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Primer: How To Remove Common Stains

An errant drop of marinara, mustard, or hot coffee shouldn’t be the end of the world. But for guys who don’t know how to clean or remove stains from their own clothing – it can be a bit of a nightmare. A sudden rush to blindly do something, anything, can often make things worse. Yet, on the other hand, doing nothing is just as bad if not worse. Thankfully these are not your only options.

If you count yourself among the vast group of men who are still in the dark on how to properly treat common stains on your clothing – don’t worry. We’ve assembled a basic primer on how to keep all your wardrobe sharp and clean no matter what life throws at it. From assembling your own stain removal kit to treating common marks and blemishes, this guide is a must for anyone who puts real time and money into assembling his own wardrobe. In the end – if you are going to spend the time to go shopping for great looking clothes you may as well learn how to take care of it.

First Steps

How To Prevent Staining

You’re hanging out with friends grabbing drinks, making yourself some pasta, or just doing a bit of housework and – bam. Just like that. Some unfortunate drip, drop, or slop has left a mark on your shirt or pants. What are the first few steps you need to do to prevent it from setting? Running around like a chicken with your head cut off is out of the question, as is peeling off your blue jeans and throwing them in the trash (R.I.P). So here are the simple steps you should take instead.

  1. Get yourself some water. Water is a solvent, and solvents help dissolve solutions. In other words, immediate application of water is going to help dissolve whatever it is you have gotten all over that nice dress shirt (butterfingers). The faster you apply it, the more of the stuff you’ll remove from the shirt – and the easier it’ll be to remove the

  2. Make sure that water is colder than your ex. Or at least room temperature. If you end up running that shirt, tie, or whatever other garment you were careless enough to get soiled under a hot stream or water – you’re doomed. Or, the shirt is. Whatever. Generally speaking you’re going to want to avoid heat in all forms when trying to get a stain out of your clothing. Heat will bond whatever schmutz you got all over your favorite chinos to the fabric. Of course, there are a couple exceptions that we cover below.

  3. Don’t pressure me. If you rub the stain super hard with a towel, it’s just going to grind whatever you’ve spilled all over yourself deeper into the fabric. It’s better to take the time to just gently dab at the stain.

  4. No shame in your game. There is nothing odd or persnickety about taking pride in the things you own. If you’re out with friends and you spill something yourself – there is nothing wrong with excusing yourself to go and try to remove what you can. Everyone will understand.

Common Stains

What You'll Run Across

So you’ve gone ahead and removed a good portion of whatever you’ve gotten all over yourself. Now comes the hard part; removing whatever has bound itself to the fabric on your shirt, denim jacket, chinos or whatever. We’ll be perfectly honest here – some stains simply won’t come out. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. But if you are prompt enough to treat your stains and follow the proper instructions – you have a much higher likelihood of removing the blemish and saving that unfortunate article of clothing. So, quick, while you still can go ahead and take a look through these treatments of these 15 common stains. Godspeed, you clumsy fool.


Apply a solution of detergent and glycerine soap to the stain as soon as possible. Gently rub solution into the stain and let sit for just a few minutes. Then grab a sponge and dab at the stain with cool water. If these first steps don’t completely remove the stain, you’ll need to pull out the heavy guns – specifically ammonia. If using on silk or wool, you’ll want to dilute ammonia using equal parts water. If the stain then turns from blue to pink after using the ammonia, use vinegar to turn it blue again. Then apply bleach (mix one teaspoon bleach with one teaspoon water) on to remove the last trace.


If you’ve sweat all over your clothing as if it was athletic wear and its left a stain, there are some simple steps to follow. First sponge at the stain with white vinegar. If the white vinegar doesn’t do the job, use a cleaning fluid like OxiClean and then launder the garment. If the clothing still stinks, throw it in warm salt water (4tbs salt to 1qt water) and let soak for at least an hour.


Soak clothing in cold water until it fades. Once soaked sufficiently wash with warm water and detergent. Older stains require drops of ammonia (dilute with equal parts water for silk or wool) and another wash. Ammonia can change some dyes – but they can be restored by using warm water and a white vinegar rinse.

