Cleaning Products that Can Make Stains Worse

Ever applied a stain remover to a stain, only to find that instead of removing the mark, it actually created an even bigger, uglier stain? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. There are many products which – if not used with care – can actually make a stain worse instead of better. For example, using bleach on a perspiration stain can cause the stain to become even darker! Here is a selection, to help you avoid any future stain-removing mistakes:

Hydrogen peroxide – a very popular stain remover, particularly for blood stains, this is a powerful bleaching agent due to its strong oxidizing properties. This means that it may remove not only the stain but also the colour in the fabric or surface that the stain was on, ie. leaving a “reverse stain”. Thus, always spot test in an inconspicuous area first, before using hydrogen peroxide solution and try to use as mild and dilute a solution as possible (never use it undiluted – always dilute it with at least six times its volume of water). In addition, never soak any item in hydrogen peroxide solution for longer than 15mins as this will cause colour fading.

Note: there is some debate over whether it is safe to use on wool and silk – if in doubt, it is best to consult dry-cleaning professionals. However, do not use it on nylon.

Chlorine bleach – similar to hydrogen peroxide but even stronger, bleach can remove colour from the surface of fabric that the stain is embedded in, leaving a “bald patch” that can be as ugly as the original stain – and cannot be reversed. Generally, bleach is only really used as a last resort, due to its strong, permanent properties and as with hydrogen peroxide, start with as dilute a solution as possible and always spot-test first. Again, it should never be used on silk or wool and it is also not suitable for use on many other fabrics, particularly coloured. It is best reserved for white cotton or linens.

If you spill some bleach onto carpets, quick action can save you from nasty stain spots – blot up the excess bleach using white paper towels (wear rubber gloves) and then dampen-blot-rinse with water. Next, gently blot on some detergent solution (1/4 tsp mild dishwashing liquid in 1 cup of warm water) using a clean cloth or paper towel, working from the outside of the stain inwards, then leave it for 5 minutes. Now blot again with paper towels, until you do not lift up anymore bleach and the bleach smell has almost disappeared. Finally, rinse thoroughly with cold water and blot dry.

Never use bleach on a perspiration stain, especially on white cotton fabrics. The bleach will have a chemical reaction with the proteins in sweat which can make the stain even darker.

Acetone – this is very powerful and can physically damage some fabrics, particularly synthetic fabrics such as acetate, triacetate or modacrylic, which will dissolve. Thus, not only will you remove the stain but also some of the fabric as well, leaving a hole where the stain once was! Acetone will also bleach any dyes already in the fabric, causing the colour to fade. Amyl acetate can be a safer alternative to acetone as it will not damage fabric fibres, although it still carries the risk of fading the colour from the fabric.

Methylated Spirit – this has a similar action to acetone, in that it can remove the dye in some fabrics and damage the fabric itself if it contains acetate fibres.

Alcohol – alcohol will also cause the colour in a fabric to fade, resulting in a “reverse-stain”. If this happens, you can repair things a bit by sponging the area gently with a cheesecloth moistened with denatured alcohol, to try and redistribute the remaining colour evenly. There will still be a discolouration and lightening of colour in that area but at least, it will not be such a pronounced mark.

For washable fabrics, rinse the alcohol stain immediately in warm water and then immediately wash as normal. For older stain stains, wet the area and then apply some glycerine and then rinse thoroughly. This is especially useful for carpets and furnishings. Blot the excess liquid after rinsing then follow with the appropriate furniture shampoo if necessary. For non-washable fabrics, it is best to just sponge with warm water and then take to the dry cleaners as soon as possible.

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