I don’t know about you, but my kiddos are really hard on their clothing! Between dirt, mud and grass stains, potty training accidents, and every type of food they eat somehow ending up on their clothes, we have more than our share of stains in this house. It’s one of the reasons I try to get as much of their clothing second-hand as I can, because then I don’t worry so much if something gets ruined.
Fighting stains naturally has been, and probably will continue to be, an ongoing battle for me. I have found some things that work, and work really well, on specific types of stains. And other things that work sometimes, but not all the time, or not on certain stains. And then there are other stains, that for some reason, no matter what I do, I just cannot seem to get them to budge.
But, before I get to the specific stain removers, here are some general tips for keeping clothing stain-free.
1. Prevention is the best medicine.
This one is kind of obvious, but the more you can prevent stains, the fewer stains you will have to fight to remove. If you can get your kids to wear bibs when they eat, that is a really good thing. Get large bibs that cover their clothing well, and make it a rule that they have to wear one whenever they’re eating. This is a tip that I should follow myself, since my kids are terrible about wearing and keeping on bibs.
Have designated “messy” clothes. I have some youth sized t-shirts that work great for arts & crafts shirts. Because they are big, they cover up the whole shirt and part of the shorts or pants that my kids are wearing. So, when the “washable paint” doesn’t turn out to be so washable, it’s not a huge deal because it’s on a shirt that my kids can just wear over and over for doing art projects.
2. Pre-treat, pre-treat, pre-treat.
The best time to treat a stain is right away, before you put the clothing in the laundry basket. Once a stain has time to sit, it has time to set. Plus, you may miss treating a stain when you are putting a big load of laundry in.
It also takes much less time to treat one piece of clothing before you put it in the pile, then it does to go through a pile of laundry and treat all the stains at once before you can put the load in the washer. I’ll share my favorite stain pre-treaters below.
If I don’t pre-treat my stains, I often dread doing a load of laundry because I know how much time it will take to go through and treat the stains before I can wash the clothes. And I know that the likelihood that some of the stains won’t come out is pretty high. It’s pretty frustrating to spend a lot of time treating stains only to have them come out of the washer looking the same as when they went in, this I know from experience!
3. Don’t put stained clothing in the dryer.
If you do have stains that don’t come out after washing, DON’T put that item into the dryer. The heat from the dryer will “set” the stain and make it much harder, if not impossible to get out. So if your clothing comes out of the wash still stained, set it aside to try a different stain remover before washing again, or hang it on the line to dry – which won’t set the stain and may even help to remove it (see below).
Natural Stain Removers
I have tried a lot of different types of natural stain removers, here’s what has worked (an not worked) for me so far. I’ll also rate each stain remover on a scale of 1 to 10, one being the worst and ten being the best.
Vinegar and Water
I mix vinegar and water 50/50 in a spray bottle, just like I do for natural cleaning, and spray down clothes before putting them in the wash. I have not tried pre-treating stains this way, I just use it as a right before washing stain remover.
The verdict: 7
This works surprisingly well on lots of different types of stains that my kids have. From food to potty training accidents to light dirt, I have been pleased with the results. It doesn’t work great on ground in dirt, grass stains, or stubborn food stains like ketchup or berries, but you can’t beat the price, and simplicity, of vinegar and water as a general stain remover.
I tried using dishsoap diluted with water in a spray bottle for food stains because I had heard that it worked well. Dishsoap is made to get grease and food off dishes after all, right? I used Seventh Generation dish soap and would just squirt some into a spray bottle filled with water – I never really measured how much soap I actually used.
The verdict: 3
This does work well to remove grease stains or spots, but overall did not work as well I as I had hoped. It worked on some general food stains, but the more stubborn food stains, mentioned above, it did not do well on. It also did not work on any kind of dirt or grass stains. I would rather just use vinegar and water because it is a better multi-purpose stain remover.
Ecover Stain Remover
I bought my Ecover Stain Remover at a local health food store, but it is also widely available online. It is a little pricey, but I like that it comes with a brush on the top to scrub the stain with when applying the remover.
The verdict: 9
This is probably the best natural stain remover of all of the different brands I have purchased. It has a pleasant smell and works on all types of stains from food, and stubborn food, to poop, dirt, and grass stains. If I know I have a stain that’s going to be hard to get out, this is my “go-to” stain remover. It works great if you treat the stain right away and let it sit before laundering, but it also works if the stain is treated right before washing.
I dilute hydrogen peroxide 50/5o with water in a reused brown hydrogen peroxide bottle with a spray nozzle, from a dollar store spray bottle, on the top.