Coffee and Tea

If you’ve had the misfortune of pouring black coffee or tea on any of your clothes, simply soak it in cool water for a half hour, let it sit, and gently rub detergent into the stain while rinsing. If the coffee or tea contains milk and sugar (and if safe for fabric) stretch the stain over a bowl and pour boiling water over it from anywhere between 1 and 3 feet high.

Alcoholic Beverages

So you’ve gone ahead and spilled your favorite whiskey on your shirt. What to do? First, sponge the stain with cool water. If this doesn’t do the job work a liquid detergent into the stain and rinse it. If trace amounts remain, you may try repeating the first two steps or using a 1:1 dilution (with water) of bleach or hydrogen peroxide. If your alcohol has caused the dyes in your clothing to run, however, there is no recovering the clothing. Preform a small ceremony and raise a glass.


This is admittedly a broad category here. Greasy stains in our estimation include things like bacon fat, salad dressing, butter, cooking oil, furniture polish, and vaseline. All of these stains can be removed easily by working in detergent to the stain and then rinsing with hot water. If that process doesn’t remove the stain, you can apply a dry cleaning fluid and wash it as usual.

Non Greasy

This category also runs the gamut of stains. We’re talking about things like food coloring, milk, beer (yum), cocoa, candy, catchup, vomit, tomato juice and soft drinks. When you encounter one of these, dab or soak with cool water for at least a half hour. After letting sit, gently rub detergent into the stain and rinse.


Whether sliding to catch that pop fly or tripping over yourself like the bumbling goon you are, grass stains happen all the time. The best way to get rid of them is by sponging the stain with an alcohol solution, then working a liquid detergent into the stain. After letting sit of just a moment, rinse both out with cold water. Afterwards, launder as usual.

Chewing Gum

Take an ice cube and rub over the area that the gum has stuck to until soaked. Then gently scrape the gum off with a dull knife. Dab at the remaining area with a sponge soaked with dry cleaning liquid. If the following steps haven’t removed the sugar stain, dab area with warm water until it is gone.


Remove paint immediately, sponge with soap and water and rinse. If the stain remains dip a sponge in turpentine and sponge your garment. Work in detergent and soak clothing in hot water overnight.


If you end up getting glue on your clothing you can use acetone to remove the glue. Then either dab or soak in a bit of cool water for roughly a half hour. Once done soaking, gently rub in detergent and rinse.


Apply lukewarm glycerine to the stain. Once covered, gently dab at the stain with a paper tool. Repeat these steps until the stain is gone. Rinse well and use chlorine bleach on the remaining stain – but first test the bleach to see if it will affect your clothing if it has dyed fabric.


Being a parent, or a pet or dog owner, is messy business. If you encounter some yellow stream, blot with a clean towel until moisture is totally removed, then sponge spot with cool water. Add in a little bit of liquid detergent and water on the spot, and then rinse out detergent completely. Finally, blot dry and let sit.


If you’ve somehow managed to make Thanksgiving dinner that much more miserable by pouring gravy all over yourself, soak the stain in cool water, then wash with detergent and water. If once you’ve completed these steps a grease stain remains, use a liquid detergent to sponge it away.


First thing is first – scrape off what you can. Second, flush off with any type of dry cleaning solvent you have on hand (this could be anything from OxiClean to Guardsman). Rinse with cool water, and then repeat all previous until you get your best result. Mustard is notoriously tough to get out of clothing – so if you can’t get it all the way there yourself – your last best bet is to take the clothing to the dry cleaners.

Dawn Concentrated Dishwashing Liquid ($2)
Q-Tips ($3)
Bob’s Red Mill Cornstarch ($3)
Glass Eye Dropper ($4)
OXO Good Grips Stiff Bristle Brush ($5)
OxiClean Max Force Gel Stick ($6)
Swan Hydrogen Peroxide ($9)
Heinz Natural Distilled White Vinegar ($10)
OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover ($15)
Scotch Brite Sponges ($17)

Be Prepared

The Kit You Need

Now, all of these guidelines, instructions, or whatever you want to call them are useless without the proper equipment to treat a stain. Sure, you could wait untill you get a stain to pick up the right detergent or solution – but the longer you wait after you first get a stain, the more likely that said blemish will set and stay there forever. We’ve included above roughly 10 tools we think every guy should have somewhere in his house or apartment. Whether it be under the bathroom sink or in the laundry room – they’ll help you ensure you clothing will last longer and look great.

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