Our NYT Files: How to Clean Those Pesky Summer Stains

Our NYT Files: How to Clean Those Pesky Summer Stains

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By Jolie Kerr
The New York Times

Our NYT Files: How to Clean Those Pesky Summer Stains


Summer is upon us, and with it trips to the pool and the beach, weekends spent at cookouts, and late night ice cream cone runs. Which, in turn, means sunscreen-stained shirt collars, smears of ketchup and mustard on pants, and ice cream dribbles down the front of sundresses. School might be out, but there are still some science lessons to be learned when it comes to summer stains — and, of course, practical lessons for getting them out of your favorite summer duds!

Sweat
The funny thing about sweat stains is that they don’t actually come from sweat — they’re caused by the aluminum found in most antiperspirants. Sweat, on its own, is a protein stain, which means that an enzyme-based stain remover — like Zout or Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover — will reverse the soiling. Tempting though it may be to treat white shirts with chlorine bleach, resist! Chlorine bleach has a chemical reaction to protein stains that render them more yellow.

When it comes to removing that stubborn yellowing and cardboard-like texture that develops on the underarms of shirts, reach for an oxygen bleach, like OxiClean or Clorox Oxi Magic. For light soiling, oxygen bleach can be used directly in the wash alongside your regular detergent.

For darker, more set-in stains, soaking shirts for an hour up to overnight in a solution of oxygen bleach and water is recommended. Nota bene: Oxygen bleaches perform best when dissolved in hot water. If the shirts have developed that cardboardlike feel, scrubbing the fabric using a laundry brush periodically during the soaking process will help to slough off the buildup that’s causing the stiffness. A laundry brush needn’t be anything fancy — a nail brush or toothbrush will do the job. Grass, dirt and mud Grass, dirt and mud fall into the protein stain category. Think of mud as the sweat of the earth. (How’s that for a laundry mnemonic!)

The Zout and Krud Kutter products will work to treat grass, dirt and mud stains. Two other products, BIZ laundry detergent and Puracy Natural Stain Remover, are ones to look for as well.Smaller stains can be treated with an enzyme-based pre-treatment product before washing as usual, but if a garment has gotten heavily soiled, soaking it in an enzyme-heavy detergent like BIZ for an hour or longer before laundering will increase the odds that the stains come out.

After laundering, be sure to check that the stains are fully eliminated before putting the clothes in the dryer, as the heat will set lingering stains. If stains do remain, wash the item again — sometimes it just takes a second go in the machine to remove grass, dirt and mud completely. fter laundering, be sure to check that the stains are fully eliminated before putting the clothes in the dryer, as the heat will set lingering stains. If stains do remain, wash the item again — sometimes it just takes a second go in the machine to remove grass, dirt and mud completely.

Of the three popular hot dog and hamburger condiments, mustard is the one you should most fear, especially if it’s classic yellow mustard, which gets its hue from turmeric. There isn’t much good news to share about turmeric stains, but oddly enough, the salt-and-lemon juice technique that works so well on rust stains is also fairly effective at treating mustard stains.

Berries and Popsicles
Ahhh the fruits, the dreaded, delicious fruits. Fresh berries and drippy, fruit-based summer foods like Popsicles will cause terrible stains — some of the worst ones out there! The good news, however, is that Wine Away, a product designed for treating red wine stains, can pull double and triple duty to remove other fruit stains like cranberry and blueberry. Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews consumer products, notes that Caldrea Laundry Detergent was quite good at removing blueberry stains, though not much else.

Ice cream
Dairy is another funny stain, and here’s why: It should be treated only with cold or cool water, as hot water can cook the proteins found in milk and make dairy stains darker and more set. As a protein stain, dairy should be treated with enzymes, but it’s also worth taking the type of ice cream into consideration. Shout is especially good on chocolate stains; a berry ice cream may be best treated using Wine Away; and stains from rainbow sprinkles may benefit from being treated with rubbing alcohol, which is great on food coloring stains.