stains

Stain removal – Tomato Sauce, Sweat or Blood Stains

GROUND RULES

A stain depends on two factors: the contaminant and how it interacts with the material it hits. Most household stains are surface ones, where the contaminating substance flows into the gaps of a material, such as the fibers of a cloth or the pores in a concrete floor, and become trapped there.

In all cases, your first step should be to pretreat the stain as quickly as possible. This means wiping up any excess spillage and then putting down something that will start to draw out the stain. For example, you could dab—never rub—at an untreated stain with a paper towel or other absorbent item, allowing capillary action to draw up the liquid. Then dampen the mark with cold water, which generally helps keep stains from setting.

CLEANING TOOLKIT

After you’ve pretreated the stain, you need to look at the specific substance you’re dealing with. That’s because different types of contaminants respond to different cleansersHere are a few you should know.

The most common stain removers are surfactants. Examples include dish soap, laundry detergent, and many industrial suds. Surfactant molecules have two polar ends, one hydrophilic (or water-friendly) and one hydrophobic. These cleaners work a bit like velcro: One end attaches to a water molecule, one end attaches to a molecule of the stain, and off they swirl. However, the same reaction allows surfactants to remove dyes as well as stains from your clothes, so read the label before using this type of stain remover.

Also popular, especially for organic stains, are enzymatic cleaners. These use sets of enzymes to break down the molecules of the staining substance. Lipases, for example, break down lipids like olive oil. Many of these are more environmentally friendly than their harsher brethren. But these cleaners can vary widely in concentration and the type of enzymes used. In some, the labels won’t disclose which enzymes are in the mix; instead, they list an “enzymatic blend” as an ingredient. Unlike surfactants, you might have a harder time finding these stain removers in a pinch, such as when you’re traveling or away from home. To purchase this type of cleaner, check the label of a commercial stain remover for terms such as “enzymatic action,” and look closely at which types of stains it promises to treat.

Tomato sauce and ketchup stains

With tomato stains, time is of the essence. Ripe tomatoes get their red color from tannins, which are also used as dyes. They have enough sticking power to stain plastic. So, right after the sauce hits the rug, linen, or other material, apply cold water. If you didn’t notice that stray ketchup squirt right away, older stains can still benefit from treatment with warm water and an enzymatic cleaner.

Fortunately for your laundry bill, you can tackle sweat stains with multiple approaches. We recommend tailoring your approach with the item itself. Dyed delicates, for example, should respond well to surfactants. But with light-colored, sturdy items, save yourself some energy: Make a paste of baking soda and warm water and rub it into the stain. Let it dry for up to two hours and then wash it out.

By the way, the latter technique will also work with any mineral stains (including depleted uranium!).

Blood and other biological materials

Anybody who lives with a baby animal (including baby humans) quickly becomes familiar with the many fluids and semi-solids that escape our bodies—and the seemingly-permanent marks they leave on everything. The good news is, if the stain is fresh, water will likely erase most of it, once you clear away the offending matter. Any leftover traces should quickly yield to enzymes.

You may want to use the enzymes a few times, and then use a solvent like rubbing alcohol to clean whatever’s left. If you’re concerned about applying a solvent to a delicate item, use a weaker solution available at drugstores, or dilute your rubbing alcohol with one part water to one part alcohol.