How to get stains out of almost anything

by Katy on April 25, 2017 · 25 comments

This post first appeared over at

It can seem like half of the work of maintaining a clean home is the baffling challenge of stain removal. It would be easy if there was a single product that worked on very surface, but sadly such is not the case. Add in new materials such as synthetic workout gear and grandma’s go-to stain removers no longer pack the punch they used to.

However, three’s no need to reinvent the wheel, as other people have already done the hard work of solving your stain dilemmas. Here’s what they’ve discovered.


The beauty of a Sharpie pen is that it writes on almost anything and is permanent. Sadly, that’s also its downfall. Our own Alex Thompson Sadler discovered this list which should cover almost any disaster that your two-year-old can dish out:

  • Clothes: hand sanitizer.
  • Walls: toothpaste or hairspray.
  • Wood: rubbing alcohol.
  • Carpet: white vinegar.
  • Furniture: milk.
  • Ceramic or glass: One part toothpaste to one part baking soda.
  • Fiberglass: green and yellow sponge with Windex or alcohol.
  • Plastic: toothpaste and toothbrush or oil sheen hair spray and a cloth.

How to remove Sharpie stains from pretty much anything

Driveway oil stains

Believe it or not, people swear by kitty litter for this task, and if you believe the members of the Laundry Love & Cleaning Science group, “the cheaper the better.” You’re then instructed to step on it, “grind it in” and let it sit. Finish with a Dawn detergent/water scrub and then hose it off.


It might be due to a misbehaving puppy or a potty training child, but most of us have been in the situation where we’re dealing with the sight and smell of a urine stain. Luckily, there are enzymatic cleansers that break down instead of simply masking this unwelcome scent. One cleaning product that both parents and pets owners swear by is Odoban. Whether you’re working on upholstered furniture, hard surfaces or laundry, they have a product for all types of biologically based stains.

White board

White boards work perfectly in their write-on-wipe-off functionality until someone accidentally uses the wrong pen. Luckily hand sanitizer such as Purell works wonders to remove ink stains. Need more proof of hand sanitizer’s power? You need only to view this inspiring post from a few months ago.

Accidentally dyed laundry

We all know the classic advice to separate colors when doing laundry, but sometimes a brand new red sock still gets mixed into a load of whites. Your newly pink clothing may be a delight to your three year old, but not everyone wants to embrace the Disney princess aesthetic. Fear not, as an overnight soak in Oxyclean, (or the L.A.’s Totally Awesome Dollar store knock-off) should help to get your wardrobe back to normal. Repeat if necessary and do not put your laundry into the dryer until you’re satisfied with the result.

Workout clothing stench

You may feel all virtuous after a good workout, but traditionally laundered workout gear can retain unpleasant smells that are sure to ruin your endorphin high. However, an old stalwart cleaner has your sweaty back. Pine-Sol. That’s right, the same stuff your grandmother mopped her floors with has gained the respect of a new generation. The instructions for laundry are right on the bottle, instructing to “add ½ cup of Original Pine-Sol along with your regular detergent to boost a load of white or colorfast laundry.”


Blood stains can be a real pain to address. However, there’s one product that’s the #1 choice for removal. Hydrogen peroxide. Yup, just the regular cheap stuff in the brown bottle. Spray or pour the peroxide onto the stain and let it sit while it bubbles. Then rinse in cold water and repeat. Rub the fabric against itself for final stain removal and add in some Dawn detergent if necessary. Again, don’t put the piece through the dryer until the stain is fully removed.

Yellow armpit stains

Caused when “the aluminum in your antiperspirant or deodorant combines with the salt in your sweat,” yellow shirt stains can be a real embarrassment. However, a combination of baking soda, dish soap and hydrogen peroxide can bring your shirt back to life. Team Clark’s Mike Timmerman tested this technique, writing that it’s as simple as “applying the ingredients directly to the shirt, use an old toothbrush to work them in for a minute, and then let the shirt sit for at least an hour before putting it in the washing machine.”

