The Nickel Pincher: Simple Fixes for Summer Stains

Whether it's with berry pies or sweaty garden work, summer fun can leave its mark, but you can erase seasonal laundry stains with a few easy tricks.

July 14, 2010

Oops. Erase ice cream stains with a cold water rinse and a pre-wash soaping.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—As a walking stain magnet, I’ve become a champion stain remover over the years. Summer, with its picnics (grass stains), drippy ice cream cones, gardening, and berry picking, seems to leave me with even more laundry stains than any of the other seasons of the year do. Luckily, it's easy to remove stains with inexpensive, nontoxic cabinet staples you already have on hand.

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In general, deal with laundry stains as soon as possible. Scoop off goo, gently blot up liquids with an absorbent cloth, and/or rinse off excess liquids with cold water for best results. Avoid rubbing, which grinds the substance into fabric, and don't use hot water (unless it's specifically recommended), a hot clothes dryer, or an iron on any stain before it's gone. The heat may set it more and make it even harder to remove.

You can also put the summer sun to work. Hang stained items on the line with the stains exposed to the sun to help bleach them away naturally. Just be vigilant, as sunshine may also bleach the pigment out of some fabrics quite effectively, along with any stains.

For specific stains, there are a few tips that make soiled laundry easier to clean, so read on. When using these tactics, be sure to test any cleaning method on an inconspicuous area first if you have any doubt your fabric will be colorfast.

Make these natural, nontoxic solutions your first "clothesline" of defense for common summer stains:

• Grass stains. Saturate grass stains with white vinegar and launder as usual in cold water, and they usually come out pretty easily. If brown stains reappear, it means some of the sugars from the grass juice remain and have started to caramelize. Work a dab of dish or laundry detergent into the stain, let is sit for 30 minutes, and launder in cold water as usual.

• Berries/fruit/tomato stains. Not only can brightly colored berries and fruits stain your clothing and hands when you're handling them, but also birds that like to eat them can christen your drying laundry with a mix of berry juice and…well, you know.

On cloth: A trick my Mom used still works perfectly. Just pour boiling water through the stain until it is gone (stretch the item over a colander set in the sink to avoid scalded fingers).

On fingers: Soak or rub your fingers in fresh lemon juice or vinegar, or rub stains with a cut raw potato. Then, sprinkle a little salt on your hands and wash with warm, soapy water. You may need to repeat a few times to completely remove the stains.

• Ice cream and chocolate stains. Remove any dried-on solids with a dull knife. Rinse with cold water, work a dab of dish or laundry detergent into the stain, and let it sit for 30 minutes, then launder in cold water as usual. Repeat if needed, allowing the detergent at least a few hours to work before laundering again.

• Condiment stains. Treat ketchup the same as you would berry stains. For mustard, work a dab of glycerin, which can be purchased in most drugstores, into the stain and let it sit for about five minutes; rinse, and launder as usual.

• Wine stains. A wine stain on your favorite tablecloth or best summer cocktail dress is a sad way to remember a great party. Blot off excess wine while it's still wet, saturate the spot with white vinegar, and blot off the vinegar; repeat until the stain is gone. Launder as usual.

• Sweat stains. Saturate with vinegar and launder as usual.

• Tree-sap stains. If you run afoul of this sticky substance, try using this old-fashioned solution: Rub the spot with peanut butter or solid shortening, let the fatty stuff sit for 30 seconds, and remove the excess. There may be some oil from the peanut butter or shortening left behind. So, for fabrics, work a dab of dish or laundry detergent into the oil, let it sit for 30 minutes, and launder in cold water as usual; remove it from hard surfaces by rubbing them clean with a soft cloth. Repeat a few times if necessary. Denatured alcohol will also remove tar and sap.

• Stained hair. If you have fair hair and spend too much time in a chlorinated pool, you may find your hair taking on a greenish tinge. This happens when the chlorine in pool water oxidizes dissolved metals (such as copper, iron, and manganese) in the water, creating a greenish blue dye. Rinse your hair with pure lemon juice or pure vinegar, or with a solution of baking soda dissolved in water (¼ cup of baking soda per cup of water) to remove any existing greenish hues, and use the same rinse after each time you swim (keep a squeeze bottle in the shower or your pool bag). Using a swimming cap and taking a shower before you swim will help reduce chlorine absorption to some extent, but you can also just commune with nature instead—swim in a lake, a stream, or the ocean rather than a pool.

Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.