The verdict: 7
Hydrogen Peroxide works really, really well on certain types of stains – blood, berries, and ketchup being the main ones. During the summer, this is my stain remover of choice for clothing that looks like a u-pick berry farm exploded all over them. Strawberry, blueberry and raspberry stains have all been removed completely by spraying diluted hydrogen peroxide on them before washing.
*A word of warning – Hydrogen peroxide is also a whitener/bleach, so you may want to be careful when using it on colored clothing. I have never had a problem with it bleaching my clothes, but I do want you to be aware of it, in case you have an item that is not colorfast, or that you would be very upset if it was ruined by spraying it with hydrogen peroxide.
I dilute Bac-Out in a spray bottle with water 2/1 – 2 parts water, 1 part Bac-Out, because it is concentrated and a bit pricey and this helps to stretch it and make a bottle last much longer.
The verdict: 6 or 8, depending on how you use it.
As a general stain remover used right before laundering, Bac-Out does not really do any better than vinegar and water, and, even when diluted, is much, much more expensive. It also does not perform well on dirt or grass stains.
The best way I have found to use Bac-Out is to pre-treat stains before throwing them in the laundry basket. I keep a bottle in the room where my kids laundry basket is, and try to spray the stains before I put the clothes in the pile. The enzymes in Bac-Out help to break down the stains while the clothing is waiting to be washed.
Also, when I have clothing come out of the washer without the stain being fully removed, I will spray it with Bac-Out and let it sit for a few days before washing it again. Sometimes I have found that the stain is gone even before I wash the item again.
So, Bac-Out doesn’t work great as a just before washing stain treatment, but does works great as a pre-treat stain remover, and as a treatment for stubborn stains that haven’t been removed after washing.
Photo by whgrad
Natural Laundry Boosters and Brighteners
There are also products that you can use to help boost the cleaning power of your detergent, and help your clothes to stay brighter and whiter, without using chemical brighteners. Depending on what type of laundry I’m washing, I will often add a laundry booster along with my detergent.
Borax has been around for a long time as a natural laundry product. I know there is some controversy about whether or not it is truly safe and/or natural. I am not going to tell you whether you should use Borax or not – you’ll have to do that research for yourself. But I will tell you that I do choose to use Borax, in moderation.
Borax is inexpensive (don’t buy it on Amazon, find it locally!), and you don’t need to use much for a load of laundry, so a box of it will last for a long time. I find that it helps to get laundry like rags and towels, as well as dirty or stinky clothing, clean and smelling fresh. For me, the price is right, as I walk the find line of being frugal and going green.
Nellie’s Oxygen Brightener
Nellie’s Oxygen Brightener is a great laundry booster. If I have a really dirty load of laundry, I really like the combination of Nellie’s Laundry Powder and Oxygen Brightener together (after treating the stains with the above methods, of course). It’s definitely a little pricier, so I wouldn’t use it in every load, or for loads of rags, or something like that.
I have also used it with my cloth diapers and found that it helps to get them smelling and looking extra clean.
I did try to use Nellie’s Oxygen Brightener to pre-treat some stains on my kids’ clothing and was disappointed with the results. After soaking them overnight in 8 cups of hot water with about 2-3 Tbsp of brightener, the stains did not budge at all when the clothing was washed.
Lemon Juice for Whites
One trick I have found for naturally brightening my whites is to add about a 1/2 to 1 cup to a cup of lemon juice (I just use the store brand in a bottle) to the bleach compartment of my washing machine. Lemon juice is a natural lightening agent, and will help to keep white clothes looking bright, without the use of bleach.
Whitening/Brightening in the Sun
The sun is one of the best whiteners/stain removers that there is! It’s free, after all, and only requires time to do it’s work.
Hanging clothes on the line is a great way to get them out in the sun and naturally brighten or whiten them. You do have to be a little careful though, if you hang your clothes out all the time you might want to turn your colored clothing inside out, because the sun can also fade the color over time.
If you have a stubborn stain on a white piece of clothing, a great option is to spray the stain with some lemon juice diluted with water, then lay the item out on a drying rack, or even a table, in the sun to remove the stain and whiten the item. This especially works great for getting stains out of cloth diapers.
Just like with the natural laundry detergent post, I know that I have not covered every green and natural stain removal option out there, so I would love to have you all share your experience with getting stains out naturally and what works best for you!
How do you fight the Stain Monster at your house? What tips and tricks do you have for green and natural stain removal?
June is Natural Laundry Month at Live Renewed, and I have a great natural laundry package I’m giving away later this week, so be sure to check back for that!
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*Disclosure – I received the Nellie’s Oxygen Brightener to review. I always give my best and honest opinion. Also, there are affiliate links in this post. If you make a purchase through one of my links, I’ll receive a small commission. Thanks for supporting Live Renewed!