Stain removal at home – what does what | Anyclean

updated: 19/10/2023


Dry cleaning can be a bit expensive (well, it is in comparison to doing it yourself at home).  What’s more, the fumes from the chemicals used by professional dry cleaners are no good at all for your health or for the environment – they’re rather toxic.  While some of the substances in this article on stain removal aren’t brilliant for the environment and give off some fumes, they’re not quite as bad as the “proper” dry cleaning chemicals– and they smell so bad that you want to avoid breathing them in and you want to rinse out as soon as you possibly can.  Some, on the other hand, are not – in fact, you can eat and drink them.

The golden rule with any stain removers – even if you’re using them as household cleaners– is never, ever to mix them (exception: baking soda and vinegar, although vinegar isn’t really a stain remover).  Chlorine bleach mixed with ammonia creates mustard gas (as used in the trenches of WWI with horrific effects) and stories circulate about misguided people who killed themselves cleaning a toilet, deciding that the chlorine bleach wasn’t working, so maybe a little ammonia might help.

Here’s a basic list of what to have – and what each one’s good for.

Alcohol/Spirits:  This includes undrinkable (i.e. completely poisonous) forms like meths, and also the sort of thing you’d buy at a bottle shop, such as vodka.  Surgical spirits/rubbing alcohol is another form.  Alcohol is used for removing grass stains, ballpoint pen and even (according to some people) permanent marker.

Ammonia:  Use diluted.  Can remove old bloodstains (fresh ones can just be soaked out with cold water), deodorant marks and makeup stains.

Baking soda:  This works more as an odour-eater than a stain remover.  Great for smelly socks and sweaty sports gear – or clothes someone has worn too near a barbecue so they reek of smoke.  Baking soda can also be sprinkled into sneakers to remove that ghastly smell.

Lemon juice: A mild bleach when it gets in the sun.  Dab it on white clothes then put them out in the sunshine.  Sunshine has a bleaching action by itself (but isn’t much good for removing stains, although it’s good for whites) and the lemon juice enhances this bleaching effect with the acid.   Lemon juice also works to put highlights in blonde hair, and in days gone by, it was used to lighten freckles and age spots on the face and hands.

Shampoo (or even dishwashing liquid):  Cuts grease well.  Use for removing makeup stains and for treating that dreaded grubby collar ring.  Dishwashing liquid even be used for the regular wash if you need to wash something in a hurry but you’ve run out of washing powder.

Soda water:  Best kept for fresh stains, and is supposed to be the best way to remove spilled coloured drinks.

Turpentine: Dissolves oils and fats, so is good for motor oil, oil-based paints (turpentine is used for cleaning paintbrushes after working with oil-based paints), makeup and old dairy products.

Plain cold water:  Water is almost the universal solvent and things like soap and detergent merely enhance its “wetting power”.  The best way to remove protein stains such as blood and egg yolk.  Be careful to only use cold water on these stains, as hot water will set the stain, requiring you to use stronger measures.

And in the “quirky things to use as stain removers” section, I can’t resist passing on the following:

Coca-Cola®:  Apparently, you can remove burnt on grub from saucepans by boiling coke in them.  Other cleaning uses suggested for Coke include removing chewing gum from hair (soak the hair and gum in a bowl of Coke then scrape the gum out); cleaning tile grout; removing the smell of fish from clothes; removing oil stains from concrete (hose off after soaking); soaking out permanent marker stain in carpet (let it dry then scrub out with soapy water), descaling the inside of a kettle (fill it up and leave it to sit for a day), removing oil or asphalt from clothing and for cleaning the toilet.  Apparently, it’s the phosphoric acid in it that does the job.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.