I recently decided it was time to sell some of my babies’ clothes. (sniff!) I hauled the Rubbermaid totes from the attic and started sorting – a flood of memories washing over me with each box. There were bins full of itsy bitsy baby gowns from their first months of life, and smocked bubbles I could barely snap around their chubby little legs.
I was nostalgic. I was also frustrated because roughly half of these endearingly tiny clothes were sporting at least one stain. As I stared at the heap of defunct heirlooms, I couldn’t help but feel a bit laundry incompetent.
In my defense, old stains reappear over time and they were faint. But when my oldest was born, my mom brought a plastic tub filled with hand sewn, cotton batiste dresses not only from my babyhood, but hers. My grandmother – a master of preservation – was probably rolling over in her grave. Not only did I neglect tissue paper, cedar balls or, um, folding – it looked as though I’d forgotten to wash them!
Over the years, I’ve become somewhat philosophical about stained clothes. Life is messy! These imperfect outfits are evidence that we’re truly living – we’re painting pictures, playing in mud, rolling in the grass. These stains are a virtue, not a shortcoming.
But the truth is, I’ve tried and failed at stain removal. I’ve sprayed Shout, rubbed with Oxy Gel Stick, and soaked in Biz. No pre-wash ritual at my house has ever been succesful. Usually, I would just throw the clothes in the washing machine and pray the Magic Stain Fairy and Almighty Tide would do their job. Obviously, not the best strategy.
I decided it was time to get serious about learning the eternal mysteries of stain removal. I wanted to become (drumroll) a STAIN REMOVAL MASTER. So I did what any skilled researcher would do when seeking higher learning – I turned to Facebook.
My fellow Stain Fighting Samauris were generous with their knowledge. After sifting through the 21 comments (thank you friends) here is what I’ve learned so far:
- Fels-Naptha is a 120-year-old laundry soap marketed for pre-treating, and is said to be particularly effective with baby formula (score). My friend said it had gotten out year-old stains, so it was my first plan of attack. It’s also super cheap (under $3). It removed maybe half the old stains, and significantly lightened the others. Directions say to wet stain, rub the bar on it, let sit for one minute and wash. I added a step by rinsing and rubbing the stain before throwing in wash and I think that helped. Since then I’ve used it to get out marker and other unidentifiable food stains and they’ve disappeared like magic. Amazing how well something will work if the stain hasn’t sat for several years….
- Biz has always been on my laundry shelf, but only for soaking stains before washing. Someone suggested adding it to the wash as a booster, and I do think I’ve noticed a difference on more broad stains, like dirty socks. (I’m not spot-treating the bottoms of socks. I just have bigger things to worry about).
- OxiClean ranks on par or even below Biz in my humble opinion. Sorry, but I just don’t see the magic happen. But someone suggested soaking 24 hours in OxiClean, laying it in the sun to dry, soaking AGAIN in OxiClean then washing. Following that she wrote, “but who really has time for that with kids.” Exactly. But I’ve heard elsewhere the sun does wonders, so maybe on really special items I’ll try? Other mamas swear by the OxiClean spray.
- Borax is still a bit of a mystery to me, but a friend swears by using it to soak stains two to three days before washing. Apparently she keeps a bucket in her laundry room and throws stained clothes in as she goes. I like this strategy because even a laundry novice like me knows the earlier the better with stains. Plus, call me lazy, but I am NOT picking through each piece of clothing while sorting to look for stains. HOME EC 1 says to use 1 TBSP Borax per gallon of water. (Possible answer for my dirty sock syndrome?)
- Laundry, Love & Science is a Facebook group nearly 50,000 members strong that can answer any cleaning question you have. These Ninja Stain Warriors are in a completely different stratosphere than me, posting things I didn’t even know existed like “stripping” clothes for hard water and fabric softener build-up. Once you join, you can post any question you like to the group or search for key terms. I’m almost afraid to get started for fear of falling into a deep-clean rabbit hole, but working my way up to my first post.
My spirit stain quest is just beginning, and I am optimistic. I’ll definitely stick with Fels-Naptha, will probably buy Borax, and just might one day try “sunning” or “stripping.”
I think my most valuable laundry strategy however has nothing to do with soap. Going forward, I think I’ll bring a change of clothes to all events and rip the nice outfits off their bodies as soon as possible so that markers, mustard or even mud don’t cause panic attacks.
Some stains are permanent – that’s life with kids. But as long as the majority of my kids’ nice clothes have heirloom/resale value, I’m happy. I still have a lot to learn, but I do know that a relaxed and happy mama is better than a clean and “perfect” mama any day.
Posted By Merrell