If you live with kids, pets or anyone prone to spills, chances are you're used to stains. But they don't have to be permanent. Consult this handy guide, where you'll find stain-fighting solutions for almost any problem. With some basic cleaning supplies and a little elbow grease, your home will be spotless in no time.
Before you start
- Test a stain remedy in an inconspicuous place. If the material remains unharmed, proceed as directed.
- Try the least toxic remedy first. Stronger cleaners are often corrosive.
- Avoid mixing cleaners. Some combinations, such as chlorine bleach and ammonia or an acidic product like tile cleaner, produce toxic fumes.
You can use the remedies for laminate and stone on floors made of those materials as well.
- Organic stains (food, coffee, tea, etc.): Wipe your counter regularly with a soapy sponge and these should disappear.
- More stubborn stains: Mix three parts baking soda to one part water. Let stand several minutes on the stain; gently wipe away, rinse and dry. An all-purpose household cleaner, such as Fantastic or OxiClean Miracle Foam, can also be effective. Allow it to sit on the spot for a few minutes; blot with a clean cloth and rinse.
Solid surface, like Corian
- Light blemishes: Treat with a dish-washing liquid or an ammonia-based cleaner, such as Windex.
- Stubborn stains on matte surfaces: Apply an abrasive cleansing powder, like Comet, with a nylon scouring pad.
- Stubborn stains on semi-gloss surfaces: Use a mild abrasive cleaner, such as Soft Scrub, with a sponge or a mixture of one part bleach to 10 parts water with a white scouring pad.
- Most stains: Flush the spot with water and dish-washing liquid, rinse well and dry; repeat.
- Oil-based stains (caused by cooking oil, grease, milk, etc.): Clean with ammonia, mineral spirits (a type of paint thinner) or acetone (nail-polish remover).
- Ink: On light-colored stone, use hydrogen peroxide or bleach; on dark stone, use lacquer thinner or acetone.
- Metal or rust stains: Apply a poultice (try RPP Stain Remover; www.stonecare.com).
Clean your floors every week to help keep them stain free.
Linoleum or vinyl
- Scuff marks: Rub with a nylon scouring pad and a solution of half dish-washing liquid and half water. Lift other types of marks with a pencil eraser.
- Set stains (food, beverages, blood, grass, ink, pet accidents, etc.): Treat with a cloth soaked in two cups water and a quarter cup of bleach.
Wood with polyurethane finish
- Most stains: Tackle with a scrub pad and a cleaner made for a polyurethane finish, such as Bruce Dura-Luster No-Wax Floor Cleaner.
- Scuff marks: Use a dab of mineral spirits (a type of paint thinner) on a soft cloth.
- Crayon: Place a plastic bag filled with ice on scribbles until they harden, and then peel them off with a plastic spatula.
The same rules apply to wool and synthetic rugs and carpets, but synthetics resist stains better.
- Most spills: Quickly blot with a paper towel. If the substance is liquid, pour on a small amount of soda water―the bubbles will help the soil rise to the surface. Blot, then apply a carpet shampoo or stain remover, following the manufacturer's instructions. Or mix a teaspoon of clear dish-washing liquid with a cup of water, brush it on with a clean cloth or paper towel and then blot.
It's hard to remove marks from flat-finish paint, so use semi-gloss when possible.
- Crayon, ink, pencil, furniture scuffs and most marks on painted walls: Start by dusting the wall thoroughly. Apply a thick paste of baking soda and water with a sponge and rub gently. (Scrape off crayon first with a plastic spatula.)
- Grease spots: Tackle with household cleaner, like Spic and Span, diluted in water. Washable or scrubbable wallpaper (vinyl or plastic): Clean with water and a small amount of dish-washing liquid. Apply with a sponge, rubbing in a circular motion. Rinse with a damp sponge and pat dry with a clean cloth.
Never oversaturate the fabric you want to clean with water or a cleaning solution―it could leave a stain.
- Most spills: Check the furniture's care label, which usually carries a symbol indicating the proper cleaning approach. "W" means you can use a water-based cleaning agent (try Woolite Fabric & Upholstery Foam Cleaner) or a dish-washing liquid solution (see "Carpets"). "S" means you can spot-treat with a dry-cleaning solvent (such as Afta; www.guardsman.com), but never use a water-based cleaner―it can damage the fabric. "WS" means you can try any of the above treatments. "X" means that no cleaner is safe; vacuum only.