- 1 and ¾ cups distilled water
- ¼ cup Sal Suds (NOT castile soap)
Spray on stains before laundering to help remove even tough stains.
Other Natural Laundry Tips
On-the-go stain removal:
My homemade baby wipes can be kept in a small silicone bag and make a great pre-treat spot remover on the go.
Here’s a printable version of the infographic above: Click to download.
What’s your best natural stain-treating trick? Please share below! My kids could put it to the test….
Here is a printable version of the infographic above: Click to download.