As the mom of two young boys, I’ve become a walking, breathing, cleaning machine. And dealing with tough stains in my kid’s clothes is no exception.
If you believe everything you see on TV then a simple wash in the machine with some Tide will do the trick. (Sure. Whatever.)
I’ve compiled some of my favorite tips and tricks for how to get allllll of the stains out. Like. Allllll of them.
Some of the links below contain affiliate linking, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
Before you start diving into how to get the stains out it’s important to understand that not all stains are created equal, so what works for one stain may not work for another stain. The same is true of differing fabrics.
If you used a product successfully on one shirt, it’s not guaranteed that it will work the same way on a different shirt. Sometimes it may not even work the same ON THE SAME SHIRT which is a fucked up time warp but that’s neither here nor there.
How to Remove Earth-Based Stains
These stupid stains include things like chocolate, ketchup, juice, coffee and tea (this would be for YOUR clothes, not your kids) and also wine (also yours).
The easiest way to battle these stains is to use a light colored towel under the stained area and flush it with cold water (as soon as you can! ) A paper towel will work as well as a dish towel. Odds are good most of the stain will come out BUT if it’s a stubborn mo fo you’ll want to dig out your vinegar and make a solution of 50/50 vinegar and dish detergent. (Not too much like a couple ounces or so. Like. Eyeball it, you’re good)
Dab the mixture on the stain and rotate the cloth or towel underneath new “clean” space opens up to absorb more of the stain.
Soak for about 20 minutes then toss that bastard into the washing machine and wash on a delicate cycle with detergent.
How to Get Protein-Based Stains Out
This is the nasty shit: Vomit, blood, breast milk, sweat…
Honestly the only thing that seems to really work is to pre-treat them with an alkaline stain remover.
This could be vinegar, lemon juice, etc. So, for example, one cup of vinegar mixed with two cups of water. Soak the stain in there, and let the acid break down the nasty shit.
Most detergents do have enzymes that also help break down protein stains so if you’re not sure about playing accidental chemist, go ahead and let it soak in some of your favorite detergent overnight and see if it’s worth saving in the morning.
But really, who has time to do that? For me, personally, I just love to throw some stain stick on it and see if it works. My favorite is the Oxy Clean stick. You can pick up a couple at this pretty little link from Amazon.com (Or really any store).
How to Get Rid of Dye Stains
Hopefully your kids are playing with non-toxic coloring paints and markers, but in the event they’ve gotten into the sharpees (hands up in the air if you’re with me) then this hack is for you.
If you can somehow run the stain under cold water do that right away. Dab some oxyclean, Zout, or Shout stain stick on it and THEN, wash it in the hottest possible setting in your machine with your regular detergent.
Whatever you do, don’t dry the mother fucker until you’ve examined that the stain has been removed. You may need to wash it a couple times to get the whole thing out.
Dye’s are stubborn. Just like children. Sometimes they need repetition.
PS. This particular method also works for shit like coffee or tea and ink stains as well as juice stains.
How to Get Ice Cream Stains Out
Dairy stains like ice cream and frozen yogurt are a version of protein stains. And, like everything else, if you can soak it under cold water, awesome.
Odds are you won’t get to soak it because someone will have sent home the stained shirt in a bag from day care and you haven’t opened it in two days and that stain IS SET IN IT’S WAYS, DAMNIT! (Don’t Judge.)
Soak the mother fucker in a combo of detergent and cold water with some of that lovely stain stick as well for at least an hour but overnight would be better. This will all help to break down the enzymes that are bonding the dairy to the fabric.
Wash in a normal cycle, hopefully with warm water. If it’s still there after one round, repeat the process but soak the stain for only 30 minutes this time.
How to Get Rid of Mud Stains
The knees of my kids pants are always dirty. Like I’ve given up on trying to get that shit out, but if you’re ready to put in a fight here’s how to do it:
Soak the stained clothing in 1 quart of warm water, 1 tsp liquid dish detergent, 1 tbsp of white vinegar for 15 minutes
Rinse with warm water
Use rubbing alcohol to remove more of the stain if it lingers
Rinse with warm water and then wash normally
Alternatively, dab it with your favorite stain stick and let it soak for at least 30 minutes (overnight is ideal).
How to Get All The Other Stains Out
Ketchup, barbecue sauce, crayons, lipstick, foundation and eye shadow (for those days when your kid finds your make up bag)…these stains can be a real pain in the ass.
This is when my bestie the stain stick comes in handy. I personally love the oxy stain stick, because I feel like it’s never met a stain it couldn’t handle…but it’s worth experimenting with for you to find one you can get easily, that works well with your particular brand of clothing, and also deals with those stains.
Let’s See This Stain Removal in Action Though, MMKay?
Behold! One of Sam's favorite shirts. Okay if I'm being honest it's really one of my favorite shirts because I love the little whales and anchors – it was the theme of his baby shower, and the theme of his room, and the theme of his first birthday party, so...ya know, anything anchor/sea life-related and I go gaga for it.
It wasn’t always his shirt though. At one point it was his older brother's before being passed down to him. I share this shirt because this isn’t the first time it’s come home looking like this and I bet it won’t be the last.
When Jack was younger I had a knack for timing this shirt to go to daycare when it would be spaghetti day at school. I think it happened maybe two or three months in a row until I finally got smart and consulted the lunch calendar before putting it on him for the day.
It was almost a given that if he wore this shirt, then he was coming home with spaghetti stains. For this I’m going straight stain stick because this shirt was found crumpled up in a pile nearly forgotten for weeks (i.e. i didn’t soak it immediately after it was stained).
You’ll want to apply this generously all over the stain and any parts that were affected.
Yes. The spray version is available and some people have success with it. I personally love that I can just rub that shit all over a shirt and really make sure it’s going to soak in.
I usually like to combine Oxy Clean Powder with the stain stick for a deep soak.
I actually sprinkle this directly over the clothes, bypassing the detergent dispenser because I like to live dangerously and I don't have many other excuses to break rules these days.
Add your favorite detergent. Wash.
If you have a “soak” cycle, run that first (ours soaks for an extra 30 minutes or so).
Nine times out of ten the stain will be gone when you pull it out of the wash. If it’s still there, repeat the entire process. I’ve never had to do this more than twice for one stain, and I swear the shirt looks brand new.
A Note About Sensitive Skin
If your children have sensitive skin, or if you’re concerned about any product residue lingering on their clothes, there’s two ways to make sure you get the detergent out completely.
Utilize an extra rinse cycle, if your machine has one. This will fully remove the garment of any harsh laundry detergent that you used to get tough stains out.
If you don’t have an extra rinse cycle, simply activate another wash cycle without adding any detergent. This basically does the same thing, it just takes a bit longer.
A Word On Stain Sticks (and Similar Products)
While a product like Oxy Clean is considered safe for babies and toddler's sensitive skin, the maximum strength gel stick does have an F from the EWG (Environmental Working Group) because of its environmental impact and risk for inducing asthma.
If you’re conscious about the environment and possible health concerns when it comes to using chemicals commonly found in some of the stain removers I mentioned above, then it’s worth checking out the full listing of ratings from the EWG here.