There is nothing quite like the insane panic that sets in the moment you spill something on an article of clothing that you love. Whether it’s a glass of wine all over your new going out top or coffee down the front of your nicest white dress, it’s always upsetting to think that you may have permanently destroyed one of your favorite things. Thankfully, treating stains on your clothing is actually much easier than you may think, and there is rarely any true “permanent” damage, as long as you know what you’re doing.
First thing’s first: Whatever you do, do not immediately throw your stained clothing into the washing machine. Washing and drying something without treating its stains first can make the stain set, and can make the stain set even more deeply (aka forever). I learned this the hard way with my favorite blouse in college (damn you, Franzia) and it’s pretty much scarred me for life. The easiest way to avoid this type of trauma is to keep a stain stick in your purse and carry it with you everywhere you go. While stain sticks aren’t necessarily the solution to every problem, they are a great first line of defense until you can get home and do triage.
Here are nine of the most common stains you may come across in your daily life, and exactly what you need to do to treat them. And don’t worry, we’re all clumsy AF, too.
1. Coffee Stains
Real talk: Is there anything worse than spilling coffee on yourself on the way to work? Talk about having a terrible start to your day. Thankfully, you can get rid of it before it’s time to sit down at your desk.
Immediately, blot the stain and rinse it with cold water. Then, use a stain stick (see! I told you you should have one with you at all times!) to rub away the stain. Make sure you test it on a small spot of clothing before going nuts on the stain so you know it won’t do any more harm than good.
If the stain is on silk or any other kind of delicate fabric, it’s best to entrust it into the hands of a dry cleaning professional instead of trying to attack it yourself.
2. Red Wine Stains
Yeah, we’ve all been there. To remove pesky wine stains, saturate the spot in vinegar and allow it to stand for several minutes. Rinse with water and repeat the process, if needed. Wash immediately after treating the stain.
If you don’t have any vinegar lying around, you can also treat red wine stains with white wine (which, let’s be honest, you definitely have lying around). Dab or blot the excess red wine liquid, then pour white wine on it to neutralize the stain. You should see a difference in the size and color of the stain almost immediately.
3. Yellow Armpit Stains
Don’t be embarrassed — it happens to all of us But just because the armpits of your favorite white T-shirt happen to have turned an ugly shade of sweat-yellow doesn’t mean you have to throw it in the garbage. Restore yellow clothing by soaking it overnight in 12 parts water, one part vinegar (like this one, from Four Monks). Then, invest in a Clinical Strength deodorant.
4. Grease Stains
Nothing like treating yourself to a big, greasy piece of late night pizza, and then commemorating it with an enormous stain down the front of your shirt. To treat grease stains, cover the stain with dish soap (which, FYI, is formulated to fight grease off of your pans) and scrub with a toothbrush. If that doesn’t work, a basic powder like baby powder, talcum powder, cornstarch or even chalk will help soak up the grease before you run it under cold water.
5. Period Stains
Again, we’ve been there. It’s one of the many joys of being a childbearing woman. To treat blood stains (in your favorite pair of underwear or elsewhere), first run the fabric under cold water. If that doesn’t totally do the trick, for lighter-colored fabrics, dab on lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide. For darker colored fabrics, salt water or even contact lens solution (!) should get the stain out entirely.
6. Makeup Stains
I always made fun of my mom for putting a shower cap over her face when she got dressed after putting her makeup on, but now that I’ve ruined at least four of my shirts with foundation stains… I totally get it. Thankfully, these pesky spots don’t have to be permanent. To treat makeup stains, immediately remove excess product with a knife (this is more important with liquid foundation then with powder), then blot the stain with a wet paper towel. Next, use hydrogen peroxide and a toothbrush to rub the stain out in a circular motion. Apparently, pre-treating these stains with shampoo or shaving cream before throwing them in the laundry works, too.
Raise your hand (actually though, no pun intended) if you’ve made it through an entire work day without realizing you had white deodorant stains all over the side of your black dress (my hand is up). There are thankfully a lot of ways to get deodorant off of your clothes… as long as you remember to do a 360-degree full body check before you leave the house. All you need to do is either rub it with a damp washcloth, wipe it with some makeup remover, or scrub it using a dry microfiber sponge. I have also personally employed the “fabric on fabric” method, and rubbing deodorant stains with a pair jeans has worked, at least for me, every single time.
The whole “leaving lipstick on your collar” thing might look sexy in the movies, but it’s a real pain in the ass when it comes to clean-up. To treat lipstick stains, coat the stain in hairspray, let it sit for 10-15 minutes, then rub it out with a damp washcloth. Then, rinse the fabric in water for best results.
Black Ink + White Shirt = A terrifying moment of panic. But as scary as they look, getting ink stains out of clothing isn’t actually that hard. Rub a small amount of laundry detergent onto the stain, then dab it with a wet sponge to break down the discoloration. When it seems to have lightened up significantly, wash the garment as you normally would.