Keeping your house, clothes and kids free from stains can feel like pushing a boulder up a hill. And it’s my fervent belief that no matter what bread will always fall jelly side down. So take a deep breath and remember: Every house, no matter how perfect seeming has a hidden tomato stain somewhere, it’s just a rule. So instead of spending time worrying about how to avoid them, just make sure to always have a few things on hand that will help you lift them quickly.

First things first: Get to the stain as soon as you can! Dilute with water or club soda and, if you have some, liquid hand soap will help keep the fibers protected and the stain from setting. After that, the best way to remove a stain is based on what category it falls under. Here’s a breakdown of the four categories of stains and how to remove each one.

Dye Based Stains

This one kind of runs the gamut from fruit like strawberries or blueberries to lipstick or other dark makeup. These can be tougher to get out depending on whether the dye comes from a natural source or is infused in a product.

  • Mix one tablespoon of liquid handwashing detergent and one tablespoon of white vinegar – dilute with water.
    • For clothing, water should be lukewarm or hot for upholstery, use cool but not freezing water.
  • These stains are tricky so avoid pressing into fabric but instead using a cloth towel blot the mixture onto the stain repeatedly until it starts to life.
  • Flush with lukewarm water after setting for thirty minutes
  • Repeat as necessary

Protein Based Stains

These are some of the most common because they’re found in a lot of foods we eat every day; Milk, cream, baby food and cheese. I’m sure you’ve looked at a onesie covered in pureed carrots and wondered how you’d ever get it out.  These stains aren’t quite as tough as dye based but require a different approach based on what you’re trying to clean.

  • Scrape off any excess that you can, especially if dried
  • For clothing, avoid using hot water as it will set the stain, soak in cold water to help the lift
  • Wash as you normally would but add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the cycle or ammonia in tougher cases
  • For carpeting rubbing alcohol works well, you can try blotting it on directly or putting in a spray bottle to treat the area. Let sit for about twenty minutes and then rinse with lukewarm water
  • A mixture of liquid detergent and cold water will work for most upholstery

Tannin Based Stains

Tannins are a yellow or brown organic substance that can be found in most drinks. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and red wine all have tannins that can be fairly tough to get out. These are the types of stains you want to get to immediately with water, as it will help breakdown the stain very effectively.

  • Blot the stain with a napkin or paper towel, pulling up as much of the stain as possible
  • Dab cold water on the area, adding a few drops of white vinegar if it doesn’t lift quickly
  • Rinse the white vinegar and repeat as necessary
  • For clothing, throw in the wash on the hottest temperature the fabric can tolerate
    • Skip the dry cycle and hang clothing up instead to dry naturally
  • Although it’s a popular theory that club soda and salt will get tannins out of upholstery, do not fall for it! Salt can actually set the stain permanently depending on the type of fabric. A mixture of white vinegar and cold water will work just as well on carpeting and furniture as it does on clothing.

Oil Based Stains

These types of stains are my personal nemesis. Hair products, lotions, cooking oil. Not to mention my southern roots mean I will stand over a piping hot caste iron skillet to make sure a chicken is scalding properly while vegetable oil spatters all over my shirt, but I digress. These stains are tough to attack because of how they settle into fibers quickly and then hang on for dear life. Here’s a few things I’ve used to get them out.

  • Dab with a paper towel to soak up as much oil as possible, but do not rub in
  • Apply powder to the area and let sit for 30 minutes which will help soak up the oil
    • Cornstarch, baby powder or baking soda will all work
  • Scoop up the powder with a spoon
  • Rinse with warm water and a bit of dish soap or shampoo
  • For clothing, throw into the regular wash cycle but allow to air dry
  • For carpeting or upholstery, keep blotting the stain with a clean damn sponge then allow to air dry