Tips for cleaning unpleasant stains in the summer

Articles Jun 17, 2019 04:56

Summer comes and daily activities become more and more difficult. If you are looking for the best solution to clean them up, read the article below.

Summer is upon us, and with it trips to the pool and the beach, weekends spent at cookouts, and late night ice cream cone runs. Which, in turn, means sunscreen-stained shirt collars, smears of ketchup and mustard on pants, and ice cream dribbles down the front of sundresses.

School might be out, but there are still some science lessons to be learned when it comes to summer stains — and, of course, practical lessons for getting them out of your favorite summer duds!

Tips for cleaning unpleasant stains in the summer
Kyle Dorosz for The New York Times


The funny thing about sweat stains is that they don’t actually come from sweat — they’re caused by the aluminum found in most antiperspirants. Sweat, on its own, is a protein stain, which means that an enzyme-based stain remover — like Zout or Krud KutterSports Stain Remover — will reverse the soiling. Tempting though it may be to treat white shirts with chlorine bleach, resist! Chlorine bleach has a chemical reaction to protein stains that render them more yellow.

When it comes to removing that stubborn yellowing and cardboard-like texture that develops on the underarms of shirts, reach for an oxygen bleach, like OxiClean or Clorox Oxi Magic. For light soiling, oxygen bleach can be used directly in the wash alongside your regular detergent.

For darker, more set-in stains, soaking shirts for an hour up to overnight in a solution of oxygen bleach and water is recommended. Nota bene: Oxygen bleaches perform best when dissolved in hot water. If the shirts have developed that cardboard-like feel, scrubbing the fabric using a laundry brush periodically during the soaking process will help to slough off the buildup that’s causing the stiffness. A laundry brush needn’t be anything fancy — a nail brush or toothbrush will do the job.

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Grass, dirt, and mud

Grass, dirt, and mud fall into the protein stain category. Think of mud as the sweat of the earth. (How’s that for a laundry mnemonic!)

The Zout and Krud Kutter products will work to treat grass, dirt and mud stains. Two other products, BIZ laundry detergent, and Puracy Natural Stain Remover, are ones to look for as well.

Smaller stains can be treated with an enzyme-based pre-treatment product before washing as usual, but if a garment has gotten heavily soiled, soaking it in an enzyme-heavy detergent like BIZ for an hour or longer before laundering will increase the odds that the stains come out.

After laundering, be sure to check that the stains are fully eliminated before putting the clothes in the dryer, as the heat will set lingering stains. If stains do remain, wash the item again — sometimes it just takes a second go in the machine to remove grass, dirt, and mud completely.

Tips for cleaning unpleasant stains in the summer
Kyle Dorosz for The New York Times

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It’s time for some truly wild science.

There is a weird thing about sunscreen — or, more specifically, about one of the ingredients in most formulas, avobenzone. When it comes into contact with anything containing iron — like water — avobenzone will convert to what is, essentially, a rust stain. So that’s weird, right? But here’s something even weirder: Rust stains are allergic to both chlorine and oxygen bleaches, which will leave a sunscreen stain looking like orangish-pinkish splotches.

Avoid those products and treat sunscreen stains as you would a traditional rust stain, by using a rust stain remover like Carbona Stain Devils #9 Rust & Perspiration. Science sidebar! While rust and perspiration are not chemically similar stains, that formula works because what it’s treating is actually the aluminum stains from antiperspirant (remember those!).

But there’s another way, using just lemon juice and salt — as simple as that sounds, it really works. Rinse the stained part of the item with cool water, then lay it flat (you may want to put a small towel down so the surface in question doesn’t get stained by the water or lemon juice). Next, squeeze lemon juice on the stain and top it with an anthill-style mound of table salt. Leave it overnight, then brush away the salt and launder the garment as usual.

Ketchup, mustard and relish

Any cookout enthusiast has surely known this pain: biting into a hot dog or hamburger freshly dressed with ketchup, mustard and/or relish only to have a huge blob of the stuff go splat right down the front of your shirt.

When that happens, use a spoon or butter knife to lift the offending matter up and away from the fabric; then, if you have nothing else on hand, dab water on the remaining stain, which will begin to flush the fabric. Shout Wipes or hand sanitizer, if you have them, are great for treating stains caused by errant condiments — hand sanitizer has a high concentration of alcohol, which works well on many food stains when gently massaged into soiled fabric.

Of the three popular hot dog and hamburger condiments, mustard is the one you should most fear, especially if it’s classic yellow mustard, which gets its hue from turmeric. There isn’t much good news to share about turmeric stains, but oddly enough, the salt-and-lemon juice technique that works so well on rust stains is also fairly effective at treating mustard stains.

Tips for cleaning unpleasant stains in the summer
Kyle Dorosz for The New York Times

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Berries and Popsicles

Ahhh the fruits, the dreaded, delicious fruits. Fresh berries and drippy, fruit-based summer foods like Popsicles will cause terrible stains — some of the worst ones out there! The good news, however, is that Wine Away, a product designed for treating red wine stains, can pull double and triple duty to remove other fruit stains like cranberry and blueberry.

Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews consumer products, notes that Caldrea Laundry Detergent was quite good at removing blueberry stains, though not much else.

Tips for cleaning unpleasant stains in the summer
Kyle Dorosz for The New York Times

Ice cream

Dairy is another funny stain, and here’s why: It should be treated only with cold or cool water, as hot water can cook the proteins found in milk and make dairy stains darker and more set.

As a protein stain, dairy should be treated with enzymes, but it’s also worth taking the type of ice cream into consideration. Shout is especially good on chocolate stains; a berry ice cream may be best treated using Wine Away; and stains from rainbow sprinkles may benefit from being treated with rubbing alcohol, which is great on food coloring stains.

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