Here's how to get out red wine stains (and more!), according to experts

Grass, grease, and butter don't stand a chance, either

girl with stain on shirt Credit: Getty Images / nicoletaionescu

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Wearing your heart on your sleeve is one thing. Wearing your lunch/makeup/injury/salad dressing is quite another. Given the occasional bad luck, there are certainly times where our favorite piece of clothing meets an undesirable fate—a stain.

Whether you need to undo a red wine splash on a white shirt, a grass stain on jeans, or concealer on a blouse collar, removing stains from clothing isn’t mission impossible.

Before you toss the item and start planning its replacement, know that if you work quickly, it’s possible to salvage the piece. We reached out to Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, co-founders of The Laundress, for help on how.

Act quickly

pre wash faucete
Credit: Getty Images / CasarsaGuru

If you spill on a piece of clothing, before it has time to set, do a quick cool-water rinse to help remove some of the stain.

Whiting says, “Before the spill sets, do a quick cool-water rinse to help remove some of the stain.” If you’re washing out blood, run cold water through the backside side of the fabric to help push the stain out of the material.

After this 911 rinse, you’ll need to absorb the excess water but don’t reach for paper towels, napkins, or tissues. “These can leave behind lint or pulp, making your stain removal attempt more obvious and more difficult to treat later,” continues Whiting.

Instead, use a dishcloth or lint-free towel. If you’re nowhere near your stash of household laundry helpers, it’s fine to treat the stain when you get home.

Boyd warns against leaving the stain care to others (aka the dry cleaner), even though it can be tempting. “Avoid dry cleaning items with stains, as the dry cleaning process can set discoloration into fabrics, making stain removal more difficult,” she says.

Pretreat before you wash

powdered bleach
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To a tough stain on cotton, add on a sprinkle of powdered, color-safe bleach alternative and work this powerful paste into the stain with a brush.

For Whiting, pretreating is key, but you need to take into consideration stain and fabric types.

According to mishap experts, the most common stains fall into categories of enzymatic (grass and blood), grease (butter, makeup, or oil), and bleachable (coffee and tea). Each requires its own TLC when it comes to the removal processes.

For color-rich stains like coffee, wine, tea, fruit, fruit juice, grass, and blood, Whiting relies on her own creation, Stain Solution.

But, if you don’t have that handy, apply a few drops of laundry detergent to the stain, then work into the fabric with a stain brush.

If you’re dealing with an extra tough stain, Boyd suggests adding on a sprinkle of powdered, color-safe bleach alternative (preferably oxygen-powered) to create a powerful paste. However, Boyd warns against using all-purpose bleach alternative on silks, delicate synthetics, and woolens.

For oil-based stains, a few drops dish detergent can create a time-tested powerhouse to break up grease. If you choose to use a stain remover stick, lather it under cool water (for silk, delicate synthetics, woolens, and blood stains) or warm water (for cotton and denim), and then work it directly into the spot. You can also use a stain brush or toothbrush to help work the treatment into the fibers.

Choose a cold, warm, or hot water treatment

dirty lace dress
Credit: Getty Images / DERO2084

If you’ve stained a silk or wool item—like dirt on the hem of a dress— treat it with cool water by soaking it for up to 30 minutes, and then hand washing it.

While it’s common practice to use cold water for treating stains, Whiting actually recommends soaking the stained garment for up to 30 minutes with warm or hot water—if the garment is made of cotton, denim, or a durable synthetic.

Whiting suggests, “Pour almost-boiling water from a tea kettle directly onto the stain to help work the stain solution deep into the fabric.” She adds that blood is the exception to this rule, and it requires cold water treatment.

If you’ve stained a silk or wool item, you are better served using cool water. Soak it for up to 30 minutes, and then hand wash it with a silk- or wool-friendly delicate wash. If you’re machine washing, place your item into a mesh washing bag, and use a delicate or hand-wash cycle, cool water, and low spin.

To dry, or not to?

After washing the stained piece of clothing, make sure the stain is completely gone before you go to put it in your dryer. Whiting is adamant about this, because, as she warns, “Drying will set the stain.”

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