Cheap and easy way to remove yellow sweat stains from your clothes

Hard water stains on toilets

It can be frustrating to have a perpetually dirty looking toilet despite regular cleanings. This phenomenon is usually due to hard water deposits, and even though you may have tried multiple cleaning products, a quick scrub with a pumice stone can remove the stain with minimal effort. Rave reviews such as this one have me convinced. “My pumice stone took all the nasty off and my potty looks brand new!”

Grass stains

Whether you’re the parent of a rambunctious pre-schooler or have a kid in sports, grass stains can be a challenge to address. Luckily there’s a powerful bar of soap that’s stocked in the laundry aside of most grocery stores. Fels-Naptha has been manufactured for over 100 years, and has been the go-to stain remover for multiple generations of launderers. Their website instructs that “All you’ve got to do is rub the stain with a wet bar of Purex Fels-Naptha and let it sit for a few minutes. Then wash your clothes as you normally would and say farewell to tough stains for good.” Users agree, sharing that “I use it on my son’s baseball pants and it works each time.”


However you address the stains in your life, make sure to follow manufacturer’s instructions and to never ever mix random cleansers. Especially bleach and ammonia, as the combination will create chlorine gas, a toxic vapor.

If my research for this article has taught me anything it’s that there’s a cleaning solution for just about every stain, especially if you catch it before it goes through the dryer.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura April 25, 2017 at 12:43 pm

A long time ago I heard that to get red wine out, pour white wine over it. Some red wine was spilled on a rug in a house we were renting, and we poured white wine over and in the morning the red wine stain was gone! I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere since, but I’ve always remember that it worked. White wine apparently neutralizes the stain, so it can be more easily removed.


Monica April 26, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Yes, it works! A friend spilled red wine on a white blanket of mine, and my roomie, who once lived in Paris and drank a lot of wine, ran into the room and poured a glass of white wine on the spill right away. The red wine stain vanished!


Jennifer April 25, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Magic eraser works for when a young child writes their ABC’s on the inconspicuous side of your wood cabinets with a black sharpie and you find it many months later. I tried everything but turns out elbow grease paired with the magic eraser was the only thing that worked.


Susie's Daughter April 25, 2017 at 2:22 pm

Anyone have any suggestions about sunscreen? The non zinc kind has made a whole bunch of our white t-shirts yellowish around the sleeves and collar from contact with the lotion. These have been designated for beach use now!


Jennifer April 25, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Same thing happened to me so I just stopped buying plain white shirts.


WilliamB April 26, 2017 at 7:08 am

Trisodium phosphate will likely get that out. Either soak the clothes in a dilute solution; or for heavy staining, apply a paste to the stains. If you use the paste, keep a close watch on the fabric – TSP can degrade fabric.

TSP is the phosphate that’s been removed from commercial laundry detergents as bad for the environment. This is why I use it rarely, only when other solutions (literal or figurative) don’t work.


Connie April 25, 2017 at 3:05 pm

I’ve tried using a pumice stone on three toilets to get out hard water stains and ended up just scratching the toilet surface, which made the problem worse. I know something that absolutely DOES NOT work and that is vinegar plus or minus baking soda. I’ve not found anything that actually does work, other than replacing the toilet and that is only a temporary solution.


Shannon April 26, 2017 at 4:13 am

We have had good luck with a heavy duty calcium, lime, and rust product from Home Depot. I think it’s a ZEP brand. I’ll check when I’m at home. You still have to really scrub and it may depend on what kinds of minerals are in your water but it has been the only thing to work for us.


Connie April 26, 2017 at 5:19 am

Oh please do check! I don’t mind scrubbing if it gets me somewhere.


Shannon April 27, 2017 at 4:29 am

It is Zep commercial calcium, lime, and rust remover. It is in a blue jug. We drain the toilet, let it sit awhile and then scrub! Good luck!


