Eco-friendly stain removal: it’s easy when you know how

by EcoStreet on November 22, 2007

in EcoHouse, EcoKids

Grandmother and former nurse Linda Sones sells organic cotton baby and children’s clothing and accessories, and natural, organic baby toiletries online at SonesUK.


I have written a number of posts about the benefits to both the environment and ourselves of buying organic cotton. I feel that some of these benefits are negated if, for the remainder of the garments life, it is washed in detergents and chemicals which are damaging to our environment and ourselves. So I would like to share with you some of the eco-friendly non-toxic methods of stain removal that I have researched. Some may have been well known to your grandmother and she may have passed them on, but some will be new. But I urge you to check labels and use your own judgement before you proceed willy nilly with these suggestions. One important tip to remember if you have treated a stain and put it through the wash is to check if it’s worked before you dry it. Once it has been dried it will be almost impossible to remove

For the removal of oil or fat stains, even tomato sauce if it is dry, try cornflour rubbed into the stain and left for about 20 minutes then brushed off with a soft cloth or brush. This may need several applications for a good result. Speed up the process if you wish by placing a paper towel above and below the treated stain and running a hot steam iron over it.

Stains from fruit, including wine and tomato sauce disappear when boiling water is poured over them in a bowl.

Ball point ink stains can be tricky. Soak in milk. It may take a while and need a top up but it does work. Apparently this also works on chocolate and even blood.

Rust stains can be cleared with application of a layer of salt and lemon juice squeezed over the top and then rubbed in.

Vinegar is the tops when it comes to multiple uses. For wine spots on cotton treat within 24 hours with white distilled vinegar applied directly to the stain and rubbed. Then clean in accordance with instructions on the label.

This next is not exactly stain removal but it is a good tip. To freshen baby clothes add one cup of white distilled vinegar to each load of baby clothes during the rinse cycle, it will naturally break down uric acid and soapy residue and leave the clothes soft and fresh. This treatment helps any clothes to rinse better it does not harm the fabric but will dissolve alkaline in soaps and detergents.

To remove chewing gum pour straight vinegar over it to saturate. This works even better if you heat the vinegar first. Another suggestion is to use basic hair shampoo (without inbuilt conditioner) on stains on washable materials, work it well into the fibres, but carefully if it’s delicate. Follow up with your usual wash.

One thing which is great for nappies and whites is natural sunlight which helps to bleach out stains but this is a summertime only solution here in the United Kingdom.

I hope that you will find some of these tips helpful.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

anna November 22, 2007 at 9:14 pm

I have found rubbing alcohol and hair spray takes outs ballpoint stains. It is tricky because you could spread the stain.

Freezing gum also works to remove it. I have stuck a pair of pants into the freezer and then chipped away the gum when it has frozen. Personally I like Linda’s suggestion better.

One of the suggestion about using a steam iron to help speed the oil stain removal worries me. I would be afraid that I would be setting the stain with the heat. Does this happen? I am going to try some of the suggestions. anna


Lorna January 12, 2008 at 5:03 pm

I am an aromatherapist and, over time, my towels have become infused with oil and even hot washing will not remove this so they are heavy. I do not want to replace them if possible but am at a loss as to how to remove oil from such a large quantity of material – all cotton. Can you help?


Daniela April 19, 2008 at 9:02 pm

How can I take out an ink stain from suede?


Linda April 20, 2008 at 10:00 am

Re the above two comments it might be worth trying some distilled white vinegar in the rinse for the towels. Suede is difficult but I have heard of trying fullers earth powder you can get it from the chemist.

Good Luck!


Daniela April 24, 2008 at 3:24 am

Fantastic. Thanks Linda!


tim May 3, 2008 at 10:16 am


I need advice as to how to clean suede shoes. In the rain the other day the toe caps got wet and have left a kind of white-ish salt mark around the big toe area. I’ve tried warm water and gentle brushing with a suede rubber brush but to no avail. (The shoes are dark brown)

Many thanks for any advice.



Linda May 6, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Hi Tim,
You could try a pencil eraser gently worked over the marks followed by a brush with your suede brush or if all else fails try rubbing with some white vinegar.


Maria June 16, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Note to Lorna who has the towels/oil problem- I used Amway’s SA8 laundry liquid- just spray it or dilute it in bath and soak , wash x2 it worked wonderfully to remove even the rancid petroleum smell from my clothes!


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