Chemical Free Stain Removal

I thought it might be a good idea to present some natural, non toxic methods for removing common stains. I worked in a hotel laundry many years back and there was a quota there for stained linens. Every so many linens we saved from the trash we would get bonuses on our paychecks. Needless to say, our supervisor considered herself the “queen of stain removal” and had a method for everything. Of course, many of these methods involved chemicals and toxic elements. And bleach was not a favorite, although you might think it would be. It slowly destroyed the towels and thinned the sheets so that their lifetime use was shortened and resulted in a cash loss. In reality we never used bleach except in last ditch efforts with large blood stains or excessively moldy shower curtains, when the choice was either taking drastic measures or tossing the item out. Overall, we used gentler, kinder methods in order to save the linens.

Being a herbalist and naturalist I was eager to find non toxic and less destructive methods of taking out stains. The first rule of thumb in all cases is an easy one. Do not run an item through the wash and then the drier without first removing the stains. Once set in, they are high impossible to remove. Bleach won’t even do the trick once a fabric has been “set in” by washing and drying. Always treat for stains before washing and do it as soon as possible; it is always easier when the stain itself is fresh. In fact, wet stains, including blood and grape juice, will mostly come out with a flush of cool water if the stain is still wet and fresh. But even then, with wet blood or wine, most of the liquid will wash out but will often leave a “ring”. I have no idea why that is, I just know it from seeing it time and again. So even those items will require a “pre treatment” for stains before being dropped in the machine. Here are some basic guidelines and simple, non toxic methods for getting out most stains.

Here are some tips for removing difficult stains. Remember this: you should always check the fabric as it comes out of the washer before just tossing it into the dryer. If the stain is still not gone, you have another chance at treating it. Remember this chance will be gone completely once you dry the item. Dryers cause stains to be “set in” and thus harder to remove. After washing, you can always retreat the stain and wash again. Only use the dryer when you are sure you are done.

Blood Stains

Rinse wet stains with cold water and then ring dry. Any remaining ring should be soaked with 20 volume Hydrogen Peroxide until it fades. If you have no Hydrogen Peroxide, then douse it with ammonia. This is more unpleasant but it also works. Use about 1 part peroxide or 1 part ammonia with 9 parts water.

For fresh, wet blood stains on cotton or linen, brush it with an enzyme stickand wash it while still wet.

For non washable items like carpets or mattresses, make a thick paste of raw starch and water. Spread it on thickly and allow to dry. Then just dust or vacuum off.

Dry blood stains on linens, fabrics, towels and other washable items should be soaked in cold water and 20 volume Hydrogen Peroxide for a long period of time. Several hours is a good start. Make sure only the stained section is in the mixture; you can do this by filling a cup with the mix and dipping the area of fabric into the cup, leaving the rest of the unstained fabric out. Check it from time to time to see how it’s coming along. Once the ring has faded to near invisibility you can run it through a regular wash. If the ring doesn’t fade enough, you can use an enzyme stick as an emergency measure. But this is only after treating the “ring” for a while first. And the enzyme stick should be used while the fabric is still wet.

Red Stains (wine, juice, berries)

A quick and easy solution is to dip the stained area of fabric into boiling water and letting it stand there as the water boils, for as long as it takes.

Another method is to lay the fabric across the sink and anchor it into place. Boil water and grab the pan once the water is bubbling. Stand on a step stool above the sink and pour the hot, boiling water (in a rush) onto the stain. This while take it out. You need the distance above to cause the water to rush onto the fabric forcefully. Just pouring it gently over the stain will have minimal effect.

For fresh red stains of any kind other than blood, you can lay the wet fabric onto a towel and blot it out with club soda. Use a clean, white rag, towel or sponge to do this. Colored rags might bleed.

For red wine stains that are fresh, simply pour white wine over it. Once you do this, toss the wet item into a cold wash and add ammonia.

Urine Stains

I have had a lot of experience with urine. Mostly from having cats. I have one fussy Siamese and I don’t want to tell you how bad she is. I have found vinegar mixed with water is a fantastic odor destroyer when it comes to urine. It makes the room smell like salad for about an hour but after that, neutral again. Always use 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 water. Putting this mix into a plastic spray bottle makes it handy.

If the urine stain is really large or dark, then start with Hydrogen Peroxide to knock out the yellow color and follow it with Baking Soda, which is rich in acetic acid. Scrub the area with Baking Soda like you would with “soft scrub”. Wipe with a washcloth. If odor remains, follow up with vinegar and water.

