Stains are an unavoidable fact of life and dealing with them – especially in a busy household with children and pets – can be almost a daily occurrence. It helps, therefore, to have a good grasp of the general way to treat stains – any stain – so as not to make things worse.
- Act quickly – many stains can be easily removed when they are fresh but become very stubborn and occasionally, even permanent if allowed to dry or soak into the fabric (a good example is paint stains). You might feel it’s a nuisance to stop in the middle of a dinner party and leave your guests to deal with the spilt red wine but you will be glad you did.
- Confirm exactly what kind of stain it is – so that you use the most effective solvent to remove it and also don’t inadvertently use a stain remover that might actually make the stain worse (eg. chlorine bleach on perspiration stains)
- Try to guess the general category of the stain – if you can’t exactly identify the stain itself and examine the stain thoroughly before tackling it. For example, is it greasy? Does it smell of oil, paint or chemicals? Or does it smell like some sort of food or drink? Is it dry or wet? Has it penetrated the fabric or is it still lying on the surface?
- Check what kind of fabric the stain is on – this can be very important to deciding the appropriate method of stain removal. A lot of stains can be removed in several ways but the some treatments can harm certain fabrics and thus will decide which option will be chosen. Certain synthetic fabrics – such as acetate – can be very vulnerable to a lot of chemical solvents.
- Be prepared – always keep certain items handy which make good general stain removers. These include things like lemon juice, white vinegar, baking soda and bleach. It is also a good idea to have a good stock of kitchen towels handy. There are many commercial stain removers available, some very specific on the type of stains they can treat. It can be expensive to stock up on these, when many basic household items can be just as effective. However, a general dry-cleaning agent is a good investment, as is a ‘spot remover’ for carpets and upholstery.
- Always use the mildest stain remover first – no need to go in with the big guns when a little bit of water might suffice! Only use stronger methods when the milder has failed and don’t forget that it may take some repetition and a lot of patience! Remember, the stronger the cleaning agent, the greater the chance of it damaging or fading your fabric.
- Don’t panic! – Stains will invariably happen at the most inconvenient times, often on the most important garments – but you will do better to calmly decide a removal plan and work through it systematically, than to just frantically attack the stain with anything that comes to hand – some of which might worsen the stain.
- Don’t just rush in and start scrubbing madly – just because you should deal with a stain immediately does not mean you have to deal with it violently! There are very few instances where hard scrubbing is required. In many cases, slow gentle removal is far more effective and less damaging to the surface.
- Don’t rush to treat mud stains – it is the one exception to the “act immediately” rule; with mud, it is best to leave it until it has dried whereupon it can usually be easily brushed off before normal cleaning.
- Don’t immediately assume a fabric is washable – always check the care labels very thoroughly.
- Don’t forget to spot-test! – This is a very common mistake many people make in their rush to tackle a stain. Many stain removers and solvents can be just as damaging to a fabric as the stain itself and may leave a worse stain if used on the wrong fabric, so it is always worth your while to spot-test an inconspicuous corner (eg. under the hemline) first for colour-fastness before moving onto a larger area. This is especially important if you are considering using bleaches of any sort. For carpets and curtains, try to keep a few scraps so you can test them before tackling the stain in situ.
Finally, remember to take extreme care with the chemicals you are using – many can be very dangerous if misused. Solvents such as turpentine and white spirit are highly flammable and also toxic. Ammonia and bleach should never be mixed as this can cause a chemical reaction which produces lethal fumes. Make sure the area is always well-ventilated, try to avoid inhaling any fumes and wear protective clothing and eye gear if necessary. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and keep any chemicals carefully locked away, well out of the reach of children and pets.