Best Laundry Stain Removers

Updated September 2021
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Buying guide for best laundry stain removers

Accidents happen, and often, it’s your clothes that pay the price. Stubborn stains like wine, mud, and blood can be difficult to get out of clothing, and if you don’t have the right laundry stain remover on hand, you may need to toss your soiled items in the trash. The trouble is, not all stain removers are equally effective on all types of fabrics and stains. If you choose the wrong one, you may see little improvement in the stain, or the stain remover could end up damaging your clothes even more.

You can avoid these problems by understanding how different types of stain removers work and what factors you need to consider when choosing one.

Here’s a brief guide to walk you through what matters when selecting a laundry stain remover.

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The sooner you attempt to remove a stain, the easier it is to get out. Whenever possible, start pretreating the problem spot with a stain remover right away, then put it in the washing machine after you’ve let it sit for a few minutes.

Key considerations

When choosing a laundry stain remover, know its ingredients. Ingredients dictate which types of stains it can successfully remove. The three main types are oxidizing, surfactant, and enzyme-based stain removers.

Oxidizing laundry stain removers

Oxidizing laundry stain removers work by breaking apart the chemical bonds in the stain molecule, rendering it colorless. Common examples of oxidizing stain remover ingredients include hydrogen peroxide and chlorine bleach. These types of stain removers work best on stains like coffee, wine, tea, and ink. However, you must be careful when using them on colored fabrics. They can sometimes go too far and begin breaking down the chemical bonds in the clothing’s fabric, fading its color. If you’re concerned about this, read customer reviews before purchasing an oxidizing stain remover to make sure it’s not an issue.

Surfactant laundry stain removers

Surfactants work by reducing the surface tension between the stain and the fabric, making it easier for your washing machine to lift the stains out of the fabric. Soap is a common surfactant, as is sodium lauryl sulfate. These ingredients do an excellent job of removing water- or oil-based stains, including grease stains. Many laundry stain removers include both oxidizing and surfactant ingredients, so they work on a variety of stains.

Enzyme laundry stain removers

Enzymes are what your body uses to break down foods into smaller, more usable chunks. In laundry stain removers, they work much the same way, except their job is to hide a stain. Enzyme-based stain removers are less common than the other two types mentioned above, but they’re the best choice for stains like blood and chocolate. Common enzymes include amylase, which breaks down starches; protease, which breaks down proteins; and lipase, which breaks down fats.

Features

Formula type

Most laundry stain removers are liquids you spray onto the stain, but there are stain removers available in gel or powder form. Liquids are the easiest to apply, but it’s best to lay the clothing flat while you spray so the spray can soak into the stain and doesn’t run down the fabric. Gel may be slightly more difficult to apply, but you usually don’t need to worry about it running off the spot once you’ve applied it.

You don’t apply powdered laundry stain removers directly to the stain. Instead, you fill a sink or basin with water, pour in the powder, and soak your clothing in the water for a period of time before putting it in the washing machine. Some may find this extra step too much effort compared to the other types of stain removers.

Fabric type

Verify that the stain remover you use will be safe on the type of fabric you intend to use it on by reading the manufacturer’s instructions. This isn’t as much of a concern for white cotton fabrics, but if you get a stain on a colored shirt, you want to be sure your stain remover isn’t going to fade the fabric. Be careful if you’re working with delicate fabrics that are dry clean only. Some laundry stain removers may be harsh on these materials. If you have any questions, you can reach out to the manufacturer directly.

Versatility

Some laundry stain removers can be used for stains on carpet or upholstery as well. You may want to go with a product like this if you’d rather not purchase a separate carpet stain remover. Usually, stain removers that fall into this category are liquids you spray or pour directly onto the stain.

Scent

This is a minor concern, but you may be somewhat less inclined to use a laundry stain remover if you don’t like its smell. Some may have a perfumed scent while others do not, but all laundry stain removers tend to have a smell, and some may find this unpleasant.

Laundry stain remover prices

Laundry stain removers range in price from around $4 to $20.

The cost will depend on the stain remover’s ingredients and how much of the product you’re getting. Powdered and gel laundry stain removers are slightly more expensive than sprays.

Most sprays are under $10 per bottle, but some high-end sprays with natural, plant-based ingredients may be more expensive.

Tips

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions so you know which fabrics you can safely use the stain remover on, and how long you should let it sit on the stain before washing.

  • If you’re unsure whether the stain remover will damage your fabric, test it on a small, inconspicuous spot first.

  • Different stains require different types of treatments. Always make sure you’re choosing a laundry stain remover that’s right for the particular kind of stain you’re treating.

  • If using a powdered stain remover, don’t use hot water. This can set some stains and make them more difficult to remove.

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It’s smart to keep a couple different laundry stain removers on hand so you can choose the one that’s right for a particular stain.

FAQ

Q. How do I know which type of stain remover I need?
A.
It all depends on the type of stain that needs removing. Most sprays work well on food stains, but for really stubborn stains like wine and blood, you may need to choose your stain remover a little more carefully. Choose an oxidizing stain remover for wine and a spray with enzymes for blood.

Q. How long should I leave the laundry stain remover on my clothes before washing it?
A.
That depends on the stain remover. Read the manufacturer’s instructions and pretreat it for the length of time the manufacturer recommends.

Q. Can I use laundry stain removers on wool or silk?
A.
These fabrics can be delicate, so you shouldn’t use a laundry stain remover on them unless the manufacturer says you can. Follow the washing instructions for the clothing. If it says it needs to be hand-washed, you should hand wash it, paying special attention to the stained area, rather than throwing it in the washing machine.

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