Going green in the home usually comes along with using fewer chemicals, including detergents. We’ve written about tackling laundry and keeping whites clean and bright without chlorine bleach, but what about general stains? How do you preserve the nice linen tea towels and cotton bar mops that have replaced paper towels in your home? Fortunately, there are plenty of green options, from products you can buy to some DIY tricks that rely on products you probably already own.
Adding toxic chemicals to your life is never a good idea, and those one-size-fits-all stain removers are usually chemical soups that are nominally effective. If you have allergies or sensitive skin, or you tend to like natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool, and linen, then synthetics are really not the right choice for you.
So are you ready to play the non-toxic stain game?
First, a few ground rules
- Tackle stains quickly. The sooner you get to them, the better. If you can’t wash a stained item right away, at least rinse it in cool water, and let it air dry. Heat from hot water and a dryer can set the stain.
- Remove any excess gunk before treating. Scrape, blot, or vacuum up what you can and avoid the temptation to rub.
- Go all CSI and figure out what caused the stain. Stain removal is chemistry in action, so it’s important to know what’s on the fabric, and what kind of washing the fabric can handle.
We’ll be the first to admit that some of these items are not exactly the greatest. However, they are all less environmentally damaging than standard stain treatments and cleaners, and most are environmentally neutral. We also consider that they will be used infrequently and in small amounts as opposed to wide-spread general application as you would with traditional stain-treatments.
- White vinegar
- Hydrogen peroxide (be aware this can fade or even “bleach” colors)
- Laundry soap (opt for a low-phosphate version)
- Washing soda or sodium perborate
- Lemon juice
- Enzyme solution (you can purchase, or make your own)
- Baking soda
And now, for the stains. Treat stains as quickly as possible to ensure best results, any stain that you can’t get to right away should be blotted and rinsed with cold water. Test any stain treatment on an unseen area before treating the whole item to be sure it won’t damage the fabric.
For most items, apply the recommended solution directly to the stain, ensuring that it completely saturates the item. Allow the solution to soak for a few minutes or several hours, then rinse and repeat if the stain is still visible. Launder as usual.
Coffee and Tea: Vinegar for plain coffee or tea, use an enzyme cleaner if dairy has been added. If the stains are older, try rubbing with glycerin before laundering.
Fruit juice: Lemon juice or vinegar
Wine: Rub salt into the stain, then rinse with boiling water.
Chocolate: Soak in soapy water before laundering. Check before drying, if stain remains, soak in an enzyme cleaner. If that fails, try soaking the spot in hydrogen peroxide.
Fruit: Lemon juice or vinegar
Ice Cream: Enzymes
Mustard: Hydrogen peroxide
Tomato Sauce: Vinegar
Household and misc. stuff
Cigarette Smoke: Use washing soda or sodium perborate to remove yellow stains.
Chewing Gum: Freeze the item till the gum is hard, then peel off the gum.
Crayons and Wax: Freeze the item till the wax is hard, pull off the wax and as much residue as possible. Sandwich the item between two layers of absorbent cloth and iron the stain on low heat to melt the remaining wax into the cloth. Change the cloth as needed.
Decals and Price Stickers: Rub with vegetable oil.
Grease or oil: Blot the stain, then apply cornstarch to soak up as much oil as possible. Cover with detergent then launder in hot water.
Grout Stains: Hydrogen peroxide
Ink: Soak in milk or vinegar.
Lipstick and Makeup: Apply a few drops of glycerin, being careful not to spread it beyond the stain. Scrape off what you can then cover with detergent and launder in hot water.
Medicines, Herbs (Turmeric), Chemicals: Hydrogen peroxide
Motor Oil: Washing soda
Perfume and Essential Oils: Vinegar or baking soda
Perspiration: Start with an enzyme cleaner, or soak the item in salt water. Lay the item in the sun for a few hours, then apply shampoo to the stains and launder as usual.
Protein Stains: Enzymes or shampoo
Ring around the Collar: Shampoo
Rust: Borax paste.
Blood: Soak in cold salt water; use a hydrogen peroxide soak for stubborn stains.
Urine: Enzymes; alternating between vinegar and baking soda.
Vomit: Enzymes; alternating between vinegar and baking soda.