How to Remove a Stain (Liquids)

Evaluate & Test

Always evaluate the material, the color, and the type of stain before you begin. Is it cotton, silk, wool, synthetic, or a manufactured material like rayon. For the most part you can wet any material if done properly; but washing it is a different issue. Evaluating the color is extremely important for this will dictate what technique to use for removing the stain. Knowing what type of stain in conjunction with the color and material will allow you to determined what type of product to use. Without these three key pieces of information you can cause a lot of damage to the garment.

Testing 1-2-3: Test the color in a hidden area to see if it’s colorfast. Depending on how much color you will lose or can afford to lose and the type of material the garment is made from will determine how you will handle the garment.

Examples: white cotton is the easiest to handle, but colored (black, blue, red) cotton is an entirely different story. A colored silk will be the most difficult to handle (not because of the material, but because most colored silks are not colorfast) whereas a white silk is not as difficult.

Can We Start Yet? (Stain Removal)

The best thing to do if you spill on yourself is to immediately blot off as much as you can with a dry white towel. Then proceed to blot it alternating between a wet white towel and a dry white towel. While the stain is wet, it is much easier to remove than after it has dried. This rule applies to all liquid stains such as wine, coffee, soda, and tea. I would recommend this technique for most stains. Using this technique should have removed approximately 80%-90% of the stain without having to use any additional products.

For the remainder of the stain or if the stain has dried, then we will need to use products to remove the stain. For acidic stains like wine, coffee, and tea try not to use an alkaline product (most soaps and over-the-counter stain removers are alkaline). Changing the pH of the stain can cause some stains to set.

Using a Product

The product we normally start with is distilled white vinegar. Apply a small amount directly onto the stain and let it rest for a few minutes. Blot off with a wet white towel followed by a dry white towel. Look at the white towel to see if there is any color loss. If the stain starts to dissipate, then repeat the process again. If we are not achieving any results, then we will need to resort to stronger products.

Need Some Muscle

Enzyme stain removers can be found in the laundry department of most grocery stores. Use the same technique as with the vinegar. Apply as small amount onto the stain; wait a 15-30 minutes and then blot it with a wet white towel followed by a dry white towel. If the stain starts to dissipate, then repeat the process again. We can also soak the entire garment in the enzyme to prevent color loss from a specific area.

Need a He-Man (even stronger products)

If none of these techniques are working, then we may need to use a product with mild bleaching action to remove the remaining color from the wine stain. The following are two types of product we can use: either a 3% hydrogen peroxide (purchased from the pharmacy) for direct stain removal or sodium percarbonate (oxi clean) for soaking the entire garment. These products can be safely used on colored garments, if handled correctly.

If the garment is colorfast, then apply a small amount of the 3% hydrogen peroxide on the stain and let it set for a few minutes, then blot with a wet white towel followed by a dry white towel. Look at the towel to see if there is any color loss. Repeat again if the stain is starting to dissipate.

If the garment is not colorfast, then determine how much color you will lose by testing it: apply the product to a white towel then dab a hidden area. Look on the towel to see the amount of color that has come off. If the entire garment lost that much color, will it be acceptable to you. If the answer is yes then we can proceed to soak the entire garment in the product, if the answer is no then do not continue.

Secret Soaking Formula

Are We Done Yet?

When done with the stain removal process, whether we blotted the stain or soaked the garment, always clean the entire garment. Never leave garments unclean after using spotting or cleaning products. Over time the spotting agent can discolor, or yellow, and weaken the material.


Karl Huie

Pacific Heights Cleaners

Service with Pride since 1969

The First Dry Cleaners to be Green Business Certified by San Francisco Environment and Bay Area Green Business Program Marin County. Using the Wet Clean environmentally safe dry cleaning system that is non toxic.

Other Articles of Interest:

Techniques used for stain removal and cleaning

Caring for your dark color garments

Stain removal products and tips

The future of fabrics rest within our imagination

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