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How to save clothes after they're stained

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  • Stain removal is almost a science-- you need right formulas
  • Method also depends on whether clothes are washable
  • Greasy stains need oil solvent stain removal products
  • Grass or blood stains need enzyme treatments
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Real Simple

Stain removal is almost a science, with oil solvents needed for greasy stains and enzyme treatments needed for blood, grass.

(Real Simple) -- Spots, smudges, and schmutz shouldn't ruin your day -- or your dress.

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Coming clean

Splattered spaghetti sauce, misfired merlot, and loose lipstick. They're the goofs that keep on giving -- in the form of unsightly stains.

But with speed, the right splotch-fighting agents, and the proper plan of attack, your shirt doesn't need to be relegated to the rag pile.

Here you'll find a list of the stain-removing products to keep on hand and how-to information on getting common stains out of washables and nonwashables.

Stain-fighting tools

Elbow grease goes only so far when it comes to actual grease (and other stains). Arm yourself with this arsenal and follow the directions on the package:

• Oil solvents (like K2r and Carbona, available at drugstores) are dry-cleaning fluids and can be used on dry fabrics that have greasy, oily stains.

• Combination solvents (like Shout and Spray 'n Wash) attack grease, oil, and many food and makeup stains.

• Digestants (a.k.a. enzyme treatments, like Biz, Axion, Era Plus, and Wisk) eat away at protein stains, like those from blood or grass.

• Absorbents, like cornstarch and talcum powder, sop up grease and oil.

• Bleaches fade the color of stains. They can be store-bought (Clorox is made with chlorine and is strong; Snowy is synthetic and therefore gentler) or mixed at home from ammonia (diluted with two parts water) or white vinegar or lemon juice (diluted with one part water). Use an eyedropper or a Q-tip to make sure the bleach goes only on the stain. (And never mix chlorine bleach and ammonia.)

• Detergent or soap mixes with water to attack lots of stains.

• Glycerin is a syrupy solvent that is especially good for ballpoint-pen stains.

Stain-fighting strategies

How to tackle misfired merlot or loose lipstick

Lipstick

Washables: Apply an oil solvent like Carbona and let dry, then remove residue. Treat with a liquid soap like Woolite and very little water. Rub to form suds, then rinse. Use an eyedropper and diluted ammonia to bleach any remaining color. Rinse with cool water. Real Simple: Lipstick basics

Nonwashables: Same as for washables, but use diluted vinegar bleach instead of ammonia, which can corrode wool and silk.

Coffee

Washables: Stretch fabric over a bowl and, from a height of about one foot (gravity helps), pour boiling water from a kettle. Follow with an application of an oil solvent if the coffee had milk in it. If it had sugar, treat with glycerin or a combination solvent like Shout and let sit for 30 minutes. Finish with a regular wash cycle.

Nonwashables: Apply a gentle detergent like Woolite and very little water. Rub to form suds, then rinse. Use an eyedropper with diluted vinegar to bleach any remaining color. Rinse with cool water. If the coffee had milk in it, finish by applying an oil solvent.

Tea

Washables: Stretch fabric over a bowl and, from a height of about one foot, pour boiling water from a kettle. Next, use an eyedropper and diluted lemon juice to bleach any remaining color. Rinse with cool water.

Nonwashables: Use an eyedropper and diluted lemon juice to bleach the color. Thoroughly flush with cool water.

Red wine

Washables: Cover the stain with salt, then stretch the fabric over a bowl and, from a height of about one foot, pour boiling water from a kettle.

Nonwashables: Apply an oil solvent like Carbona and let dry, then remove residue. Use an eyedropper and diluted vinegar to bleach any remaining color. Thoroughly flush with cool water.

Salad dressing (Italian)

Washables: Shake on talcum powder or cornstarch to sop up as much oil as possible. Pick or scrape off the excess and rinse with cool water. Next, apply a combination solvent like Shout and let sit for 15 minutes. Finish with a regular wash cycle.

Nonwashables: Shake on talcum powder or cornstarch to sop up as much oil as possible. Pick or scrape off the excess and let dry. Follow with an application of an oil solvent like Carbona. Let dry, then scrape or brush off any remaining residue.

Ketchup and tomato sauce

Washables: Apply a combination solvent like Shout. Use an eyedropper and diluted vinegar to bleach any remaining color. Finish with a regular wash cycle.

Nonwashables: Same as for washables, but instead of washing, thoroughly flush the spot with cool water.

Mustard

Washables: Use an eyedropper and diluted ammonia to bleach the color. Apply a combination solvent like Shout and let sit for 15 minutes. Finish with a regular wash cycle.

Nonwashables: Use an eyedropper and diluted ammonia to bleach the color. Apply a combination solvent and let sit for 15 minutes. Thoroughly flush the spot with cool water.

Ballpoint ink

Washables: Put glycerin on the spot, then treat with a detergent like Woolite and very little water. Gently rub to form suds and rinse.

Nonwashables: Same as for washables, but instead of rinsing the suds, just dab water onto the area.

Grass

Washables: Treat the spot with a paste made from a powder digestant like Axion and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes. Use an eyedropper and diluted ammonia or vinegar to bleach any remaining color. Rinse with cool water. Finish with a regular wash cycle.

Nonwashables: Apply a combination solvent like Shout and let sit for 15 minutes. Use an eyedropper and diluted ammonia or vinegar to bleach any remaining color. Thoroughly flush the area with cool water.

Fresh blood

Washables: Flush with cold water. Treat the spot with a paste made from a powder digestant like Axion and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes. Use an eyedropper and diluted ammonia to bleach the color. Rinse and finish with a regular wash cycle.

Nonwashables: Treat with cold water, then use an eyedropper and diluted vinegar to bleach the color. Thoroughly flush the area with cool water.

Dried blood

Washables: Soak in cool salt water for several hours. Rinse thoroughly, then treat the spot with diluted ammonia to bleach the color. If the stain persists, apply a paste made from a powder digestant like Axion and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes. Finish with a regular wash cycle.

Nonwashables: Dampen the spot with cool salt water, then with plain water. Treat the spot with diluted vinegar to bleach the color. Thoroughly flush with cool water.

What's safe to wash -- and what's not

For stain-removal purposes, if the care label on the spotted garment says "Dry Clean Only," you should consider it non-washable. There's a little more leeway with everyday laundering. Rayon and cashmere, for instance, may often be safely hand washed, says Herb Barndt, a textiles professor at Philadelphia University. But Barndt advises testing the garment first, with a drop of water on an inconspicuous place, like the inside of a sleeve. No hot water, though -- and no dryer. Real Simple: What to wash (or not) by hand E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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