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Dealing with Kid Stains

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Life with kids is messy. One minute you're admiring your toddler in her new pink dress; the next, she's got grass stains on her tights, something that looks like chocolate on her skirt, and she's busily drawing on the sofa with marker -- and your back was only turned for a minute! The good news? Many stains you might have written off as a lost cause can be wiped out if you follow the right protocol.

No matter what the stain, heed these tips for best odds of removal.

  • Clean up a spill as soon as possible. The longer a stain sets the more difficult it will become to remove, says Mary Findley, founder of Mary Moppins.

  • Blot, never rub, the stain before treating with a clean white rag. Rubbing weakens the fibers in the material. Findley offers these suggestions for effective blotting:
    • Cover your knuckle with a barely damp rag and work it forward and backward, then left to right, across the stain.

    • If you're trying to remove a stain from a carpet, using the same rag, twist your wrist in a clockwise motion. Carpet fibers are twisted clockwise, so this motion will remove stains between the fibers without making the carpet fuzzy.

    • Frequently move the cloth you're blotting with to prevent the stain from spreading further.
  • Give the product you use time to work -- at least 15 minutes. Certain fabrics, like silk and wool, may be exceptions: follow the manufacturer's label or take them to a professional for cleaning.

  • Wash garments after you've removed the stain, but air dry the first time -- if the stain isn't removed all the way, heat from the dryer will permanently set it.

Now that we've got the basic ground rules set, here's some more-specific advice for different types of stains. Whether baby poop, ketchup, or red soda, almost all stains fall into one of the following categories.

Grease (peanut butter, diaper cream, ointments, lotion)
Rub the spot with heavy-duty liquid detergent, a paste made from powdered detergent and water, or a stain pre-treatment product. Wait 15 minutes, then wash the garment using the usual amount of detergent in the hottest water the fabric will allow (check the care label). When it comes to greasy stains, hot water is your friend. That's because oils can often only be broken down by very warm water.

Proteins (poop, mucus, vomit, urine, blood, milk, food, mud, and dirt)
With protein stains, the opposite wisdom applies: you don't want to use hot water, because it can actually cook the protein into the fibers of the fabric! Instead, first scrape off whatever you can with a dull knife. Then soak the item in a product containing natural enzymes or a solution of one teaspoon of detergent per cup of cold water (again, don't try hot water first, as it can "cook" the stain right into the clothing).

Tannins (berries and fruit, juice)
If you get to these stains quickly, the stains will often wash out easily without pre-treatment. Run the stain under cold water as soon as you can after the spill, then launder with detergent in the hottest water the fabric will stand. Make sure you use detergent and not any kind of a soap product, as soap will set a tannin stain.

Dyes (tempera paint; Kool-Aid; red, purple, or orange soda; medications; felt-tip pens; mustard)
Dyes can be really hard to remove, but there's hope. First pre-treat the garment by soaking it in a product containing natural enzymes, or a vinegar and water solution. You can also try applying shaving cream to the stain -- it contains denatured alcohol, which can remove some dye stains, and its thickness allows it to set on the stain long enough to do its job, says Findley. If that doesn't work, you may have to resort to soaking the stain in a solution of liquid or powdered bleach and water for up to 15 minutes.

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