THE ULTIMATE STAIN REMOVAL GUIDE: House Cleaning & Tackling Life’s Toughest Stains

By: The Maids Team | January 14, 2013 6:00 am
Category: Cleaning Tips, Tricks, and Tools

It never fails – you’re in a rush to get to work and you spill coffee down your favorite shirt. Or maybe your kids have gone strangely silent in the other room, which can only mean a juice stain all over your rug or favorite piece of furniture.

Then there’s that dinner party where at least 3 guests got a bit sloppy and spilled wine down you or on your new carpet.

Stain removal is a big part of house cleaning chores, there’s just no way around it. Rather than spend loads of money on commercial stain removers that fail to deliver, you can usually use everyday household items to get the job done.

Our guide will show you down and dirty cleaning tips for life’s toughest messes.

House Cleaning Guide to Stain Removal

Click on the stain type to be taken directly to the cleaning tips.


For Clothing:
• Treat stains before they set in if possible.
• Blot excess blood off, then soak in cold water and scrub with a bit of detergent or shampoo.
• For old stains, try soaking in an enzyme product for 30 minutes, then scrubbing.
• If this doesn’t work, wet it further with hydrogen peroxide and a few drops of ammonia then rinse with cool water in 15 minutes.

Alternate options:
• Wet with cold water, then scrub with hydrogen peroxide.
• Soak for 15 minutes in a mixture of 1 quart lukewarm water, ½ teaspoon liquid hand soap dishwashing detergent, and 1 tablespoon ammonia.

For Carpet:
• Use cold water and a sponge.
• Scrub from the outside in, then blot dry.
• You can also try sprinkling the stain with pepsin powder or spreading a thick paste of raw starch and water over it.
• Once dried, simply brush off and repeat if necessary.



Candle Wax

For Clothing:
• Place garment into a freezer until the wax is frozen and brittle.
• Shatter/pull the wax off the garment.
• Treat any residue by placing the stained area between two pieces of white blotting paper and press with a warm iron, then replace the paper as it absorbs the stain.

For Carpet:
• Use an ice cube to freeze and harden wax, then gently scrape wax away.
• Use a small amount of carpet cleaner to remove any excess residue.

Cat or Dog Urine

For Clothing:
• With pet urine, typically the smell is worse than the stain.
• Treat immediately, as old stains may set in and destroy the color of fabric.
• Fresh urine can usually be removed with normal laundering.

Alternate options:
• If the urine is more acidic in nature, sponge/scrub with a solution of 1 tablespoon ammonia in ½ cup warm water and rinse well.
• If urine is more alkaline, sponge with a solution that is equal parts vinegar and warm water, then rinse thoroughly.

For Carpet:
• Cat urine, and to some extent dog urine, is one of the toughest stain/smells to remove from carpet. While the stain may respond to regular household carpet cleaner, the smell often does not.
• You will need to find a cleaner specifically made to neutralize cat urine, such as products by Whisker City or Nature’s Miracle.




For Clothing:
• Allow the chocolate to harden and then gently scrape off as much of the chocolate as possible.
• Apply a drop of laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, or prewash stain remover – rub gently.
• Launder garment according to label directions.
• If any stains remain, use a small amount of color-safe bleach (or regular on whites) and re-launder.

For Carpet:
• Allow stain to harden (using ice if necessary), and then scrape off as much of the chocolate as possible.
• Mix 3-5 drops of laundry detergent with 3 cups of water and blot the stain, working from the outside in.
• Use paper towels to blot dry and remove stain.
• Rinse with clean water to remove detergent, again working from the outside in.

Alternate option:
• Cover stain with paper towels and, using the lowest setting, gently iron the area.
• The heat from the iron should draw the stain up into the paper towels.




Coffee & Tea

As with most stains, the sooner you can treat it, the better chance you’ll have at a complete stain removal.

For Clothing:
• If treated immediately, sometimes simply pouring cold water through the back of the stain will remove it.
• If that doesn’t work, rub liquid laundry detergent and a little bit of cold water on the stain.
• Soak the stain for 5 minutes, check, and, if necessary, continue to soak (up to 30 minutes).
• Launder as usual.
• If any remnants remain, try bleaching it in the sun.

For Carpet:
Blot the area with a clean paper towel or cloth, drawing up excess liquid. Spray cold water and continue to blot. If the stain is fresh enough, this might suffice.

