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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Your Questions: Tomato Sauce Stains on Whites

By Dr. Laundry May 13, 2008

Q: I have a white shirt that is 100% cotton with a spaghetti/tomato sauce stain that did not come out after two times in the washing machine. Unfortunately, the shirt sat in the hamper from Wednesday until Saturday before it was washed. When I discovered the stain, before washing it the first time, I sprayed “Zout” stain remover soaking the outside & inside of the shirt at the stain area. On the same day as the first wash, for the second wash I repeated this & also added a bleach “Vivid” a color safe bleach product. Maybe the stain faded, but it is still there. Should I try it again – I do not have Clorox® Oxi Magic Powder yet as described on the Clorox page. Any ideas?

A: Sounds like you have partially dealt with the spaghetti sauce stain. Depending on what was in the sauce, the remainder is probably combination of color bodies and oils. The Zout is usually pretty good on oily parts, but lacks the kick to “bleach” out the colored part. The Vivid is an oxygen bleach which is much weaker than Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 so it didn’t have the power to get the colored portion bleached.

What I would suggest is at least wash it in the hottest wash recommended for the item. Might consider a quick bleach soak if appropriate for the item/color:

  1. put 1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in gallon of cool water for 5-10 minutes
  2. do hot water wash with detergent and Clorox® Regular-Bleach1.

    Do the quick Bleachability Test if uncertain:

    1. 2 tsp liquid bleach in 1/4 cup water
    2. apply a drop on a hidden area like inside seam, hemline or cuff
    3. wait 1 minute and then blot with towel
    4. no color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item

    Here are a couple of other bleach options:


    • Try the Clorox BleachPen Gel on the stain. Apply using the scrubber tip; then wash in hot water with detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox Bleach

    • Try the Clorox UltimateCare Bleach which is safe enough to pour directly onto the stain; rub in and then wash in hot water with detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox Bleach

    Don’t forget to check for success after washing and before drying. You might need to retreat the item.