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Top tips for removing stains

Melanie Whitehouse / 08 August 2016

Stubborn stains ruining your favourite clothes? Marks on your upholstery? Try our quick guide to find out how to get rid of stains.

Red wine stain on carpet
Try a paste made from bicarbonate of soda and water to reduce or even get rid of red wine stains

Before you use any of these methods, check the label on the garment. If you’re in any doubt that your fabric isn’t colourfast, test on a small area, like inside a hem or seam.

Tomato and perspiration

Apply a tablespoon of white vinegar to the stain. Leave for 30 minutes, then rinse. Rub detergent into the stain, then wash on a cool cycle.

Candle wax

Often a problem on carpets, candle wax can be easily removed. First, chip off any large lumps. Then cover the stain with a damp towel and place a warm iron on top, moving it back and forth. Keep moving the towel around and repeat until all the oily residue is soaked up.

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Fat, grease and red wine

Make a paste from bicarbonate of soda mixed with a little water. Spread over the stain and leave to work for between 30 minutes and two hours – you might need to keep checking. Then wash as usual in biological detergent. Red wine also responds to rinsing with fizzy water.

Biro and ink

Ink stains from a biro can be removed by soaking in a spot of milk. Ink stains from a fountain pen or leaking felt-tip should be sprayed with hairspray, then blotted with a paper towel. If that still hasn’t worked, try soaking in milk, wipe with nail varnish remover or invest in a proprietary stain remover.

Crayon and curry

Colourless methylated spirits will dissolve greasy stains like crayon, curry, turmeric and mustard but never use on acetate fabrics or those that aren’t colourfast.

Read our tips for cleaning a sofa

Old, dried-in stains

Soften with glycerine, which you can buy from supermarkets and chemists. Glycerine can be used for all kinds of stain removal, including burn marks. Mix the liquid glycerine with an equal amount of water, then sponge onto the burn mark, leave for two hours, blot and rinse.


Blood is really hard to remove after it’s dried, so if possible treat when fresh by pouring white vinegar onto it, letting it soak, then blotting with a cloth. Repeat if necessary. Cornflour, talc and borax are also useful for blotting up fresh blood and can then be brushed away. To remove dried blood, rub with half a lemon, then sprinkle salt on top. Leave for a few minutes, then use a damp cloth to draw out the residue. Hydrogen peroxide and hairspray (also useful for ink) are alternative solutions.

Chewing gum and tar

The mechanic’s favourite, WD-40, is also good at dissolving chewing gum and other greasy stains like lipstick, polish and tar. It will leave a greasy mark, though, so rub in detergent afterwards and then wash according to the garment’s instructions.

Find out about other unusual uses for WD-40


Again, milk is the answer, but start by putting the item in the freezer, then scraping off the hard chocolate. To soften the stain, put it under a hot tap, so it melts. Rub in washing up liquid, then soak in milk for up to an hour. Wash, and repeat if necessary.

Should the worst happen and a stain can’t be removed it may be worth checking your insurance cover. Saga Home Insurance offers a range of cover levels, including upgrading to include accidental damage in the home as well as all items being covered on a new for old basis.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.