How to Remove Laundry Stains Effectively Without Spending a Fortune

Don’t throw your clothes out because of stains. Here’s how to remove laundry stains so your clothes look as good as new, without spending a fortune on expensive stain removers.

remove laundry stains flat lay with laundry soap, vinegar, washing powder, brush, coat hanger, shirt

Laundry stain removal isn’t the most glamorous of topics.

But getting stains out of your favourite shirt saves money and keeps clothes out of landfill longer. So stain removal is an essential frugal skill.

Below is an easy guide to treating stains. I talk a bit about cold v hot water and a few other cheap kitchen items to keep in your strain treating kit, but the TDLR for the busy is: use cold water and a bar of laundry soap. That will get most stains out.

What You Need to Know Before Treating Stains

It’s important to remember three things before treating stains.

The first is that HEAT can set stains. The second thing to remember is stains are easier to remove if you get to them straight away without letting them dry.

So to effectively remove stains on clothing, rinse stains in COLD water as soon as possible, preferably before they dry.

The third thing is to think of the fabric you’re cleaning. If it’s a delicate fabric, gently work at the stain towards the centre, don’t damage the fibres by rubbing vigorously. dab the stain rather than rub vigorously and damage the fibres.

Stains to Treat with Cold Water

Some stains come out better in hot water, but protein stains should never be treated in hot water because hot water sets them.

Stains to always treat with cold water:

  • All dairy products
  • Egg
  • Blood
  • Wine, beer, cocktails
  • Tea and Coffee
  • Soft Drink (Soda)
  • Chocolate
  • Jam
  • Soy Sauce
  • Formula and Baby food
  • Water-based paint
  • Urine

Stains to Treat With Hot Water

Even with stains that do better in hot water, always treat with cold water first to ensure you’re not setting protein stains, and if the stain persists, you can try again using hot water.

Just be sure to check the garment label, as hot water can fade some fabrics.

Stains that can be treated with hot water include:

  • Dirt and mud
  • Dye and marker
  • Grass
  • Grease and oil
  • Tomato
  • Sweat
  • Vomit
  • Mustard
  • Lotion

But remember, many stains have a grease and protein component so it’s always best to use cold water and then move onto hot water if needed.

Cheapest Stain Remover – Gets the Job Done

The cheapest, most effective laundry stain remover you can use for most stains is plain old laundry soap.

I’ve tried a bazillion stain removers over the years, and I’ve always come back to ordinary laundry soap. You can get Sard Wonder Soap or you can save a tonne of money and grab a box of home brand laundry soap – which is a Sard Wonder Soap equivalent but at a fraction of the cost. For $2 you will get enough soap to last you YEARS, even with weekly use.

**There is a caveat. There are a couple of stains, like berry stains, that can be set by direct application of soap (although I personally have never had that happen). You don’t need a fancy product for these stains, however. Just give the stain a good rinse with COLD water and douse with a bit of cheap white vinegar.

Actually, vinegar is another cheap item to put in your handy stain removal kit (see below).

You might also like: how to make homemade washing detergent.

Clothes Stain Removal Kit

While most stains can be treated effectively with a bar of laundry soap, it’s a good idea to have a few other things on hand to round out your stain removal arsenal (you probably already have them!)

Here’s the list:

  • laundry soap
  • dishwashing detergent
  • white vinegar
  • bicarbonate of soda (bicarb)

Dishwashing detergent is good for tough oil or grease stains. It gets grease off frypans. It gets grease off t-shirts.

White vinegar diluted in water can be used as a pre-rinse before using laundry soap. White vinegar also helps remove collar and deodorant stains.

Bicarb soda is a stain remover and deodoriser. A paste of bicarb soda and water can be used on stubborn underarm and collar stains. Gently rub the paste in, rinse and wash the clothes as usual.

Laundry Stains Removal Process

Here’s how to get rid of stains on clothes and make them last longer:

  1. Rinse the stain in cold water straight away before it drys if you can. You can also rinse the stain in some diluted white vinegar.
  2. Check clothes for stains before putting them in the washing machine.
  3. Treat the stains (see below).
  4. Wash as usual.
  5. If you use a clothes dryer or iron your clothes, check there are no stains left before ironing because heat sets stains.

To treat stains using laundry soap, dampen the clothes and soap in cold water, apply the soap to the stain and gently run until the stain disappears before putting the clothes in the wash.

You might also like: how to get the washing dry without a dryer.

Treating Tricky Stains

I find most stains come out with simple laundry soap.

My son has started high school and they wear white shirts! We have to treat for stains every week (and by we, I mean ‘he’ – I delegated the task to him). Pen stains. Grass stains. Dirt stains. Grease stains. Ice block stains. ‘What the heck did you do at school today?!’ stains.

And laundry soap has gotten almost all of them out, except for the toughest grease stains, which is where dishwashing detergent can come to the rescue.

To boost your stain removal powers, rinse stains in vinegar and water first, then whip out the laundry soap. There are a lot of tricks on the internet with soda water or rubbing alcohol or rotting milk (!!), but laundry soap has always come to the rescue.

Prevention is Better Than Cure – How to Prevent Stains

You can’t always prevent stains. Obviously, I can’t send my son to school wearing a garbage bag to protect his clothes from stains.

Stains happen.

But there are certain times when stains are more likely that we can take steps to prevent them.

It helps to wear an apron when cooking. It’s a bit old fashioned but does the job of preventing splatter on your clothes.

It helps to wear old clothes when doing chores around the house, gardening, painting, or doing messy stuff. It helps to put bibs on bubs, and paint smocks on kids when they’re doing art.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on pretreatments and stain remover sprays to remove laundry stains. A simple bar of soap, cold water and maybe some vinegar is all you need for most stains.

Melissa | Frugal & Thriving
Want more details about this and other budgeting & minimalist living ideas? Check out more here!
Join the conversation
 1 comment
  • Barbara Simon Barbara Simon on Oct 15, 2022

    Fels Naptha bar laundry soap is a miracle too. It reminds me of both my Irish and French grandmothers who always used it. The product must be over 100 years on the market, that says something right there!