How To Pre-Treat Stains Before You Wash Them

Ever found yourself staring in despair at a fresh stain on your favourite piece of clothing? Don’t worry, as pre-treating will definitely make your problem so much easier to resolve. 

Pre-treating stains is a crucial step in maintaining the quality and lifespan of your clothing. Let’s have a look into how you can save your clothes using the effective methods and products we’ll share below.

You Need To Move Quickly

If the accident has just happened, then you can look at it as luck. Timing is everything when it comes to stains. Catching that coffee drip or mud splatter right away can mean the difference between a simple clean-up and a stubborn stain saga. 

Blotting (not rubbing) the stain with a clean cloth helps remove excess liquid without spreading it further. For solid spills, gently lift away the residue with a spoon or a blunt butter knife. 

scraping off dried chocolate with a spoon

If possible, rinse the affected area under cold water to dilute the stain. These steps can be crucial in preventing the stain from setting before pre-treatment.

Identify The Type Of Stain You’re Dealing With

Stain TypeHow The Stain LooksHow To Pre-Treat
Water-Based StainsUsually appears as a clear or coloured mark, often dampCold water and washing-up liquid. For stubborn stains, use distilled white vinegar and water.
Protein-Based StainsCan be discoloured or brownish, sometimes with textureCold water rinse, then wash as normal for fresh stains. For dried, use bicarbonate of soda paste.
Oil-Based StainsGreasy or darkened patch, possibly with residueBicarbonate of soda paste or washing-up liquid for fresh stains. Oxygen bleach for persistent marks.
Plant-Based/Dirt StainsOften green or brown, ingrained in the fabricWarm water and washing-up liquid soak. White vinegar for persistence. Rubbing alcohol for grass.
Ink-Based StainsSharp, vivid marks, potentially spreadingRubbing alcohol, hand sanitiser, or acetone.
Mould/Mildew StainsDiscoloured spots with a distinct smellBleach and water solution for white clothes. White vinegar or oxygen bleach for coloured fabrics.

When you’re dealing with stains, the first thing you’ll need to do is identify where they’re from. Knowing the composition of the stain will ultimately allow you to deal with it more effectively, as each type will require a different approach for effective pre-treatment. 

person thinking about how to remove ink stain on clothing

Here are the different stain categories, and the best ways to remove them:

Water-Based Stains

Beverages like tea, coffee, and even sodas fall into this category. They are best removed with a solution of cold water and a bit of washing-up liquid. 

For more stubborn stains, use equal parts of distilled white vinegar and water.

Protein-Based Stains

These include bodily fluids such as blood, sweat, vomit, and faeces. Cold water for rinsing, then washing as normal, often removes these stains, provided they are still fresh. 

For dried stains, a shop-bought remover or bicarbonate of soda and water paste can be effective.

Oil-Based Stains

Stains from food grease, butter, makeup, and petrol are best addressed using a bicarbonate of soda paste or washing-up liquid for fresh stains. 

washing up liquid on avocado stain

For more persistent marks, don’t hesitate to use oxygen bleach.

SEE ALSO: How To Remove Chocolate Stains From Clothes

Plant-Based Or Dirt Stains

Fruits, vegetables, grass, and dirt can leave tough stains, especially on white clothing. Soak the fabric in a solution of warm water and washing-up liquid. If the stain persists, tackle it with white vinegar. Grass stains respond well to rubbing alcohol.

muddy shirt

SEE ALSO: How To Remove Avocado Stains From Clothes

Ink-Based Stains

Ink stains from markers and pens can be particularly troublesome. They are best treated with rubbing alcohol, hand sanitiser, or acetone as a pre-treatment solution.

SEE ALSO: How To Remove Ink Stains From Clothes

Mould Or Mildew Stains

These are best removed with a solution of bleach and water. Make sure to check the care labels of your fabric to prevent permanent damage. 

Also, bleach should only be used on white clothes. For non-bleachable fabrics, white vinegar can be an alternative, or get an oxygen bleach variant that’s safe for coloured clothing.

Vanish Oxi Action Whitener and Stain Remover Powder for Whites 1kg, Pack of 1 | Chlorine Bleach Free Formula | For Whiter Whites, Safe on Everyday Fabrics (Packing May Vary)
  • Whiter whites + amazing stain removal
  • white clothes up to 3 shades whiter, lifting away stand out stains from makeup to coffee

Additional Tips for Effective Stain Removal

Remember, the sooner you jump into action, the better your chances are of saying goodbye to that ugly stain for good. 

Here are bonus tips you can use to win against those pesky stains while keeping your clothes in great shape:

  • Using hot water on stains will just make them cling harder to the fabric,  which may set them permanently. If you’re using your washing machine, go for cold washes!
  • Air dry your fabrics once they’re done in the wash. Not only will it be economical, but it is also a gentler way of removing the moisture on the garment that probably had to undergo a bunch of chemicals in the pre-treatment process. 
  • And finally, always patch-test any cleaning solution on an inconspicuous area of the fabric, especially for delicate materials.

Do you have questions? Feel free to leave a comment below!

Frequently Asked Questions

What does pre-treating stains mean?

Pre-treating stains means applying a stain-removing solution or technique to a stained garment before washing it, in order to improve the chances of removing the stain completely.

Should you remove stains before washing?

Yes, you should pre-treat stains before washing garments, as this gives you the best chance of fully removing the stains. Pre-treating helps loosen and break down stains so they can be washed away more easily.

Can you pre-treat with detergent?

Yes, you can use laundry detergent or washing up liquid as part of a pre-treatment solution for many types of stains. Detergents help dissolve and lift stains away from the fabric.

Does vinegar remove stains?

Yes, vinegar is an effective pre-treatment for many types of stains. The acetic acid in vinegar helps break down stain compounds. It works well on coffee, tea, wine, and fruit stains.

Does bicarbonate of soda remove stains?

Yes, bicarbonate of soda can be used to pre-treat many stains, including oils, grease, and proteins. It helps draw out and absorb stains from fabric. Make a paste with water and apply it to the stain before washing.

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