Stain Removal 101 For Vintage Clothing

Basic Stain Removal Tips for All Garments

  • Every stain has its own set of ingredients, so there’s no single product that will remove any stain.  View our stain guide for step-by-step removal techniques.
  • Remove stains as quickly as possible, preferably before they have dried. The longer it sits, the harder it will be to remove later. 
  • Blot fabrics quickly with an up-and-away motion. Rubbing can press the stain further into the fabric.
  • Always test a stain removal product on an inconspicuous area first. The most likely problems you’ll see during this test are shrinkage or dyes running.
  • Each solvent should be used alone, unless specifically listed in combination. Make sure to let prior solvents evaporate, or rinse them well, before trying a different chemical.
  • Avoid using acetone on acetate fabrics, as it will dissolve the fabric.
  • Do not use enzyme-based products (like Shout, Spray & Wash, or Biz) on wool or silk, as their enzymes will digest components of these fibers.
  • Remember bleaches are a last resort, and work well only on all-white garments. There are several types of bleach. In order of increasing strength and harshness, they are lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, oxygen bleach (like Clorox II), and chlorine bleach. Sunlight is also a natural bleach that can work well (and also kills mildew).

For dry clean only garments:

  • For stains you want to leave to the professionals, take it to the cleaner within a day or two. If it sits, it will set and probably be permanent.
  • If you try to remove the stain yourself on a non-washable garment, and it’s not completely gone, take it right away to the cleaner for further treatment.
  • If you work on the stain yourself, remember minimal liquid is best. Single drops of solvents will help avoid water rings from too much liquid, as garments meant to be dry cleaned don’t accept most liquids well.

Basic Supplies & Equipment

  • plain unbleached muslin
  • eye dropper
  • tweezers
  • plastic buckets for soaking
  • fumes mask and fans (if you intend to use volatile chemicals like dry cleaning fluid)
  • dry cleaning fluid (link takes you to Amazon)
  • glycerin
  • rubbing alcohol
  • acetone
  • white vinegar
  • ammonia
  • bleaches in order of harshness: sunlight, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, oxygen bleach like Clorox II, chlorine bleach
  • talc
  • enzyme pre-soaks (like Biz)
  • combination pre-soaks (like Shout)
  • borax
  • washing soda

Back to Vintage Clothing Collectors' Stain Guide