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Homegrown stain busters

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By Gail Belsky

It only takes a second: You bump into one of your dinner guests, and her wine splatters onto your tablecloth. You overfill your mug with coffee and spill some on your pants. Your puppy doesn't make it outside in time and … you know the rest. Too often, we assume these stains are permanent -- and we're wrong.

It may take a while, but almost all stains can be removed from fabric, according to textile experts at Cornell University who tested home remedies for 250 stains. The key ingredients in these treatments include:

  • Cool or lukewarm water
  • Detergent solution (1 teaspoon mild dishwashing liquid detergent and 1 cup warm water)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Ammonia
  • Bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach and 1 tablespoon water)
  • White-vinegar solution (2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup vinegar)
  • Laundry detergent that contains enzymes (check the label)

The main rules of thumb for stain removal:

  1. Test a small patch first
  2. Blot, don't rub
  3. Use cool or lukewarm water, not hot

Here's how to treat some of the most common spills, splashes and splotches:

Black Coffee, Tea, Fruit Juice, Wine

Sponge with water. With an absorbent cloth or paper towel, apply detergent solution. Cover with another towel, moistened with solution. Flush with water, and apply rubbing alcohol. Cover with another towel soaked with alcohol. Change towels as they start to pick up stain. Take another towel, and moisten the stain with enzyme detergent. Cover with a towel soaked in the detergent, and let stand 30 minutes. Flush with water. Apply bleach solution with a medicine dropper (don't use on wool, silk or spandex) for no more than two minutes, then flush.

(You may have to repeat). Apply vinegar solution, and flush again.

Dairy, Ketchup, Gravy, Sauces, Salad Dressing

Sponge with dry-cleaning solvent (sold in supermarkets, drug stores or hardware stores), keeping an absorbent cloth or paper towel underneath. Cover with another towel dampened with dry spotter (mix one part coconut or mineral oil to eight parts dry-cleaning solvent). Change towels as they pick up stain. Flush with dry-cleaning solvent, and let dry. Using a medicine dropper, apply detergent mixed with a few drops of ammonia. Flush with water. Apply bleach solution with a medicine dropper (don't use on wool, silk or spandex) for no more than two minutes, and flush with water. (You may need to repeat.) Apply vinegar solution and flush with water.

Blood, Vomit

Blot up as much stain as possible, and place an absorbent cloth or paper towel underneath. Place another towel moist with enzyme detergent over stain for 30 minutes. Flush with water. Flush with ammonia solution (1 tablespoon ammonia and 1/2 cup of water). Flush with water, and blot. Flush with vinegar solution.  Flush with water, and blot. If stain isn't completely removed, use a medicine dropper to bleach with hydrogen peroxide (3 percent). Add a drop of ammonia, and flush with water.

If your home remedy doesn't work, you may have to pay for a professional cleaning job. But more often than not, you can remove stains on your own -- for a lot less.

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