Laundry pretreatment to the rescue

It’s inevitable—at some point you’ll end up with a nasty stain on your shirt or pants. It’s one of the laws of nature. But no matter whether the stain’s source is food or the backyard touch football game, this handy guide will help bring balance to the laundry.

The key to combating many of these bad blemishes? Knowing how to pretreat stains. Take a look at these tips and become a master stain fighter.

No-trick, pretreat stain removal tips

To have the best chance at eradicating a nasty stain, pretreat the fabric as soon as possible. Quick action is key if you need to remove stains from clothes because the longer a stain sits, the more likely it is to stick.

Check out the numerous ways to pretreat your laundry.

Cold-water soak: For many stubborn stains, the first defense is a good, old-fashioned cold-water soak. This loosens many stains without setting them.

Use detergent: Another option is to rub laundry detergent in the stain and let it sit, using the power of soap to lift stains out. If you want some extra stain-busting power in a detergent, give an enzyme-based version a try. This detergent is designed to break up proteins and kick-start stain removal.

DIY with a bar of soap: Another effective DIY laundry pretreatment involves a bar of soap. Chop it up and throw it in a saucepan with some boiling water. As it dissolves and cools, the mixture becomes jellylike. Spread some of this on your tough stains a few minutes before washing.

Vinegar and baking soda: You may have forgotten about these old standbys: vinegar and baking soda. For 100% cotton, polyester or other permanent press fabrics, pour white vinegar on the soon-to-be-gone stain, and wash as usual. Or, you can make a stain-destroying baking soda paste. Mix 2 parts baking soda with 1 part warm water in a bowl. Spread the resulting paste on the stains, and the baking soda will lift stains out as the paste dries. Then wash normally.

Commercial pre-treater: For super-tough stains, however, you may want to add the power of a commercial pre-treater. They’re often designed to last for several hours (even a few days!) before washing, giving you a fighting chance of stain removal.

  • These are the probably the most common. In fact, you likely have a bottle in your laundry room right now. Spray pretreatment should typically be applied no more than a few minutes before your wash cycle, rubbed gently into the stain. Don’t scrub hard because it could damage your fabric. Also, don’t leave these wet pretreaters on for too long. After a few days, mildew may start to form.
  • A more solid pretreatment option than sprays, these take up less space and are much easier to carry if traveling. Simply rub the stick onto the stain and let sit according to the directions. Many stick pretreaters can be left on fabrics for quite awhile in case your laundry day is several days away.
  • Laundry pens have become increasingly popular, especially since they can go almost anywhere – in your purse, work bag or car. They’re great at cleaning and treating small, everyday stains, such as coffee or ink.

Say goodbye to stubborn stains

There are two other things to know when you’re knocking out stubborn stains with a pretreater. First, test the pretreater on a hidden piece of fabric to make sure it’s safe for your clothes. And second, always follow the directions on the label of commercial pre-treaters. Happy stain fighting!