Tomato Sauce or Juice

This can be hard to get out. First of all, use a knife to scrape off any surface sauce that hasn’t been absorbed. DO NOT use a sponge or a towel or you will just rub it in.

Dilute Castile Soap or Washing Soda with water. Lay the stained item on a thick, fluffy towel and dab the stain with the soap mix. Or use Glycerin Soap diluted with water and lather the fabric with your hands. Rub where the stain is until you see it fading. After using either method, soak the stained fabric in cool water for an hour or two before washing.


This is really gross and hard to stomach. This from someone who knows. At the hotel laundry, I had a cart full of sheets stained with vomit that came into my hands. People get sick in hotels, too. What a job that was.

You have to wash off as much of the vomit as you can. Get it down to just the stain. This can be hard work if there is a lot of vomit. Soak the stained fabric in a dilute mix of ammonia and water. This means a mix of 1/5 ammonia to 4/5 water. After soaking for a few hours, remove from the mix and wash.

If the ammonia mix doesn’t work or you don’t want to work with ammonia, then make a mix of Hydrogen Peroxide and Washing Soda. Dilute the Peroxide 1/3 to 1/3 water and add 1 tbsp of washing soda. If you can’t find washing soda, try this: mix 1/3 baking soda with 2/3 soap flakes (either grated from a bar of soap or boxed flakes) and shake up. Mix this with the Peroxide/Water combo all together in a jar or bottle. This should result in a lathery liquid you can dab on the fabric or even scrub if you have to. After use, wash the fabric in cold water.

Soy sauce

On first discovery, make up a quick mix of Castile Soap and water. 1/3 soap to 2/3 water. Dip a toothbrush or other scrub brush in the mix and use it to scrub the stain. Flush it completely with cold water before washing.

If the stain is not gone, try adding vinegar to the mix. Re-scrub with soap, water and a dash of vinegar. Otherwise, you can mix up 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 water and soak the stained area of fabric in the mix for several hours.

For extremely stubborn soy stains or greasy stains that include other ethnic food ingredients, you should obtain some D-Limonene , which is an extract from citrus fruit rind. It is a natural solvent and it is safe and reliable. Mix 3 parts dish washing liquid with 1 part D’Limonene and soak or dab the stain with it. This should do it. Wash in cold water.

Sweat & Perspiration Stains

There are a few simple things you should try first. Try soaking the stain in cold salty water. Then wash as usual. To prevent sweaty clothes from becoming yellow stained, hang them out to dry instead of using the dryer. The lower temperature and the sun’s bleaching power will help prevent the sweat from yellowing the garment. This is especially useful on white cotton shirts.

Another simple method is to open an ammonia bottle and hold the stain over the bottle to absorb the fumes. This often causes the stain to just fade.

If the stain is too old for these methods to work, then it’s because it has turned alkaline. In this case, soak the fabric in vinegar. 1 tsp of vinegar in a half cup of water. This seems to do it most of the time.

Sweat or perspiration on items you cannot wash (fur, leather, delicate knits), then consider trying this mix. Make a paste of Tbsp Cream of Tartar, 3 crushed aspirins and enough WARM water to make into a paste. Spoon it on and spread it. Leave for 20 minutes and then sponge or rinse with warm water. If the color has faded, dab over with fresh cool vinegar. This should restore it to normal.

Chocolate, Cocoa and Creamy Stains

Just like with the vomit stain, you must use a knife to scrape off any unabsorbed food. Then you should wet the stained area with water and castile soap. This would be 1/3 Castile Soap to 2/3 water. Scrub with a toothbrush or other scrub brush. If the stain fades at this point, you may wash in cold water.

Often a chocolate stain will leave a brown discoloration. For brown stains, make up a mix of hydrogen peroxide and washing soda, (refer to Vomit Stains above) and scrub the stain with it.

In sheer desperation, when these stains are stubborn and can’t be removed by gentle, non toxic means, then you just resort to dry cleaning liquid. Dab it on and let it completely dry. Repeat as often as necessary. If after several attempts, this stubborn stain remains, then the only resort is to use Methyl Alcohol (if you choose to go this far) and ammonia. This last mixture is toxic and full of chemical residue so only resort to this if you absolutely must. Always attempt the safer methods first. With the ammonia and alcohol mix, do this in a well ventilated area away from children or animals. Allow the fabric to dry completely between treatments and wash thoroughly after finishing. You may have to wash the fabric several times to get the chemicals and residual smell out of it.