If not:
• Mix 1 teaspoon of mild detergent with 1 cup lukewarm water. Blot the area with a clean cloth or paper towel.
• Mix 1/3 cup white vinegar with 2/3 cups lukewarm water and sponge the area with a clean, white cloth.
• Finally, sponge the area with clean water and blot with a clean towel.



Fruit Juice or Berries

For Clothing:
Treat immediately by pouring boiling water over the stain.

You can also try:

• Blotting the stain to remove excess liquid, then rinsing in cold water.
• Rub the stain with a cut lemon or lemon juice and allow it to sit for 30 minutes.
• Rinse with cool water and let air dry.
• Treat with a pre-wash treatment and then launder as usual.

For Carpet:
• Blot up the juice as much as possible
• Moisten a white cloth with any of the following solutions:
• 1 teaspoon mild detergent with 1 teaspoon white vinegar and 1 quart cold water.
• ¼ cup baking soda and 2 cups cold water.
• ¼ teaspoon mild, non-bleach detergent with 1 liter cool water
• Use 3% hydrogen peroxide then ammonia for cranberry juice
• Place the cloth over the stain, and press gently with the cloth, working from the outside towards the middle.
• Repeat with a clean cloth each time until no more stain appears on the cloth
• Rinse with water and blot with cloth to dry.





For Clothing:
• Take a cloth or sponge; wet it with isopropyl rubbing alcohol (do a bleed test on a small portion of cloth in a hidden spot first).
• Let it air dry and then rinse with cool water.
• Work in a liquid or powdered detergent and rinse again.
• Let it air dry and then launder as usual.

Alternate option:
• Mix warm water and white vinegar.
• Rub it into the stain.
• Launder as usual and repeat if any remnants remain.

For Carpet:
• Vacuum to remove loose debris then blot a damp white towel over the stain.
• Make a paste of laundry detergent and water, then rub it into the stain with a stiff brush.
• Rinse with water and blot with paper towels.
• If some stain still remains, try wetting a cloth in rubbing alcohol and rubbing over the remaining grass stain. Continue to rub until the stain is lifted.
• You can also try rinsing with a solution of five parts water and one part vinegar. Then place a towel over the spot and weigh down with a heavy object until the spot is dry.





From Clothing:
• Cover the grease spot with a liquid dish detergent (one with a good grease cutter). Drip some cool water on it and scrub with a toothbrush, working the detergent into the stain.
• Rinse the area thoroughly with water or vinegar to remove all the detergent.
• Repeat if the stain persists, then launder as usual.

From Carpet:
• Blot the area with paper towels to remove fresh grease, or scrape dried grease gently away.
• Sprinkle baking soda, baby powder, or cornmeal, completely covering the stain.
• Allow the powder to sit on the stain for up to 6 hours so it can absorb the grease.
• Vacuum up the powder.
• Wet a clean cloth with isopropyl rubbing alcohol and rub the stain from the outside in.
• Mix water and a grease-cutting dish liquid. Scrub any remaining stain.
• Rinse with a cloth dipped in equal parts warm water and vinegar.
• Blot the area with a clean, dry towel.
• Cover again with baking soda, cornmeal, or baby powder and vacuum it up once the area is completely dry.





For Clothing:
• Remove as much excess gum as possible.
• Freeze with ice, or throw garment in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.
• Scrape gum off with a knife.
• Scrub with an old toothbrush to remove any remaining traces of gum.

Alternate options:

• If some gum stubbornly persists:
• Try soaking the garment in kerosene (be careful, it’s flammable!) and then laundering as usual.
• Gas-based products should dissolve the gum.

From Carpet:
• Rub an ice cube over the gum to harden and freeze it.
• Pull gently at the gum to remove from carpet.
• If it doesn’t all come off, dab some extra strength Ben-Gay to remove the remaining bits.
• After the gum has been removed, clean any stains with a gentle laundry detergent (mixed with water) or regular carpet cleaner.
• Scrub gently, rinse with cool water, and blot dry.




Hair Dye

For Clothing:
• Drench the stain immediately using a can of hairspray to loosen the stain.
• Let stand a few minutes.
• Using a small amount of laundry detergent or spot treatment, gently scrub stain with a toothbrush.
• Rinse thoroughly and launder immediately.

