Summer is so relaxing - or it would be, if your kids would stop staining every piece of clothing you send them outside in. Luckily, with this handy guide for treating every kind of stain imaginable, you'll be back to sipping lemonade in no time.
No Stupid Questions is a PEOPLE series that provides expert answers to your toughest (and funniest, and most embarrassing) parenting questions. Check out more here and send yours to NoStupidQs@peoplemag.com.
Ahh, summer vacation. Everyone’s getting a break – except your washing machine. Though there’s a lot to love about summer, any parent with a kid old enough to hold a popsicle or wear white sneakers to the park knows it’s only a matter of time before a pile of laundry with seemingly impossible-to-remove stains starts accumulating in the hamper. Before you give up and buy your kids all-black jumpsuits (or encase them in a bubble), we reached out to cleaning expert Melissa Maker, founder of the Clean My Space YouTube channel, as well as Ewa Sidwa, All’s director of heavy duty detergent development, to ask what can be done about some of the most popular summer stains. Read on, stock up on products and end the summer surprisingly stain-free.
Deal With Stains Immediately
Even the most domestically-challenged person can follow Maker’s recommendations for effectively tackling stains: “Timeliness, in my opinion, is the No. 1 factor in treating a stain, followed by appropriateness of stain remover product. Wash temperature is important to an extent; in some cases, heat can help remove the stain, but in other cases heat can actually help to set the stain. Time, Product, Temperature is always a good general rule of thumb for order of importance.”
Sidwa echoes that you can’t move too quickly when it comes to stain prevention. “The faster the stain is addressed the better the process of removing the stain will be,” she says. “As stains dry, their chemical makeup can change – resulting in stronger interactions with fabrics and making them more difficult to remove.” She adds that if the stain doesn’t come completely out in the wash, re-treat it and wash it again before putting in the drier; otherwise, “the heat will set the stain and then ‘all is lost!'”
Treating Stains on the Go
Out and about without your whole laundry cabinet to consult? Says Maker, “I would first and foremost remove as much of the stain material as you can by scraping it off or dabbing with a clean cloth, like a paper towel. Run to the nearest bathroom and use a little bit of hand soap, apply it to the stain with your finger and dab out as much of the stain as you can with some paper towel. A little bit of hand soap is good ‘Band-Aid’ solution until you get back home.”
Depending on the type of stain, it’s important to move quickly and try to solve with whatever you have on hand, Sidwa emphasizes. “Blood stains should be addressed quickly and with cold water. Makeup wipes or hand wipes can help address some stains on the go. For greasy stains, dish soap or even bar soap can work in a pinch; baby powder can help fight some oil stains, and hairspray can help remove some ink stains.”
The Best Stain-Fighting Equipment to Always Have on Hand
Maker says your laundry kit should contain the following: “Dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and a cleaning toothbrush. Also, any specialty stain removers that meet the specific needs of your home (for instance, a mechanic would need a car grease remover, or gardener would need something that easily removes grass and dirt stains).”
In addition to the stain-fighting tricks she shared above, Sidwa suggests pretreating with the liquid detergent you already use like All Oxi (which uses enzymes to break apart protein-based stains to allow detergent to remove them more easily): “You can dab it on right away and then wash when you get to it.”
How To Treat ‘Specific and Challenging’ Stains, Including Grass, Juice and Mud
Summer activities tend to lead to some of the most stubborn stains around, including ketchup, fresh fruit and grass. Maker says each stain should be approached individually (and she has tons more tips on her site).
- For fruit or fruit juice stains, you’re fighting oxidization, so move as quickly as possible. Carefully remove any physical fruit, then run the garment under cold water as soon as possible (you can also dab with an ice cube). Apply a stain stick, let it set, then wash the garment in cold water (hot water can set fruit stains!). If it’s still not out, soak it overnight in a mix of detergent and water (some also recommend lemon juice or vinegar to combat the stains) and wash it again in the morning.
- For dark food stains (like chocolate, ketchup and mustard), Maker says to blot as much as of the stain as possible, then apply Carbona Stain Devils #2 onto the stain and dab it out. Rinse and wash as usual.
- For grass and mud, Maker says, “remove and scrape off as much as the stain as possible, then apply a stain treater like Carbona Stain Devils #6 onto the stain and dab it out. Rinse and wash as usual.” Tougher stains can be tackled with hairspray or rubbing alcohol.
- For sweat stains, which are actually the result of the aluminum in deodorant reacting your sweat, never bleach: It can make the stains appear darker. Try a paste of equal parts baking soda and hydrogen peroxide plus an equal part water, rub it in with your fingers, then wash with an alkaline-based detergent like All Free and Clear in cold water (hot might set the stain).
How to Clean White Sneakers So They Look New
“If you have leather sneakers, use a proper leather cleaner and follow package instructions. In general, you want to apply product with a clean sponge or cloth, and wipe off,” Maker says. “For the soles of shoes, I use a cleaning toothbrush, dish soap and some baking soda if needed. Dampen your tooth brush, apply the solution and rinse off with a clean cloth. For canvas or nylon shoes, you might be able to machine wash in a delicates bag to get them looking extra clean. Just check the care label or manufacturer’s website.”
How to Get Sunscreen Out of Stroller Fabric or Car Seats
For a super-quick fix, Sidwa recommends dabbing with a dry cloth, then taking a baby wipe to the stain; if the stroller fabric is removable, you can typically wash it on warm (though check the label first).
If you’re ready to tackle it once and for all, Maker recommends blotting the stain, then “sprinkle corn starch and let sit for 30 minutes. Gently brush off the stain, and you should notice the corn starch is cakey, which means that it’s taking a lot of the oil out with it. Once that is done, you can squeeze half a pinky nail worth of dish soap onto a cleaning toothbrush, scrub the stain, let it sit for a few minutes and then wipe with a clean, damp cloth. Repeat as needed.”
Stain-Treating Mistakes to Avoid
Maker lists her “cardinal stain sins” to make sure you’ve got your best shot at a clean start.
- Don’t treat the stain before removing all the stain material: You will spread the stain onto a larger surface area of the item if you don’t get rid of it first.
- Don’t wait too long before trying to treat the stain: Even though there are fun things to do in the summer, we want to make sure that we’re catching the stains quickly.
- Don’t use the wrong product, even if you’re in a pinch: Typically with stains, to get it right, your first shot is your best shot.
To that list, Sidwa adds a few others especially relevant if you’re sending your kid to summer camp or spending a lot of time by the pool:
- Don’t treat blood stains with hot water: It’ll make it tough to remove later.
- Don’t let stains sit in the sun: Leaving them to set “bakes them in” – treat them as soon as possible.
- Don’t let wet swimsuits and towels pile up: If not dried properly, the materials can break down. Hand-wash them as soon as possible (especially because chlorine and oil-based sunscreen can cause issues for swimsuit material as well), and if you can’t, set them aside to dry.