How to Remove Stains From White Clothes

When it comes to summer wardrobes, white is the color of the season. Whether you’re at a backyard barbecue or walking along the boardwalk, something about the hue just feels right at this time of year. Unfortunately, wearing white is a huge risk. One minute you’re enjoying a hot dog and the next, BAM, those new jeans you shelled out $200 for are covered with ketchup drips. Sob. Luckily, you can save your clothes if you take the right steps. We turned to James Joun, co-founder of California-based dry cleaning app Rinse (who also grew up working his whole life in the family dry cleaning business), for tips to keep in mind:

1. Don’t use bleach

White is also a color and using chlorine bleach on white clothing will remove the white color from the fabric, Joun says. One alternative he suggests is a color-safe bleach that is hydrogen peroxide based, like OxyClean.

Tyler JoeWhatever you do, don’t let a stain sit! Joun says to take a moist paper towel and put sustained pressure on the stain for one to two minutes. Tackle the edges of stain first to prevent it from spreading. “The goal is to absorb as much of the foreign substance as possible before the substance dries,” he says. “You may want to use a handheld vacuum cleaner to further suck up the foreign substance.” 

3. Don’t blot the stain

Surely you’ve heard you should blot a stain instead of rubbing it, right? Joun says blotting actually helps set the stain and allows it to embed in the fabric.

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4. Keep the stain away from heat

Joun suggests storing a garment in a cool, dry area away from sunlight. Also, don’t bust out the blow-dryer on the stain—heat can make it set into clothing faster.

5. Don’t delay washing

Minimize the amount of time you wait between when your white clothes get dirty and when you clean them. The less time you wait, the easier it’ll be to get stains out. Also, fight the laziness and don’t dump all your clothes together in the wash―keep white clothing only with white clothing instead. 

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6. But…this is when you need to take it to the dry cleaner

Sometimes your only chance to revive that white top you thought you’d wear “all summer long” before dripping barbecue sauce on it is by taking it to the experts. Here are the instances when, Joun says, dry cleaning is your best bet:

  • Immediately after a stain occurs, particularly one that is oil based, such as food (e.g. cheese, salad dressing). 
  • Immediately after a stain occurs on delicate clothing that cannot be machine washed or machine dried (e.g. silks, wools, cashmeres)
  • If there is an old stain on your garment—stains that have been set over time have the best chance of being removed through the pre-spotting process, which is a standard process of dry cleaning.