For Carpets:
• Blot stain gently to remove excess dye.
• Combine 1 tablespoon white vinegar, 1 tablespoon dish liquid, and 2 cups warm water.
• Using a white cloth (so you can see the stain being absorbed), blot with mixture until the stain is no longer visible.
• Using a clean cloth, rinse the area thoroughly by blotting.
• If the stain persists, create the same mixture in step 2, but replace the white vinegar with ammonia. Repeat as needed.




Ink (Standard Ballpoint)

For Clothing:
• Place a paper towel or cloth behind the stain.
• Spray liberally with a can of alcohol-based hairspray
• Blot the stain with a rag to soak up ink.
• Repeat as necessary until the stain is gone.
• If a slight discoloration remains, pre-treat the area of the garment and launder as usual.

For Carpet:
You can try the same approach as outlined above.
• Spray with a can of alcohol-based hairspray.
• Blot with a clean cloth.
• Repeat until the stain is removed.

Alternate option:
• Sponge the stain with a dry-cleaning solvent until it’s absorbed.
• Mix 1 tablespoon liquid dishwashing detergent and 1 tablespoon white vinegar with 2 cups warm water.
• Sponge stain with this mixture.
• Blot until liquid is absorbed.
• Repeat these steps until the stain is gone.
• Sponge with cold water and blot dry to remove the detergent/vinegar mixture.




Ketchup/Tomato-Based Stains

For Clothing:
• Remove any excess ketchup/sauce from your garment.
• Run cold water through the back of the tomato stain ASAP.
• This will force the stain back out through the fabric.
• Gently rub a liquid detergent into the stain. Use an old, soft bristle toothbrush to work it in.
• Apply a mild bleaching agent, like peroxide or white vinegar, with a sponge, then rinse well.
• Soak in cold water for a while then launder as usual.

For Carpet:
• Use a butter knife to scrape up the excess, and then blot gently to soak up as much as possible.
• Rinse with cold water and blot dry.
• Spray with white vinegar, let sit for 20 minutes, and blot up.
• If the stain persists, apply a mixture of 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide and 3 tablespoons cold water. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
• Rinse with water and blot dry.
• If this doesn’t completely remove the stain, try using a commercial carpet spot remover.





For Clothing:
• Saturate the stain with a can of alcohol-based hairspray.
• Let sit for 10 minutes and then blot with a wet cloth or sponge.
• Launder as usual.

Alternate options:
• Apply a dab of extra-whitening toothpaste (not the gel kind) to the stain and rub it gently between your fingers.
• Rinse with cool water.
• Repeat if the stain persists.


You can also usually get lipstick and other cosmetics stains out with a typical laundry pre-soak and laundering it as usual.

For Carpet:
• Try spraying the lipstick stain with WD-40 then blotting gently (don’t rub!).
• Clean the area with a mild laundry detergent and a bit of warm water and blot again.
• Rinse with warm water and blot dry.





For Clothing:

Most kids’ markers are water-based and will clean up easily with a typical pre-treatment and washing cycle.

For more permanent markers, try one of the following:
• Spray with alcohol-based hairspray, let sit for a few minutes, and then blot away.
• You can also try rubbing alcohol. Place the stain face down on a paper towel; dip a cloth in rubbing alcohol and dab gently to transfer the marker to the paper towel. Replace with a new paper towel until stain is removed.
• Fill a bowl with milk and soak the stained area in the milk. The milk will change color as the marker bleeds out. Change milk until the stain is removed.

For Carpet:
You may not be able to remove the stain completely, but you can lighten it significantly using the following method:
• Blot with rubbing alcohol or alcohol-based hairspray, then blot with a paper towel.
• Once the stain is gone, moisten the area with water, and blot with a clean towel until the spot is dry.





For Clothing:
Most children’s painting products are made for easy stain removal using a laundry pre-treatment and regular laundering.

For regular paint:
• Drench the stain immediately using a can of hairspray to loosen the stain.
• Let stand a few minutes.
• Using a small amount of laundry detergent or spot treatment, gently scrub stain with a toothbrush.
• Rinse thoroughly and launder immediately.


Alternate options:
Use a commercial paint remover like OOPs and follow directions carefully.

