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Enemies in the Medicine Cupboard

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 24 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Medicine Stains Ointment Stains Cough

Medicines and other medical ointments are not things that you usually think of as causing stains but they can leave some nasty marks on furnishings and fabrics, particularly if you have to chase a toddler around with some brightly-coloured cough syrup on an outstretched spoon! Spills and dribbles are often inevitable and unless tackled correctly, can leave a permanent stain.

Creams and Ointments

These are usually oil-based and you should first remove as much excess as possible by scraping with a spoon, then sprinkling baking soda or cornstarch on the stain and letting it absorb for 10mins. Brush off the powder and then rub the area with dishwashing liquid, using a clean cloth to dab it on. Leave this for a few minutes and then soak the stain in hot water and dishwashing liquid for a further 30mins. Finally, rinse thoroughly by flushing hot water through the back of the stain. You may need to repeat the baking soda treatment if the stain is persistent - and also try some lemon juice or dilute vinegar and water solution. Then wash the garment in the hottest water it can withstand.

Liquids and Syrups

These are usually alcohol-based and should be tackled by rinsing the back of the stain with cold water and then rubbing dishwashing liquid into the stained area using a clean cloth and leaving for a few minutes. Rinse again with cold water and then apply some laundry detergent to the stain, before soaking in cold water for about half and hour, stirring and agitating the fabric periodically. Treat with lemon juice or vinegar solution if the stain still remains and then wash according to the care label instructions.

If the spill is on upholstery, first blot as much excess liquid off as possible. Then dab with a small amount of water to wet the area and blot off with paper towels - repeating this several times may be enough to remove the stain. If not, work a bit of detergent and water solution into the stain, wet with water and then blot up. Repeat this until you see no more colour being blotted up. Then the most important thing is to rinse the area again thoroughly, to remove all traces of detergent as otherwise this will cause future staining.

If the fabric needs to be dry-cleaned, it is best to take it to the professionals as soon as possible


Here is one of the biggest culprits - iodine will stain both your clothes and your skin and also the floor, leaving obvious brown or yellow marks - or even deep blue and black, if the fabric is starched. For stains on skin, alcohol can be used very effectively. For stains in clothing, it is best to rinse them in ammonia diluted with water, then wash as normal. You can also try a long soak in cool water followed by washing with detergent.

If the iodine stain is on a hard surface floor, rub it with a cloth soaked in ammonia and water solution. If you are uncertain about damage to the floor's surface or finishing, always spot-test in a small, inconspicuous area first. Avoid using abrasives if you can - such as steel wool and scouring powder as although they may remove the stain, they might also permanently scratch the floor.

Only use very mild versions and be very gentle, if you decide to use them. If your floor is wooden, make sure out don't use water-based solutions which then need to be rinsed off by water - it is better to use a solvent or solvent-based cleaning wax. Once the stain is removed, always rinse and dry the area thoroughly and re-apply with appropriate protective finishing or wax.

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