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Remove Stains The Real Simple Way

When stains appear around your house, don't automatically think they have completely ruined your home. There is hope.

Kris Connell from Real Simple Magazine visits The Early Show to offer tips to get rid of some of the most common household stains.

Upholstered Furniture

General stain removal tips:
Example: Red wine stain on a sofa cushion:

  1. Use a spot cleaner. Combine about one ounce of the solution with one quart of water (lukewarm water is best, as extreme temperatures will set the stain). It's a highly concentrated product, so you should always dilute it.
  2. Dip a colorless, lint-free cloth into the solution, and dab it onto the stain. Start blotting from the outside of the stain and work in, so as not to spread the stain any further.
  3. For a good spring cleaning, take off all cushions after removing any stains, and thoroughly vacuum nooks and crannies with the crevice tool on your vacuum. Use the brush attachment to clean and smooth fabrics.

This is a general stain removal process for upholstered furniture, so it's not specified for specific stains. It's always best to treat a stain as soon as possible, so it doesn't have time to set. If you're not able to get to a stain for a couple days, you should still try the above steps. You may have to repeat a couple times, as needed, to fully get the stain out.

Removal tips for food and drink stains on synthetic carpet (includes: wine, ketchup, chocolate, coffee, tea, beer, milk, tomato sauce, berries, hard candy, juice, soda, gatorade, Kool-Aid).

Example: ketchup stain on a carpet square

  1. You want to use a plain, old translucent dishwashing detergent. Combine 1/4 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid with 1 cup of lukewarm water.
  2. Dip a white cloth, or a plain, white paper towel, into the solution and press it on the spot for about 15 seconds. Wait 15 minutes. It takes time to break down the stain.
  3. Soak up the excess liquid with a dry, white cloth.
  4. Next, dip a plain cloth into a solution of one cup white vinegar with two cups water. Dab repeatedly, then press the cloth on the spot for a few seconds. Wait another 15 minutes -- this is an important step because white vinegar will remove the residual detergent, which will attract dirt if left in the carpet. For bad spills, place a 1/2-inch thick stack of white paper towels on the stain, and lay a glass-baking dish on top for 15 minutes.

This works for most food and drink stains on synthetic carpets. It will work for wine, ketchup, chocolate, coffee, tea, beer, milk, and juice. It will not work for oil-based stains, like makeup, salad dressing, or butter. Also, this is the way to treat synthetic carpet, which is generally made of nylon, polyester or polypropylene (not sisal, wool, seagrass, or coir). Most wall-to-wall carpets are synthetic. Before attacking a large stain, test the solution in a small, inconspicuous area to make sure it won't damage the carpet fiber or the dye.

Example: Coffee stain on a washable shirt

  1. Stretch fabric over a bowl, and from a height of about one foot (gravity helps), pour boiling water from a kettle.
  2. Follow with an application of an oil solvent, if the coffee had milk in it.
  3. If it had sugar, treat with glycerin, or a combination solvent, and let sit for 30 minutes.
  4. The combination solvent attacks grease, oil, and many food and makeup stains. Dab it onto the spot. You don't need too much, but it depends on the size of the stain.
  5. Finish with a regular wash cycle.

Like all stains, you want to treat it as soon as you can. Don't give the stain extra time to set in the garment. Pouring boiling water over the stain also works for tea stains and red wine (For red wine, cover the stain with salt first).

There are two fundamental types of stains: water based (coffee or tea) and oil based (lipstick or mascara). Solvents work to dissolve the stain, while detergents suspend the stain. Oil Solvents are drycleaning fluids that attack greasy, oily stains. Oil-type stains need to be cleaned with non-aqueous, i.e. dry chemicals, hence the term dry-cleaning. They are made up of enzymes, which attack the protein-glue, which attaches the stain to the fabric, as well as the stains themselves. Combination solvents do essentially the same thing. They lubricate the stain, breaking down and dissolving the proteins.

An important note: stain removal is sequential and repetitive, since removal involves taking off a percentage of the stain with each application.

Example: Mascara stain on a pillowcase

  1. Apply an oil solvent, and let dry, then remove residue. Choose an oil solvent that is a dry-cleaning fluid that can be used on greasy, oily stains.
  2. Treat with a liquid soap, and very little water. Rub to form suds, then rinse. For stain removal, lukewarm water is best. Avoid cold or hot water, which will set the stain.
  3. Use an eyedropper and diluted ammonia to bleach any remaining color. Rinse with cool water. For ammonia, you should dilute equal parts ammonia and water: so 1/4 cup of ammonia with 1/4 cup of water.

It's important to note that you should NOT use ammonia on non-washable fabrics, like wool, silk, or spandex, because it can corrode the material.

Mascara (and most makeup) is an oil-based stain, so you should use an oil-solvent, if you have stained a washable garment. They are available at drug stores.

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