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Starts With A Bang

Weekend Diversion: The Ultimate Fighter… of Stains?

From A to Zucchini, learn how to get anything out!

Image credit: The A-steam, via

“You can clean your sword as much as you want but the blood still stains it.” –Matsuro

Okay, maybe the stain of guilt for your actions is something that we still haven’t figured out, but for everything else, there’s chemistry! Have a listen to José González sing about two types of stains in his song, Lovestain.

Blood, notoriously, is one of the most difficult stains to get out, and many a fine garment has been ruined by insufficiently washing it and then running it through the dryer, making the stain permanent.

Image credit: photo by Andrew Kahn, via, of Nolan Ryan after getting hit with a line drive by Bo Jackson. For those of you wondering, Ryan picked up the ball and threw Bo out, then struck him out on four pitches in his next at-bat.

If only you knew to get the following materials:

  • Blunt kitchen knife
  • Liquid hand dishwashing detergent
  • Ammonia
  • Enzyme product
  • Chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach

and then to thoroughly run cold water through the fresh blood stain (assuming it’s still fresh), then use the blunt knife to scrape off any excess blood, to prepare a mixture of 1 quart (or litre) of water, half-a-teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent, and one tablespoon of ammonia and soak the garment in there for 15 minutes, to remove and rub the stain back-and-forth from the opposite side where it occurred, to soak it again in the mixture for another 15 minutes, then to soak the stain in the enzyme product for 30 minutes (or more), and then launder, repeating a second cycle with (fabric-safe) bleach if necessary.

How simple is that?

Image credit: screenshot from

It’s not simple at all, which is why I’m so pleased to share with you this weekend an amazing stain-removal repository created by the University of Illinois Extension!

They’ve put together a comprehensive, if not-quite-exhaustive list of all the various types of stains that people tend to get, and in each case have documented the best practices for getting those stains out.

Image credit: screenshot from, for removing blueberry stains.

This includes different procedures for washable fabrics, carpet and/or upholstery, as well as special caveats for set-in stains or fabrics that aren’t safe to use with chlorine bleach. This appears to be an ongoing project, so if, for example, you’re looking for ways to clean blueberry stains out of carpet some six months from now, come back when it happens; the answer might be there!

For those of you wondering just how comprehensive this list is, I’ve gone an put a photo-series together. Let’s take a look at what they’ve got on the site right now:

All images credit to:, with screenshots taken by me.

Also, the entire archive is searchable, so even if you only kind-of know what you’re looking for, the “filter” text box will help you out tremendously, saving you scrolling-and-searching for vague terms!

Image credit: screenshot from Be careful, though, if you’re looking for “tomato sauce” or “ketchup”, you’ll have to look under “catsup” to find that here!

So the next time you’ve got a stain to get out, there’s no need to call your grandma or try some old wives’ tale about using white wine to get red wine out; Susan Taylor at the University of Illinois has done the dirty work for you! Just head over to and find the instructions you need, and never lose a garment that could be saved to a stain again!

It’s also something of a relief to find out that some things will legitimately be ruined by a stain; certain colored stains on certain fabrics won’t ever come out without permanently discoloring the fabric as well. Still, wouldn’t you rather know? I can think of no better way to approach a problem than with the best scientific knowledge we have, and I’m so pleased to be able to share with you all the best we have on this front with you this weekend!

Leave your helpful hints at the Starts With A Bang forum at Scienceblogs!


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