At-home stain removal comes with risks—setting that red-wine blotch forever, rubbing a hole in your favorite dress, making the dye bleed. It’s probably safer to leave most stains to a great drycleaner, but if you’re in a bind, here are some ways to attempt getting out those spots on your own.

Be Quick

Act immediately to remove as much of the offending stuff as possible. Blot—don’t rub—a liquid stain with a white cloth, tissue, or paper towel, starting at its edge. If your mess is pasty (peanut butter, gum), use a spatula or butter knife to scrape off as much as possible.

Read Up

Don’t do anything without first reading the garment’s care label. If the label says “Professionally dry clean only,” get thee to a pro.

Test Stuff

You’ll find scads of stain-removal products at supermarkets and drugstores. Before you attempt a self-rescue, make sure the product won’t destroy the garment by testing it on a small, out-of-the-way spot.

Ordinary Stains

Many non-greaseball stains—soft drinks, wine, candy other than chocolate, ketchup, coffee, and ink—can be removed with water. If you have a washable stained item, let it soak in cool water for half an hour before washing. For non-washable pieces, sponge the stain with cool water and, if that fails, work product into the stain and rinse with cool water.

Greasy or Waxy Stains

If you spilled oil, margarine, or wax on your fave shirt, you may be able to oust the stain by working detergent into the mess. Often you’ll need a grease solvent. If the piece is dryclean-only, a solvent is your only option. It’s a good idea to ask a drycleaner to deal with it.

Combo Stains

When grease meets other products, you get the difficult-to-remove stains that come from otherwise awesome substances like chocolate, ice cream, and lipstick. You’ll need to treat the grease first; then, after it dries, treat the ordinary stain.


First treat as an ordinary stain; if that fails, try a diluted ammonia solution followed by detergent and water and a water rinse.

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