For Carpet:
• Wet the stain with cool water and soak it up with towels.
• Continue to douse until the stain is mostly gone.
• Use a commercial carpet cleaner to remove remnants – following the product’s instructions.
• If the paint is dried already, try and remove as much as possible with water and an old toothbrush.
• Commercial cleanser, like Goof Off, can also work well, but make sure you read the instructions to determine if it will work on your carpet type.





For Clothing:

• Quickly scrape/remove any excess vomit. Baby vomit (especially from formula-fed babies) needs to be treated right away as it can discolor clothing.
• Soak the stain for 10-20 minutes in a solution of 1 quart warm water, ½ teaspoon liquid laundry detergent, and 1 table spoon ammonia.
• Gently scrub with a toothbrush or scrub brush to loosen stain, then rub cloth together gently.
• Rinse well with water and then launder as usual.

For Carpet:
• Scrape off excess vomit.
• Sprinkle with baking soda, cornstarch, or other absorbent and let stand 15 minutes before vacuuming.
• Mix 1 tablespoon liquid hand soap or dishwashing detergent, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 2 cups warm water, then sponge onto stain.
• Blot until liquid is absorbed.
• Sponge with cold water to remove solution and then blot dry again.





For Clothing:
• Blot up excess liquid.
• Combine equal parts hydrogen peroxide and liquid dish soap in a bowl and sponge the mixture over the stain.
• Let stand for a minute or two to pre-soak.
• Blot the stained area with a towel until the stain is gone.
• Launder as usual.

Alternate option:
• Follow the same steps above, but use a mixture of 1 tablespoon dish soap, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 2 cups warm water.
• You can also use white wine as a stain remover for red wine!
• Pour a small amount over the stain and blot as much as possible.
• Then treat with a normal pre-treat wash and launder as usual.

From Carpet:
• Blot with a clean cloth and remove as much wine as possible.
• Pour a small amount of water and blot again.
• Make a baking soda paste of 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water and apply directly to stain.
• Allow it to dry and then vacuum it up.
• You can then treat with a regular carpet stain remover, following the product’s instructions.

Alternate options:
• Pour a small amount of white wine over the stain to bring the color out.
• Blot with a clean cloth.
• Use a mixture of warm water and mild detergent and blot with a sponge.
• Once the stain is gone, rinse by sponging with cool water and blotting dry.

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  1. Cecilia :

    Jul 4, 2014 6:41 pm | Reply

    I am wondering if you came across any perspiration stains that you had trouble getting and did get out?

  2. Ski Hibberd :

    Jul 21, 2014 3:19 pm | Reply

    Stain Removal tips please.
    I accidently spilt Harpic Power Plus (citrus fresh) toilet cleaner on my neutral coloured carpet. The carpet is a looped finish, not wool. I have blotted, diluted and used 1001 carpet cleaner, all to no avail. Can anyone suggest something which will remove the green stain?

  3. Anna :

    Jul 22, 2014 6:43 pm | Reply

    Thanks for these great tips! I will be sure to use these tips along with my cleanings. As I have been told, blood can be taken out of things by the touch of your saliva. Your body can do some pretty amazing things and one of those is that your saliva has enzymes in it that break down the enzymes in your blood! only YOUR own saliva will work for YOUR blood, though. Try it and see how well it works!


  4. Pat Evans :

    Oct 25, 2014 1:51 am | Reply

    My best guest room towels have blotches of flesh colored stains on them and I am told they are baked in liquid makeup. I don’t use liquid make up and wouldn’t wipe up spilled cosmetics with towels but it appears one if my guests have. Is there any way to salvag the towels?

  5. The Maids Team( author ) :

    Oct 29, 2014 3:48 pm | Reply

    Spilled cosmetics are tough! If the stain has already set in by taking a run through the dryer, you’re better off replacing your towels unfortunately.

    Here are a couple tricks that people swear by.
    • In a pinch, try dabbing at a fresh make-up stain with a baby wipe. If the stain is minor and has not set in, this might just do the trick.
    • Mascara, eyeliner (and some foundations and lipsticks) are oil-based. Try spraying the stain with a little WD 40, rubbing it in, and then washing the fabric as usual. NOTE: Always test a small, inconspicuous area of the fabric before applying the WD 40 to make certain no damage or discoloration will occur.
    • As an alternative to the WD 40, you may treat a set in stain with lighter fluid (being careful not to do so around any open flames or other heat source). Simply rub a small amount of lighter fluid into the stain and wash as usual. NOTE: Always test a small, inconspicuous area of the fabric before applying the lighter fluid to make certain no damage or discoloration will occur. CAUTION: Lighter fluid is considered a hazardous substance and can cause injury if not used correctly.
    • Some people swear by the Coca Cola method of stain removal, and will treat any type of stain with Coke Classic. Of course the soda will leave its own mark, but will come out after washing, hopefully taking the stain with it.

