Going Green: Grass and Moss Stains

Anyone who has active kids, a sporty partner or even just enjoys the occasional outdoor picnic will know all about grass and moss stains – those irritating bright green streaks that can be a nightmare to remove and could ruin any light or white coloured outfits.

Why can’t I just wipe it off?

Grass stains are known as “dye stains” – one of the most difficult kinds of remove. So why are they so stubborn? The main component of the stain is the green chlorophyll pigment present in all plants, which is released in the grass juices. However, the stain will also contain other relatively stable pigmented compounds, such as xanthophylls and carotenoids, which together make up a mixture of protein and other organic matter. This is especially lethal on natural fabrics, such as cotton, as the chemical compatibility of the staining pigments and fabric fibrils means that molecular bonds are formed. In other words, the stain “penetrates” the fabric at the most basic level and forms tight bonds there. With synthetic fabrics or those treated with a protective coating, such as Scotch Guard, the stain sits on the surface of the fabric and therefore is much easier to dislodge. In addition to the pigments, brown dirt and other organic matter will also be mixed into the stain, making it particularly difficult combination of substances.

Can I ever remove it?

While grass stains are difficult, they are generally not impossible to remove and there are several different ways you can tackle the stain. It can sometimes be a matter of experimenting to see which method suits best. However, you should never use ammonia, degrease or alkaline detergents because they can interact with the grass compounds and permanently set the stain.

  • Alcohol – for washable fabrics, basic rubbing alcohol can be sponged onto the stain as a “pre-rinse”. The fabric is allowed to dry, before the area is sponged with cool water and then some liquid detergent worked onto the stain. Rinse again and let the fabric dry, and then wash as normal. (Note: alcohol should not be used on silk or wool)
  • Vinegar – you can also pre-treat the stain with warm water and white vinegar (avoid fruit vinegars), either rubbed directly onto the stain or as a mixture to be soaked in for one hour. Vinegar is a mild acid which will act to loosen the bonds from the grass compounds. After soaking, remove the garment and launder as usual.
  • Detergents – there are many liquid and powder detergents on the market which contain enzymes and bleach and are good grass stain fighters. The detergent needs to be applied neat to the stain and rubbed in quite vigorously, before leaving for 10-15 minutes and then washing according to the instructions on the label. If traces of the stain are left, the process can be repeated.
  • Digestive Enzymes – a simpler solution could be a paste made of water and digestive enzymes (like acidophilus) which can be purchased from the local health food store. Spread the paste on to the stain and let it set for one hour, before washing it as normal in hot water. The digestive enzymes will attack the organic matter in the stain and are very effective in most cases. (Note: again an enzyme paste should not be used on silk or wool.)
  • Chlorine Bleach and Hydrogen Peroxide – if all else fails, you can use a combination of chlorine bleach and hydrogen peroxide as a last resort. However, bear in mind that this is a very powerful solution and that chlorine bleach may change the colour of the garment or cause irreversible damage. Always check for colour-fastness in a hidden seam or inside pocket edge. Most bleaches come with directions for colour-fastness tests but otherwise, you can test this by mixing 1 tbsp of bleach with ¼ cup of water. Put a drop of this solution onto the fabric, let it stand for 2 minutes and then blot dry. If there is no colour change, then it should be safe to use the bleach.
  • Bleach and hydrogen peroxide – an incredible grass stain remover and a solution of equal parts bleach and peroxide, to three parts water, should be placed directly on the stain and allowed to sit for one hour. Rinse it very thoroughly and then wash as normal afterwards. Unfortunately, there are some instances when the grass stain cannot be removed – in general, if the stain does not fade within 15 minutes of bleaching, then it cannot be removed by bleach.

What about clothes that need to be dry-cleaned?

For special fabrics, it is best to take them to the dry-cleaners as soon as possible, show them the grass stains and let them use their expertise. If you do feel the need to attack the stain yourself first, use either vinegar or an enzyme paste (although not on silk or wool) and leave for 30 minutes before blotting with a warm water sponge. However, in some cases, even dry cleaners will not be able to remove a grass stain.

In general, treat grass stains as soon as possible for maximum chance of success. And always remember that before trying any method outlined here, test a small, inconspicuous area of the garment to make sure it won’t be damaged first.

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