Cleaning and Laundry

Stain Removal Basics​

Laundry Basics​

When you have a stain on fabric, you need to ask yourself a few specific questions as each will help determine the best cleaning method.

You need to know:


What is the material?

Knowing the fabric content will help us to help you. Many fabrics and dyes will not take or allow a lot of handling. The fabric may bleed colour, pill or stretch out of shape.


What is the stain?

Knowing what the stain is will help us to help you. Some stains require the use of specific products and procedures. Some stains will respond to a variety of stain removal products and procedures. We can help you determine which ones may be more successful in your situation.


Is the fabric labelled as washable or as dry clean only?

If fabric is labelled as dry clean only, take it to a dry cleaners - do not attempt to launder. The fabric, finish or construction of the garment may be damaged, if you do launder this item. Give the dry cleaner as much information as possible about the garment and the stain.


How old is the stain?

Treat stains as quickly as possible. Many stains are more easily removed while the stains are still wet and get harder to remove as the stains age. Some stains or products on fabric change as they dry or set. Think of how paint changes as it dries.


Has anything already been done to try to remove the stain?

Tell us what you have already tried. This may affect any further procedures.

Fabric must be thoroughly rinsed with water before using another stain removal method or product. There is no way to predict how one stain removal product may affect the stain and react with another product.


You might also want to know the following:


I have already tried a stain treatment. What should I do now?

Be sure that the stain is completely removed before laundering. Rinse thoroughly and let the fabric air dry and determine if the stain has been completely removed. If not, it may be necessary to repeat the procedure. If the stain has been removed, launder and dry as usual.


What temperature of water should be used?

Usually, use cool water when working on a stain. However, there are some stains that respond better to warmer water. After the stain has been removed, best results might be obtained by using the warmest temperature of water recommended on the fabric care label to wash the garment.


I have accidentally spilled something at work? What can I do?

Use absorbent white cloths or paper towels and blot out as much of the stain as you can. Do not rub! When you get home, work on the stain as soon as possible.


What about stain removal products?

It is wise to have a few basic stain removal products in your home, just in case. Stain removal products are found in the laundry section of grocery stores and the household cleaning product section of hardware and housewares stores.

Always follow the instructions on stain removal products and the care label on each garment. Do not assume that a successful stain removal for one fabric or stain will be successful on another fabric or stain.

Always test any product or treatment on an inconspicuous area of the garment. This does not ensure that the stain removal will be a success, only that the use of this stain removal product or treatment will not damage the fabric.

Be sure to use the stain removal product only on the stained area. Open the garment up or put something behind the stain so that you are only treating one layer of fabric.

Protect your working surface and put a pad of absorbent white or light coloured cloth behind the garment before starting any treatment.

Thoroughly rinse out the stain removal product. Do not leave a product on your garment or leave it soaking, unless you know the fabric will be safe.


Can I treat delicate fabrics?

It is especially important to follow all care label instructions when treating delicate fabrics.

Avoid rubbing or stretching delicate fabrics. However, with some stains, gentle agitation of the fabric may be needed to loosen stain particles. This may mean that to successfully remove a stain, you do some damage to the fabric.


How do I read the care labels on my clothes?

It is important to follow the cleaning instructions on the care labels on your clothing. These instructions are put on by manufacturers to help you maintain the quality of your garments. They generally give information on whether the garment must be dry cleaned or if it can be washed and dried and how. More information on the labelling system used in Canada is available at, or call ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen and talk to our professional home economists.


I have tree sap on my pants. How do I get it out?

First, read the care label. If the pants say to dry clean, take them to the dry cleaner. If they say that they are washable, you may be able to remove the sap. Remove the stickiness by applying a light-coloured grit-free hand cleaner, like a mechanic uses. Work the hand cleaner in and let it sit for a few minutes. Then work in liquid dish detergent or Sunlight Laundry Bar Soap and rinse thoroughly. Hang up the pants to allow them to dry and look at the stained area when it is dry. If a stain is still there, use a laundry spot stain remover and rinse again. Once the stain is gone, launder the pants as usual. Remember to always test stain removal products on a hidden area of the garment. For other stain removal questions, call ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen and talk to our professional home economists.


Help! I have ballpoint ink on my favourite shirt.

Removing ballpoint ink from clothing can be difficult. Check the care label of the garment. If it says to dry clean, take the shirt to a dry cleaner and they may be successful in removing the ink. If the shirt is washable, try this ink removal method. Remember to always test stain removal products on a hidden area of the garment. Place the garment, ink side down, onto a white paper towel or old cloth such as a face cloth. Saturate a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and hold this on the backside of the ink. As the ink is dissolved, it will be absorbed into the paper towel and away from the shirt. Then work liquid dish detergent or Sunlight Laundry Bar Soap into the area and rinse thoroughly; launder as usual. For other stain removal questions, call ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen and talk to our professional home economists.


Why do people say to use hairspray to remove ink stains from fabric?

It is one of those tips and tricks that some say worked better back in days when hairspray contained more alcohol and less of the other additives that is does today. Hairspray maybe a fast fix in an instance when rubbing alcohol can’t be accessed but the other ingredients in hairspray maybe difficult to remove later.

Rubbing alcohol is one way to remove some types of ink stains from most washable fabrics. Blot with a cotton ball saturated with rubbing alcohol until ink no longer colours the cotton balls. Then use sunlight bar soap or liquid dish detergent under running water to remove the remainder of the ink stain. Powdered or spray oxi-products may also be used on colour safe garments.


Fruit juice stains seem impossible to get out of my children’s clothes. What can I do?

Unlikely as it sounds, pouring boiling water through the fruit juice stain, especially if the stain is a fresh one, will often take out that stain. Before trying this, make certain that the fabric and colour can safely withstand the temperature of boiling water. If some stain remains, try saturating the area with a stain removal product, let sit a few minutes and pour boiling water thorough the stain again. For other stain removal questions, call ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen and talk to our professional home economists.