What to Do if You Don't Know What the Stain Is

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What to Do if You Don't Know What the Stain Is

If you don't know what the stain is, its odor, location, and color may give you a clue. Old oil stains may smell rancid, but appear dry. Food stains are often on the front of garments; perspiration stains around collars and underarms; black grease is often on pants or skirts at car-door latch levels.

Stain color may be a misleading clue. For example, rust-colored stains may be coffee, tea, old lemonade stains (carmelized sugar), cosmetics containing benzoil peroxide (which can bleach many colors to look rusty), felt marker, crayon, aged baby formula, or a number of other things. If a heavy waxy or gummy residue is present, you may be dealing with a stain that will respond best to spot treatment with a drycleaning fluid.

Since the appropriate removal method varies with the stain, start by using the least destructive stain removal methods first. If the whole garment can be submerged, start by soaking the garment in cold water (as for protein stains). If not, use warm water and spot treatment technique. Next, use liquid detergent and lukewarm or hot water, rinse and let air dry (as for oil stains). If you suspect the stain is iron rust, treat with rust remover before bleach. If stain persists, use a pretreatment spray or solvent (as for combination stain) and all-fabric bleach. If the all-fabric bleach is ineffective on the stain and the garment is colorfast or white, finally try a dilute solution of liquid chlorine bleach.

Special thanks to Iowa State University for allowing us to reproduce this information.

Reproduced with permission from the Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 50011.

Prepared by: Janis Stone,
Textiles and Clothing Specialist,
Iowa State University

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Clothing Care and fiber Content Labels

fabrics Labeled "Dry-clean Only"

A Note about Modern fabrics

Garments with Contrasting Colors or Trim

Removing Stains from Washable fabrics:

Spot Treatment Technique (Sponging) for Apparel fabrics

Chemical Solvents and Supplies

Follow These Safety Precautions

Classification of Stains

What to Do if You Don't Know

Stains Needing Unique Treatment Methods

Common Remedies to Avoid

How to Identify and Prevent

Additional Stain Removal References

You really should consider washing your clothes if they are dirty.  Learn more about washing clothes.

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