Gina April 26, 2017 at 8:32 am

Agreed! Pumice stone scratched up my toilet and porcelain sink. Will never use again. Ended up replacing toilet. Will eventually replace sink – due to pumice stone damage.


Debbie April 26, 2017 at 9:27 am

Try tossing in 2-3 denture tablets, let sit for 30 minutes and then scrub with a brush.


livingrichonthecheap April 25, 2017 at 3:08 pm

I hang dry most of hubby’s synthetic type golf shirts. After a while they get a sour smell around the collar that no amount of washing will get out. Just soak with a scoop of baking soda for a couple of hours and the smell is gone! I am sure it would easily take out other smells as well. I almost threw out one of his shirts after several brands of stain remover would not get the smell out but am so glad I didn’t since baking soda is so cheap!


Roberta April 25, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Any tips on removing red lipstick from a white napkin? Someone blotted her lipstick on a napkin REPEATEDLY and the internet doesn’t seem to have any really helpful suggestions. I have not washed the napkin yet, but I’m planning to start with alcohol, then Dawn if no one has a better plan.


Jennifer April 25, 2017 at 5:35 pm

I am thinking since lipsticks usually have a lot of wax in them maybe the Dawn or some type of degreaser would be better than alcohol. Maybe add oxyclean. When my husband had red lipstick on his white shirt( yes, it was mine), I had to wash it a few times and there was a tiny bit of red/pink still left on the shirt so I mixed a tiny bit of equal parts beach and water and used a q-tip to dot right on the leftover stained spots the wash. It was completely gone after that.


Louise April 26, 2017 at 4:03 am

A former student of mine told me this trick for removing Sharpie from a dry erase board: Go over with it using a dry erase marker. It always worked for me when a student used a Sharpie on my dry erase board!


Mrs. Daisy @ Dirt Road Daisy April 26, 2017 at 5:20 am

I know one way NOT to get stains or stubborn marks off of a dry erase board. Magic eraser. The reason they work so well is because they are rather abrasive. It will leave nicks on the dry erase boards creating little gullies for future uses of markers to sink in making it even more difficult to remove. Speaking from experience here. 🙂


WilliamB April 26, 2017 at 5:28 am

1) Magic Eraser does not work for me. >:-< I've used it on my walls and it doesn't get the marks (such as shoe scuffs) out. My long-term solution of repainting the walls isn't something I want to do frequently.

2) Any ideas for removing old and stubborn dry erase marker from dry erase boards? One of the boards is in the kitchen, so it's possible that the aerosoled grease from cooking is a factor.


Karen. April 26, 2017 at 9:06 am

2) nail polish remover (acetone) may work. Some have Vitamin E in them and that make it slippery afterward, so you might have to wash it with a gentle detergent like Dawn.


Gladys Starkey April 26, 2017 at 5:57 am

These are great tips! I didn’t know hand sanitizer can help to remove stains too. I’ll try it next time.


Karen. April 26, 2017 at 9:02 am

… and if anyone knows how to get dry-wipe marker out of knit poly-cotton blend, man, I would love to know. I’ve got a little girl who’ll write on herself or her clothes every time she finds a marker.


Odette April 26, 2017 at 11:01 am

I use something always handy for getting out blood stains: spit. But it has to be from the person whose blood it is. Something about enzymes…


Diane C April 27, 2017 at 3:38 am

Yup, my mom was a nurse and knew this trick. It must be the saliva from the person who bled on the garment. Her second choice was a stain remover called Zout.

As to the Pumie, it’s important to saturate the stone with water. You want it to soften and dissolve as you scrub. DSD just bought an older condo. The toilet was so gross, it was on the “replace” list, but two Pumies later, the toilet and the sink were sparkling clean.


Melissa in Oz April 30, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Pink food colouring on carpet – it was ALL over the white tiles in the kitchen. And my hands. Then tracked into the white tiles in the bathroom (I put socks on when I finished swearing!) Only realised it was on the carpet near the kitchen the next day. At this point I am beyond caring but it will have to come out at some point LOL!


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