How Your Stain Removal Tricks Really Work

A close up of a person with red nail polish holding cherry tomatoes in front of their white clothing.

Everybody Spills:
How to clean it up with science

Picture a crisp, white button up, freshly steamed. Think about new sheets. Envision your clean carpet. Now think about an overflowing coffee mug. A bloody nose. Turmeric tea. Spaghetti and marinara. You know the feeling … and what comes next.

That’s because everybody spills—it’s a data-driven fact. And if you act fast enough, there are lots of stain removal tricks to implement when you do spill. Things like baking soda and vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and lemon juice are ingredients found in most pantries that could potentially come in handy. Maybe you have some of your own evidence to show for these remedies. But the science backed data *we* want to talk about are: which ones actually work, and how? Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Pete, helped us round up a few:

Removing Red Wine or Rosé Stains

Clean it up with … hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide works like a mild bleach for household cleaning. For stains from red or pink wines, dilute 1 part of a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution typically found in your medical cabinet to 3 parts water. Dip the stain into the solution quickly, if you can—the fresher the stain, the better—let sit for a few minutes, and then rinse in cold water. The diluted hydrogen peroxide should be color safe for most washable, dye stable fabrics. If unsure, test the color fastness first.

Removing Odors and Accompanying Stains

Clean it up with … diluted vinegar or lemon juice

The active ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid. According to Dr. Pete, adding acidic vinegar diluted with water to basic stains such as urine or rotten fish and meat creates a mild chemical reaction to neutralize each other. And once those basic stains have been neutralized, they’re easier to wash out—their malodors included.

Removing Blood Stains

Clean it up with … saliva

Sounds gross! According Dr. Pete, fresh blood stains are composed of both red and white blood cells, cell fragments (called platelets), and proteins, ions, nutrients, and wastes—plus some water. He notes that most of these are proteins and “fatty matters” in nature. Human saliva, on the other hand, contains the enzymes secreted from our body: proteases, amylases, and lipases, all of which are effective in decomposing proteins, fats, and starches.
So for small fresh blood stains on clothing, if you don’t have an enzymatic laundry detergent handy, spit on the stain, rub for 30 seconds, and rinse with cold water. Remember to wash your hands afterward, too.

Removing Ink Stains

Clean it up with … sour milk

Ever had your pen explode all over you at work? Next time it happens, hopefully you have some sour milk handy: Dr. Pete explains that sour milk is acidic with a lower pH. The acidic nature of the sour milk makes water softer and the organic pigments in the ink stains more soluble and removable. Fatty matters in the sour milk may also help dissolve the organic pigments and oily residues from the ink stain, while the probiotics in the sour milk may also help decompose the oily residues of the ink stain. Depending on the ink, soaking ink-stained cloth in sour milk right away can help remove the stain. But, since ingredients in different inks vary significantly, this may not always work.

Removing Milk or Dairy Stains

Clean it up with … baking soda

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which is a basic material with high pH. For stains of acidic nature with a pH lower than 7—such as sour milk or cream, cheese, sweat, stinky socks or shoes, rotten eggs, and vomit... adding baking soda to the source of those acidic stains creates a mild chemical reaction, neutralizing the stain. And since bad smells cling to stains, the neutralization reaction helps eliminate the odors, too.

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