According to a study commissioned by laundry brand Persil, nearly seven in 10 Americans say summer produces more laundry stains than any other season. The stains that most respondents complained of include those associated with outdoor summertime activities like dirt, mud and grass, sunscreen and flower pollen. The survey also found that ketchup, BBQ sauce, grease and ice cream are the summertime foods that cause the most vexing stains.
We enlisted laundry experts Wayne Edelman, president of Meurice Garment Care, a high-end dry cleaning service in New York City, and Wendy Saladyga, a Persil stain expert and senior manager of technical performance, to explain the science behind the most common summer stains — and what to do about them. For more tips and tricks, check out our guides to doing laundry like a pro and stain removal 101.
BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard and relish stains
Here’s a helpful stain removal tip: When a blob of BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard or relish lands on your shirt or on your pants, use a spoon or butter knife to lift it up and off the fabric before flushing or dabbing the stain with water and applying a stain remover.
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Another helpful stain removal tip: Hand sanitizer is great for treating stains caused by errant condiment spills! It has a high concentration of alcohol, which is an excellent stain remover. Use your thumb and forefinger to massage a pea-sized drop of hand sanitizer into the stained fabric.
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Saladyga offers the following step-by-step instructions for removing stains from BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard, relish and other condiments:
- Step 1: Flush the stain with cool water through the back of the stain.
- Step 2: Rub a small amount of liquid laundry detergent into the stain from both sides.
- Step 3: Allow the detergent to sit for about 10 minutes, to penetrate the stain.
- Step 4: Rinse out the detergent and launder as usual, following the care instructions on the label of the garment.
- Step 5: Check the stain once the wash cycle is finished. If the stain is still there, repeat the pretreatment process and launder the garment again. “Though it might be tempting,” she says, “don’t throw the garment in the dryer if the stain persists, otherwise it might set permanently, making it nearly impossible to remove the stains.”
Berry, fruit juice and Popsicle stains
A specialty stain remover designed for red wine is the secret to defeating very difficult stains from berries, fruit juice and Popsicles.
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Wine away, a product formulated to treat red wine stains, works beautifully on fruit stains from notoriously stain-y fresh berries like blueberries, strawberries and blackberries as well as on fruit juice stains and dribbles from Popsicles.
Grass, dirt and mud stains
Grass, dirt and mud are protein stains, and can be treated using an enzymatic stain remover. For more tips, check out our guide to removing grass and mud stains from shoes.
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Use an enzyme-based laundry pretreatment product on grass-, dirt- and mud-stained clothing and outdoor accessories like picnic blankets prior to laundering as usual.
Grease and oil stains
When grease or oil spills or splatters happen, the first thing to do is to blot the stain using a paper towel, paper napkins or a tissue to absorb as much of the grease as possible.
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To treat a fresh grease or oil stain, start by flushing the stain under warm running water. Warm water is recommended over cold as it will help to loosen the grease. Then, rub a small amount of dish soap into the stain. Rinse and repeat as needed until the stain is gone.
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For set-in grease stains, dab a small amount of Lestoil directly on the stain prior to laundering as usual.
Ice cream, milkshake and frozen yogurt stains
Dairy is a protein stain like sweat or mud, and the same stain treatment products can be used across the board. However, there is one thing to know about treating dairy stains: Use cold or cool water only, as hot water can cook the proteins found in milk, making those stains darker and more set-in.
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Since it is a protein stain, dairy can be treated with an enzyme-based stain remover like Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover or Zout. However, it’s worth mentioning that Shout is especially great at removing chocolate stains, including chocolate ice cream.
When it comes to removing pollen from fabric, resist the urge to brush it off; instead, shake or blow as much of it away as possible. Wiping, brushing or blotting pollen will cause it to spread, making it harder to remove. “It’s a good idea to go outside when shaking off the pollen from your clothes,” Saladyga says. “That way, you can avoid spreading the pollen around the house!”
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Pollen stains don’t require a specialty stain treatment product; the real secret to handling them is in shaking or blowing the pollen off the fabric. But when pollen stains do get rubbed into clothing or outdoor textiles, apply liquid laundry detergent directly to the stain and allow it to sit for five to 10 minutes prior to laundering as usual.
An ingredient found in most sunscreen formulas, avobenzone, can cause deep staining because of a chemical reaction. “Avobenzone has the propensity to oxidize,” Edelman explains, “which causes the orange color stain.” Those stains are similar to rust stains and should be treated using the same methods.
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Treat sunscreen stains as you would a rust stain, using a rust stain remover prior to laundering.
What we think of as sweat stains — the deep yellowing and cardboard-like texture that forms on the underarms of shirts — are actually caused by the aluminum found in most antiperspirants. “Deodorant and antiperspirants contain many varied ingredients, which can and will create staining when coupled with perspiration,” Edelman says. “These ingredients read like a chemistry lesson and include aluminum-based elements as well as wax-based formulas and petrochemicals.”
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Sweat and body soils like dead skin and sebum leave dingy stains on the collars and underarms of shirts. They are protein stains, which should be treated with an enzyme-based stain remover like Zout.
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To treat deep yellow stains caused by aluminum, soak shirts for an hour up to overnight in a solution of oxygen bleach and water prior to laundering. Prolonged exposure will help to break down the deep, set-in stains.
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To remove the buildup that causes that stiff cardboard-like feel, use a laundry brush to scrub the fabric periodically during the soaking process.