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Not All Stain Removers Are The Same. These Are Five Of The Best.

Graphic: Shep McAllister
5 Neat Things5 Neat ThingsJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast “Ask a Clean Person.” Each week, she’ll round up five essential cleaning products, tools and organizational systems to help you live your tidiest lives.

It would be grand, indeed, if there was one universal stain remover that worked on any and every stain you could create. Alas, there is not and there probably won’t ever be one, either. Although Science and, like, Procter & Gamble could certainly prove me wrong on that front. But they probably won’t, and here’s why: Stains have different chemical makeup — so, say, a soy sauce stain functions differently from a vomit stain, and if you vomit up soy sauce, well … that’s a whole other kind of stain (a combination stain, if you’re curious) — which means that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all chemical solution to eliminating them. While you probably don’t need five separate stain removers, you probably do need more than one, so let’s talk about five of the best out there and where they shine.

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Shout

Shout excels at cleaning most types of food stains, making it a great stain remover to keep stocked under your kitchen sink.
Graphic: Shep McAllister

If most of your stains are of the food variety — chocolate, tomato sauce, the aforementioned soy sauce, etc. — then a bottle of Shout is a smart thing to keep around. Shout is very, very good on food stains, and oftentimes it will take a stain out without even needing to run the item of clothing through the wash. If you’ve smeared some chocolate on a white shirt or, um, your white sheets (hey, it happens), spray a small amount of Shout on it, rub it into the stain with your finger, then rub the fabric against itself. The stain should come right out!

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Lestoil

Even if they come from greasy foods, oil and grease stains work differently than other food stains, and Lestoil is a great cleaner for dealing with them.
Graphic: Shep McAllister
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Technically, oil and grease stains could be considered food stains if they originate from a source like a slice of pizza or splattered salad dressing, but they operate differently enough from other food stains that they require special treatment. Enter, Lestoil! Dab a small amount on a grease stain prior to laundering — but really, a small amount. Lestoil has a very strong scent, and it’s a heavy duty cleaner, so a little bit goes a long way.

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Zout

An enzymatic formula like Zout is great for protein stains, which is a polite way of saying stains from various bodily fluids. It’s also great for mud, dirt, and grass.
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And now we come to the protein stain portion of proceedings! Protein stains are things like vomit, sweat, blood … the stuff that comes out of you, essentially. Mud, dirt and grass are also protein stains. Protein stains can be tricky, in part because they can just be kind of gross, but treating them with an enzymatic formula will break them down and remove them from fabric. Also this is weird and very definitely disgusting but it’s a thing that happens, so: Zout, paired with a damp sponge, will take dried-on snot off of hard surfaces. I could tell you how and why I know this, but I’ll spare you, because I am benevolent like that!

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Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol isn’t generally known as a stain remover, but it’s great for cleaning up pigments from makeup and ink.
Graphic: Shep McAllister
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Rubbing alcohol is sort of a sleeper hit of the stain removal world: We don’t generally think of it for use in laundry, but it’s excellent at removing dye and ink stains. It’s also very, very good on many makeup stains (most makeup stains, by the by, are combination stains, the combination being grease and pigments). If you get pen on your favorite tote bag, rubbing alcohol is the thing that will take it out. If your pink hair color bleeds onto your pillowcases while you sleep, rubbing alcohol will remove it. If you smear makeup on your shirt collar when you pull it over your head, rubbing alcohol will tidy you up in no time.

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Wine Away

Wine Away is a great stain remover for...wait for it...red wine. But also other red fruit stains. Think cranberries, pomegranates, and the like.
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I had to throw in at least one specialty stain remover just for funsies! Wine Away is amazing stuff, and if you, or someone in your household, regularly drinks red wine it’s definitely worth shelling out a few bucks for a bottle to keep on hand for those inevitable spills. The other thing to mention about Wine Away is that its stain removing power isn’t exclusive to red wine: It will also remove cranberry, pomegranate and coffee stains, which is a helpful thing to bear in mind since the holidays, and all the cranberry, pomegranate and coffee that comes along with them, are right around the corner.

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About the author

Jolie Kerr

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person