Stains are an unavoidable fact of life, but their permanence is not. Hundreds of products claim to rid your clothes of these pesky spots, but not all live up to the claims. Although we found several reviews of stain removers, only a couple compared multiple products by conducting methodical tests. Both comparisons were done by ConsumerReports.org, where editors tested pre-wash stain removers and instant stain removers.
In addition to these two categories, another popular method of removing stains is with an in-wash laundry booster. In this category, OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder (*Est. $6 for 1.5 lb.) is a clear favorite, with reviewers raving about its effectiveness. Both About.com's laundry guide Mary Marlowe Leverette, who has reviewed more than 30 laundry products, and the editors of Real Simple magazine say it brightens whites and colors andremoves difficult-to-remove underarm stains. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Users also like that the product can be mixed in various concentrations to be used as a presoak or spot remover for upholstery, carpet or clothing. OxiClean's only downsides are that it cannot be used on dry-clean-only clothing and it is not as convenient as a spray-on stain treatment. When it comes to laundry add-ins, though, no product even compares to OxiClean Versatile Stain Remove Powder, which is popular with users and reviewers.
While OxiClean can be used as a spot treatment, reviewers tend to prefer a premixed liquid for treating their most difficult stains. In one multiproduct test, Shout Advanced Ultra Concentrated Gel (*Est. $3.50 for 8.7 oz.) proved effective on 14 different stains and worked well as a pre-treatment up to a week in advance of laundering. About.com's laundry guide Mary Marlowe Leverette reviews Shout Advanced Ultra Concentrated Gel, saying it worked on lipstick and grass stains that were several days old. Users at Amazon.com and Viewpoints.com praise the product's easy-to-use applicator and scrubbing head, and say it works better than any other product on set-in and oil-based stains.
In the realm of instant stain removers, every product is at least somewhat controversial. Most work only on fresh food stains and can be damaging if used incorrectly. Among the reviews we found, Tide To Go (*Est. $3 for 0.4 oz.) looks like your best bet. Real Simple magazine and the Good Housekeeping Research Institute praise Tide To Go's effectiveness. Users, on the other hand, seem to favor other products, complaining that the Tide To Go pen doesn't work or spreads a stain around. In the end, none of the instant stain removers seem perfect, but they're small, inexpensive and might help when laundering or using a true pre-treatment isn't an option.
Comparative reviews of laundry stain removers are hard to come by, but ConsumerReports.org offers reviews of both stain pre-treatments and instant stain removers to subscribers. About.com's laundry guide also reviews more than 30 laundry products, and includes a rating on a 5-star scale. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.) Real Simple magazine and the Good Housekeeping Research Institute provide single-product reviews but often do not include testing procedures and additional details. User reviews are therefore essential in this category, and were found at Amazon.com and Viewpoints.com.