Laundry & Cleaning

Is this common product the secret to removing stains?

That bottle of saline you keep for your contacts can actually treat some stains

Cleaning up a stain on the carpet. Credit: Getty Images

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Between reviewing the best washers and testing the most effective DIY cleaners, we spend a lot of time thinking about laundry at Reviewed. So when a recent Food52 article claimed that pretreating a stain with saline before a wash cycle will help erase stains, we were intrigued.

If you wear contacts, you probably carry around a little bottle of saline just in case they get a little dry or fall out. If you could also use that very same stuff as an emergency stain treater, that would be a game changer.

We had to find out if it was true.

The testing

When we test washing machines, we use standardized stain strips that contain a gamut of AHAM-approved stains—cocoa, sweat, pig’s blood, red wine, and oil.

Reviewed_science
Credit: Reviewed

We use a photospectrometer to measure the color of the stains after a wash, to determine how much was washed out.

We also measure the color of the stain strips before they go into the wash and then once they’ve come out. This lets us accurately determine how much of the stain was washed out of the strip and how much was left behind.

photospectro
Credit: Reviewed

We use a photospectrometer to measure the color of the stains after a wash, to determine how much was washed out.

To test how good saline was at scrubbing out stains, we first needed to establish a baseline, so we washed a test strip that hadn’t been treated with saline. Next, to simulate applying saline to the stain before immediately washing, we dunked the strip in a saline bath before giving it a wash cycle.

Of course, in a real situation you likely won’t be able to wash your garment right away—so we ran two more experiments, allowing another strip to soak for an hour before washing and a third strip to soak overnight before washing.

The results

Here’s what all our stain strips looked like after the treatment.

strips
Credit: Reviewed / Mark Brezinski

Our results. The top strip is an unwashed stain strip. The second strip was not treated with saline prior to washing. The third strip was submerged in saline then washed. The fourth soaked for one hour in saline before washing. The last strip soaked overnight before washing.

Our findings were a bit interesting. We found pretreating the strips with saline did, in fact, help clean out some stubborn stains—the saline-rinsed strip was about 50% cleaner than the strip that hadn’t been pretreated. Saline-treating helped by far the most in getting out blood stains, with the wine stains coming in a distant second. It wasn’t particularly helpful on the rest of the stains.

Interestingly, however, we discovered it’s not a good idea to soak stains in saline. While soaking did marginally help clean the blood and red wine stains, we found those stains seemed to get redeposited to the other swatches, which came out of the wash slightly dirtier than the strip that was only soaked in the saline briefly.

Conclusion

Pretreating a stain with saline seems fairly effective in getting out stains, providing those stains are either blood or red wine. While this might be a bit of a niche application, it could potentially save a garment from a permanent blotch. This trick seems like it might be best to remember at dinner parties, where the likelihood of getting accidentally splashed with wine and having access to saline are at their highest—and where it's most valuable for quickly resolving an awkward faux pax.

We weren’t so wowed by the results that we’d recommend carrying around a giant bottle of saline specifically for stain-removal, but if you have it on hand anyway for your contacts, it's a helpful stain-busting trick to keep in mind.

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