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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

How To Remove An Old Stain From A Shirt

By Dr. Laundry August 23, 2016

Q: Can you please suggest how to clean my shirt that has an old stain? I have already tried it normally but I could not get it out.

A: Do you have any idea what caused the stain?  If you don’t, then since the stain is on a shirt there’s a good possibility it is a food stain.  Difficult-to-remove food stains usually have an oily component, a colored component, or (in most cases) both.  With proper pre-treatment, you can usually get these stains out, even if they are old!  How you proceed depends on the type of shirt (what fiber is it made of) as well as the finish (color).  Start by checking the care label. If the shirt is machine washable, then here are some different options depending on the fiber content and color of the shirt:

If the shirt is white and bleachable (always avoid bleaching wool, silk, mohair, leather and spandex):

  1. Pretreat the stained area with a little liquid dishwashing detergent (wash-up liquid—the kind you use for handwashing dishes).  To do this, working on dry fabric (don’t rinse the stain first) apply a few drops of detergent to cover the stain and gently massage it in.  Wait 5 minutes, and then rinse with warm water.

  2. Pretreat again, this time with Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel.  This product is specially formulated with sodium hypochlorite at a level that is safe to apply directly to fabric.  Apply a little of the gel directly to the stain and gently rub it in using the soft scrubber tip of the pen.  Immediately wash the shirt in the hottest water recommended on the care label using detergent and ½ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach.  Let the shirt air dry and check your progress. A stubborn stain may need a repeat treatment to get it all the way out.

  3. If the shirt has color (or is white and has some spandex in it) then you can try this:

    Pretreat the stained area with a little liquid dishwashing detergent (wash-up liquid—the kind you use for handwashing dishes).  To do this, working on dry fabric (don’t rinse the stain first) apply a few drops of detergent to cover the stain and gently massage it in.  Wait 5 minutes, and then rinse with warm water.

  4. Pretreat again, this time with liquid Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster.  Use the cap to easily apply some of the liquid directly to the stain and gently massage it in to the fabric.  Wait 5-10 minutes (but don’t let it dry out on the fabric) and then wash the shirt in the hottest water recommended using detergent and more Clorox2®. Let the shirt air dry and then check your progress. A super concentrated stain may need a repeat treatment, and keeping the shirt out of a hot dryer increases your chances of eventual success.

And one final thought: if the shirt is made of silk or wool, then your best bet is to take it to a dry cleaner and show them the stain so they can properly pretreat it.

I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions, and thanks for writing!

–Dr. Laundry