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Laundry Stain Removal Cheat Sheet for Moms

Danielle Dent-Breen's picture

Look, let’s be real. Nobody likes doing the laundry. I mean, I can think of a million different things I would rather be doing on this beautiful summer day than sorting, scrubbing, washing, drying, folding, hanging, and putting away laundry. But in my house, and most likely in yours as well, the laundry duty falls squarely on my shoulders. The worst part of doing laundry for children is all of the stains. Most days, I’m left wondering, “How on earth do they get their clothes so messy?”

My oldest child will be turning 10 years old soon. He’s a boy—a boy who plays sports. His clothes can sometimes really reach new levels of filth; especially his team uniforms. (And on that note, why on earth would they even make white baseball pants for little boys?) My youngest is an 8 year old girl who loves animals and being outdoors, and whose favorite activity is digging in the dirt.

My experience with these two has definitely given me a chance to earn my stain-removal stripes. So I thought, why not put that expertise to good use? Keep reading for my laundry stain removal cheat sheet especially for moms like us.


Laundry Stain Removal Cheat Sheet for Moms

Most laundry stains are easiest to remove when they are fresh. Always try to treat stains as soon as possible. But don’t fear if you find some stained t-shirt thrown under your kids’ beds. You can use this laundry stain removal cheat sheet to get out almost any stain your kids throw at you.

For safety’s sake, always double check the garment’s care label, and if in doubt, try a spot test with the stain remover in an inconspicuous place to be sure it is safe for the fabric.

Tomato Sauce:
Spaghetti O’s, pizza, ketchup, or pasta sauce can be scary when dropped on your kid’s brand new t-shirt! But never fear. Simply rub half a lemon over the stain, and then flush with water. Or treat the stain immediately with white vinegar. The acidity in the lemon or vinegar will cut through the oil in the tomato sauce, allowing the detergent in the wash to do its job.

Kids fall down—a lot. A summertime full of bike rides and tree climbing will inevitably lead to some skinned up knees and a few cuts a bruises. But blood is actually pretty easy to remove from most fabrics. First, rinse the stain in COLD water. You never want to use hot water to rinse a protein-based stain, as this will set the stain, making it more difficult to remove. After rinsing thoroughly, treat the stain by pouring on hydrogen peroxide. Let sit until bubbles stop, then launder in cold water with ½ cup hydrogen peroxide and ½ cup baking soda added to the wash.

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As a baseball mom, I am all too familiar with grass stains. Many people swear to be able to remove grass stains by scrubbing with a mixture of one part liquid dish soap and two parts hydrogen peroxide. I have found, however, that the easiest treatment for grass stains is to wet the fabric thoroughly, and rub with a solid bar soap stain remover, like Fels Naptha. This old-fashioned stain remedy is widely available and extremely effective on grass stains.

If you’ve got a mess on your hands from melty chocolate in the summertime sun—or your kids’ hot little hands—avoid rinsing in hot water, as this will only spread the stain. Instead, try placing the garment inside a plastic bag and in the fridge or freezer to cool and harden the chocolate. Scrape off the excess with the back of a spoon. Rinse fabric from the back side under cold running water, and then soak in cold water and laundry detergent for 15-30 minutes. If any stain remains, pre-treat with a heavy duty stain remover such as Fels Naptha and launder on cold.

Ah, mud. Every child is drawn to it. Mud is the one stain that you really should wait to clean. Once the mud is thoroughly dried, use a stiff brush to brush off as much as possible. Soak in warm water with laundry detergent, ¼ cup white vinegar, and ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide. If stains remain after soaking, pre-treat with a heavy duty stain remover and launder on warm or hot if the fabric allows.

I’m sure I have messed up here. I mean, I know I have introduced my children to the use of napkins at some time in their lives. Several times, as a matter of fact. But try as I may, give my kids a slice of pizza or some fries, and it seems guaranteed that they will wipe their hands on their shirts or pant legs, leaving me to clean up the oily stains. Oil stains can be tricky to remove, because you can’t really see them on the fabric when it’s wet. Start by sprinkling baking soda on the stain as soon as possible. It will help to absorb much of the oil from the fabric. Pre-treat all oily stains with a liquid dish detergent (like Dawn) and wash as usual. It’s important that you let the garment air dry following washing, so that you can see if the stain is completely gone. If the stain persists, soak the garment in undiluted white vinegar and scrub again with liquid dish soap, or as a last ditch effort, you can spray the spot with WD40 to try and release the oil from the fabric.

Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” He may have been onto something there, but the truth is, my little artist can be quite messy. Ink and paint stains are inevitable. The following remedies are increasingly aggressive, and could destroy the fabric, so do proceed with caution. Try each remedy and rinse. Rub the stain with dishwashing liquid. If that doesn’t work, try spraying with hairspray and blotting to remove the ink. Rub the stain with isopropyl alcohol if the hairspray doesn’t work. Finally, if the garment is colorfast, you can try acetone or nail polish remover. Launder as usual, and be sure to check for complete stain removal before tossing in the dryer. *please note that some of these chemicals are flammable, so proceed with extreme caution, and perhaps run through two or three wash cycles first, if planning to dry in the tumble dryer.

While peanut butter should remove gum from your kid’s hair, the oil makes it a poor choice for removing from fabric. Instead, try freezing the gum by applying an ice cube directly to the gum, and use the back of a spoon to break off chunks of the frozen mess. Once the gum is gone, rinse well before laundering to ensure no small particles of gum remain, and launder as usual.

Laundry duty is definitely not fun. But on days like today, when I am up to my ears in dirty t-shirts and mis-matched socks, I remind myself, always to be thankful. And I am thankful, because these overflowing laundry baskets mean that I have a house full of people whom I love. I have this little sign in a frame hanging above my washing machine. It simply says:

today I will
for all the
the grass stained jeans,
piles of laundry.
come a day when the
is empty and
will be profoundly