You'll Never Guess the World's 2 Toughest Laundry Stains (Hint: Both Are Brown)

LaundryNothing warms my geeky little heart more than the new issues of Consumer Reports. In the July issue, they looked at laundry pre-treatments and mentioned all the different stains they tried each product on – which made me wonder: What stains are bad enough to make the experts use them as examples?

And, you know, I have this great job that lets me be a nosy-noodle, so I called right over to CR and talked to Pat Slaven, the chemist who works as a scientist of stain removal. Seriously, that’s a job! Tell your daughters!

She unlocked the secrets of stains for me, which in turn gave me magic mom-style knowledge. These are the most stubborn stains -- and why:


Hot Chocolate:

The worst stains are a combination of factors, a "perfect storm" of different stains. Hot chocolate has fat, sugar, tannins (brown dye), and protein (milk), and many pre-treatments only attack one or two of those factors. You've got to attack it from multiple fronts to get at this stain.

Here's how you defeat hot chocolate:

  • Get the protein out. This also goes for blood-stains, by the way: Rinse in cold water first, so it doesn't "cook" (which is what makes the stain worse).
  • Get the sugar out. You know how your crazy aunt with the white shag carpeting thinks that as long as you have 7-Up and white wine, she doesn't have to worry about stains? She's wrong. Anything with sugar will caramelize into a pale brown stain -- it just takes longer to show up. Soap and water are your best defense.
  • Get the fat out. After you rinse thoroughly with cold water, you can attack with warm, soapy water very soon after the spill. If that doesn't work, use something with orange peel, like Orange Clean or Citrasolv -- the active ingredient in orange peel is a “d-limonene agent.” The harshest treatment is a "surfactant," similar to what they used in the BP oil spill.
  • Get the tannins out. Anything that stains -- Kool-Aid, tea, wine, etc. -- needs bleach. A gentler version is hydrogen peroxide. If that doesn't work, well, bleach is the last step to get rid of a hot chocolate stain.

Of course, there was one stain they didn't test at the Consumer Reports testing center, because nobody was willing to supply the fabric swatches:

Baby Poop:

It's the ultimate combination stain, because it's been -- eyuw! -- chemically altered by going through the digestive system. “Poop’s a tough one,” says Slaven (snicker, snicker). "You want to use a product that’s good on at least two of the three Ps: poop, pee, or puke.” Guess what she recommends? Pretreatment with Nature’s Miracle -- the enzyme-based pet-odor remover I used to use on my cats. Confirmed: My sister says this works great. Who knew?

The article found that the top stain removal products were:

  • Resolve Laundry Spray
  • Shout Advanced-Action Gel 

Oddly, the worse ones were:

  • Resolve Foaming Aerosol
  • Shout Stain-Lifting Aerosol
  • Shout Max 

Same brands, different products – which just goes to show you: a brand-name is no guarantee.

If you subscribe to Consumer Reports magazine, you get a copy of their book, How to Clean Practically Anything. If it's anything like my conversation with Pat Slaven, it'll give you stain-removing superpowers.

What's your favorite stain-removal trick?

Image via PeaGreenGirl/Flickr

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