Wax Stains

Hey, as ugly as these are, they are among the easiest to fix. First of all, if the wax from a crayon or candle has melted and ended up on clothing or linens, put the stained fabric in the freezer and leave it. When the wax has completely frozen to brittle, you can just snap it off. And then treat the remaining colored stain (if one exists) in the same fashion as you would any stain of that color.

If the wax has ended up on carpets or other non washable areas, heat up the iron and get a piece of fabric that you do not need. Lay the fabric over the stain and press with the iron. Do this until the wax has melted and affixed to the fabric. Again, treat any remaining color stain in the same fashion as you normally would.

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8 Responses so far

  1. 1

    julia said,

    Hi I have a cream sofa which has a lot of ground in dirt in the footstools, I would like to be able to clean them by hand to get the stains out, would you be able to advise any solution that would do this along with a technique.

    • 2

      spacecoaststargirl said,

      What material is the sofa made of? Treatment for dirt depends upon the material, whether it is leather, seude, synthetic, cotton, etc… If I knew this I could make some suggestions.

  2. 3

    sara said,

    I have just found your blog and your fantastic advise for red wine stains, I wonder as to whether you could help me. I have mold stains on the bottom of my curtains where they have rubbed against the window in winter. I have had them dry cleaned but this doesn’t bring them out, a friend suggested bleach, but I don’t want to ruin the curtains.

    • 4

      spacecoaststargirl said,

      The first consideration is the type of material that the curtain is made of. If I knew that I could make some suggestions.

  3. 5

    helen said,

    Do you have any hints and tips for removing red wine stains out of carpets, I have a cream carpet with a red wine stain in and I have tried using white wine and salt and bleach but nothing seems to work. Any ideas?

    • 6

      spacecoaststargirl said,

      Thanks for reading my blog! I am sad to hear about your carpet but red wine stains are fairly common and for some unknown reason the most common on white or light colored carpeting! Maybe darker carpet doesn’t show them so badly so people tend to let them go or not fuss over them so much. However, there are several methods used to remove it. Now, salt is only good if you do it while the stain is fresh and wet. The salt will absorb most of the liquid and reduce the problem. I would recommend trying ammonia for dried stains. Mix a tbsp of ammonia with a cup of water and spread it over the stain. Let it sit a while but test it on a corner of the carpet first to make sure it will not lighten it. Cleaning services often use Shout (the laundry stain remover), Wine Away (a product made just for this), Spot Shout, Dri-Clean (a carpet cleaner for cars) and Quick & Brite. Another method I have used is peroxide. Now, this is assuming you blotted up a lot of the wine right away. If the carpet was saturated and not cleaned up right away (like what happens when people fall asleep on the couch and knock over a glass without knowing and then wake up in the morning with a stain the size of Georgia!) then you will have to cut out and replace the carpet and probably have to bleach the flooring underneath. But if all you have is a surface stain of regular proportions, try this. Using carpet shampoo (dish soap will work in a pinch) and peroxide. 1 cup peroxide to 1 tsp carpet shampoo. Soak a clean sponge in this mixture, squeeze it halfway dry and then blot the stain. (Do not pour it on or you will ruin the carpet for sure.) Just continue doing this until the stain lifts. Make sure to blot dry afterwards or the peroxide will spread and lighten the carpet around it and you will have another problem! So try any of these you think might work for you and good luck!

  4. 7

    […] Don’t forget to go green for big cleaning projects, as well. Instead of buying the chemicals they sell you when you rent the carpet shampooer, consider mixing up your own. Washing soda is non toxic and if you use the right amount, it doesn’t turn your carpet into a foam workout. Vinegar is the stuff to use if you are trying to wash out pet odors; acetic acid works natural miracles on urine. Lemon juice and water on a rag will take nicotine off of walls, coffee spatters off the venetian blinds and dried food off the side of the garbage can. If you want to add some antibacterial action to your mix, add a drop or two of tea tree oil. Use grain alcohol (drinking alcohol, not denatured!) as a base for your mix and up the antiseptic qualities. If you want to freshen the air, add a drop of peppermint oil to the lemon or linseed oil you rub the furniture with. And check out my previous post for recipes for leather cleaners and other hard to find natural cleaning solutions. […]

  5. 8

    […] #6: Refer to my previous post on Chemical Free Stain Removal for help in making or purchasing safer, greener […]

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