  6. ae :

    Dec 9, 2014 1:47 pm | Reply

    Just going to point out that the actual best way to get blood out of anything is with milk and salt and cold water. Soak for a while, rub the affected spot every ten minutes or so and then wash in a washing machine. Repeat if necessary. Works even if the stain is old but will require a few rinses. When you have kids blood stained whites is unavoidable. :)

  7. The Maids Team( author ) :

    Dec 10, 2014 4:03 pm | Reply

    Great tip! Thanks for sharing! :)

  8. So helpful article! The stains of wine are always very hard to clean. Thanks a lot for sharing all of these ideas!

  9. Sunny :

    Jan 30, 2015 1:11 am | Reply

    Vomit, poop and leaking garbage on carpets. Three fun things I have dealt with. My friend has been cleaning carpets since 1977. He told me this.

    Scoop up the big chunks or yucky stuff from the surface of the carpet. Surface clean without pressing material down into the carpet. Spatulas work great. Then surface clean without watering too much the material down into the pad.

    Use a terry washcloth with long loops that can scrub the surface. Use a little Palmolive in warm water. Put some drops of Palmolive on the rag if you need to. Palmolive won’t leave residual soap that attracts dirt. Rinse your rag and go over the surface to lift off the soap if you can. Once you scrub the surface clear, dump a box or more of baking soda onto the spot. Depending on how big the problem. I usually make it about one to two inches thick from center to edges. I’ve gone up to three inches high for a very nasty dog diarrhea problem one time. Give it a wide border.

    This seals in the odor and wicks the moisture up from the carpet. Leave on for several days. If the top of the baking soda gets stained, pour more soda on the stained part. Leave it on up to a week if you want to. By then you can get a professional cleaner to come in and finish the job.

    If you don’t want a professional to take care of it, let that baking soda do it’s job. Spatulas work great to lift it off. Clean it again the best you can again, getting the area wet, but not soggy. Don’t soak the carpet too much or it will mold. But try to get it clean. Use a water vac if you can. Put more baking soda on it. Over and over again if you need to. Eventually the soda will suck up the rewetted matter along with the odors

    The worst odor ever was the rotten garbage that had leaked onto the carpet. All I could do was smother it for the first six months, cleaning and changing baking soda once a month. Finally I soaked it down with 91% rubbing alcohol. I put baking soda on for another month. After that the smell was minimal. Be extremely careful with rubbing alcohol and cats. It is toxic to cats, so do not allow them near it when you use it.

  10. The Maids Team( author ) :

    Feb 4, 2015 3:42 pm | Reply

    Great tips Sunny! Thank you so much for sharing. :)

  11. Tonny :

    Mar 27, 2015 12:15 pm | Reply

    I have a few wax stains on the upholstery of my sofa. I love aroma candles and I light them almost every night and one night there was a sort of an accident with one of my favorite candles. I just dropped it on my sofa while it was still burning. Thank you for this article! I hope that I will get rid of this awful wax stains!

  12. Ann :

    Apr 20, 2015 6:36 pm | Reply

    These are great tips. Thanks for the article. I have darkish light stains on my white fiberglass shower floor. They showed up about a month ago. They can only be black hair dye that didn’t get fully washed from the non-stick, textured surface. I have tried white vinegar soaks. Bleach soaks (in case it was mildew). Rubbing with baking soda. WD-40. Soft & scrub type bathroom cleaners including one with H. peroxide and oxy whitener. Running out of ideas. Have not tried alcohol yet. Any ideas anyone? Thanks.

  13. neohousecleaning :

    Sep 10, 2015 7:22 am | Reply

    Thanks for these great tips! I will be sure to use these tips along with my cleanings,these tips help me a lot to clean my house.

  14. The Maids Team( author ) :

    Sep 23, 2015 2:49 pm | Reply

    Sounds great! Be sure to let us know how they work for you!

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