You can always reach for the club soda, but stain removal these days is a serious science. Stains are generally classified into five categories. Determining whether the one you're dealing with falls under the proteins, tannins, oil-based, dye, or combination label is the first step to reclaiming the tablecloth or your favorite shirt, according to Dan Crane of Slate.com. And with waxy candlesticks, all things cranberry, greasy gravy, and a slew of other stain-makers lurking ahead in the holiday season, our breakdown on stain removal will have you ready for whatever splatters your way.
But first, a few general tips from a Janis Stone, a textiles and clothing specialist at Iowa State University:
To get out dye: Ink, paint, mustard, food coloring
Check if chlorine bleach can be used on the fabric or if it needs an alternative. Then, try this advice from Good Housekeeping: Create a diluted solution to soak the entire garment (give it a total maximum of 30 minutes). Rinse and repeat as necessary, but know that bleaching may cause the fabric to weaken. If the stain persists, try using a heavy-duty detergent on the spot. Rinse and launder.
To get out oil-based spots: Butter, margarine, cooking oils, lard, salad dressing, mayonnaise, face creams, lotions
First, extract as much oil and grease as possible by sprinkling the spot with an absorbent such as cornstarch or talcum powder and gently brush it off. Then pre-treat with a heavy-duty liquid detergent, preferably in spray form, or use liquid dish soap or even a clear shampoo. If you only have powder detergent, mix a little with water to form a paste and apply directly onto the stain. Then launder according to the fabric care label.
To get out proteins : Milk, cheese, cream, egg, gelatin, pudding, glue
Avoid hot water, as the heat will cook the stain and set it further, according to research from Iowa State University. If the stain is fresh, soak the item with cold water, use spot treatment, and then launder in warm/cool water. If the stain has had time to dry, scrape off as much as possible first. If the stain remains after washing, soak in cold water again and repeat.
To get out tannins: Berries, wine, beer, spirits, coffee, tea, cologne, juice
Pre-treatment usually isn't necessary (though it never hurts), according to About.com, just don't use soap (in bar, flake or detergent form). Natural soap can make tannin stains even harder to remove, so check the ingredients on whatever you use and consider using bleach as well for older stains. Launder in the hottest water safe for the fabric.
To get out combination stains: Candle wax, makeup, hair spray, shoe polish, chocolate, gravy
Determine the two main components of the stain: If the stain is more oil-based, use the oil-based stain removal method first. Then, try the method for dye or proteins or whatever else. The safest way to tackle a combination stain is to scrape off what you can, spot treat with a heavy-duty detergent, and wash per the fabric's recommendations.