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University of Illinois Extension

General Suggestions for Washable Fabrics

Take care of stains promptly. Fresh stains are much easier to remove than old ones. If the stain is on a non-washable fabric, take it to the dry cleaners as soon as you can. Tell the dry cleaner the stain and the fiber content of the garment.

Read and follow package directions when using any stain removal product.


stained shirt
  • Test stain removers on an inside seam for color fastness. To test, apply product and let stand 2-5 minutes, then rinse. If color changes, do not use product on the garment.
  • When using bleach, do not try to bleach just one area of garment; bleach the entire garment to prevent uneven color removal.
  • When treating, place stained area face down on a clean paper towel. Apply stain remover to the underside of the stain, forcing stain off the fabric surface instead of through it.
  • Never put chemical dry-cleaning solvents directly into washer. Rinse the fabric and air dry before placing in a washer.
  • Do not mix stain removal products together. Some mixtures, such as ammonia and chlorine bleach, can produce noxious fumes.
  • Launder washable items after treating to remove residues of the stain and the stain chemicals.
  • Remember, some stains cannot be removed.


  • Blot up any excess liquid with a paper towel.
  • Remove excess solids by gentle scraping with a dull knife. With some solids, like mud, removal may be easier after the stain has dried. Brush off the excess before the clothing is submerged for washing.
  • Avoid rubbing the stained area with a linty towel. This makes more problems.
  • Do not use bar soap on a fresh stain as it may set the stain.

Before laundering

  • Check laundry for stains before washing. Pretreat any stains.
  • Before treating the stain, test stain removal agents on a hidden area of the garment to be sure they do not affect the color or finish of the fabric.
  • Use rubbing only if the fabric is durable. Rubbing spreads the stain; damages the fiber, finish, or color of the fabric.
  • However, gentle to vigorous rubbing and agitation under running water helps remove dried food, protein, or oil stains from shirts or jean-weight fabrics made of cotton or cotton/polyester blends.
  • Avoid using hot water on stains of unknown origin. Hot water can set protein stains like milk, egg, or blood.
  • basket full of laundryWash heavily stained items separately. Soil and stains can be redeposited on clean clothing during laundering if,
    • too little detergent is used,
    • water temperature is too low,
    • washing time is too long, or
    • the washer is loaded with too many clothes.
  • Never wash family clothes with pesticide-soiled clothes.
  • Use the water temperature recommended on stain removal products and detergents.
    • Hot water should be between 120 and 140°F,
    • Warm water should be between 85 and 105°F, and
    • Cold water should be between 65 and 75°F.
    • Water below 60°F is too cold for detergents to work.

Know your care label symbols

sample care label

click to enlarge

Since 1998, manufacturers of wearable clothing were required to provide care symbols on labels. Reading the Care Labels on Fabric will help you with the care of the garment.

The required information included the following:

  • Washing or Dry Cleaning care instructions
  • One safe method of care
  • Warnings against any procedure that might harm the item


clean shirt
  • Pre-test Stain Removal Products on an inconspicuous area of the article. Apply several drops of the product and rub gently with a clean white towel. If color transfers to the cloth or a color change occurs, a professional dry cleaner should be consulted.
  • Use solvents in a well-ventilated room where there is no chance of electrical shocks. Do not smoke. Do not use solvents near open flame. Avoid spilling on skin or clothes. Wash off immediately if this happens.
  • Do not use metal spoons or containers with bleaches.
  • Do not use chlorine bleach on wool, silk or spandex.
  • Do not over wet. Place absorbent pad under the stain. Use solvents sparingly. Blot frequently. Tamp stains with spoon.
  • Do not rub or brush. Gently apply liquids unevenly in the area surrounding the stain to avoid a ring.
  • Be patient. Some stains respond slowly. Procedures may need to be repeated several times. All stains cannot be removed from every fabric due to difference in age of stain, structure of materials, fibers, dyes, and finishes. Professional dry cleaners have skills and resources not available to the consumer.
  • Some stains require professional treatment.

After laundering and before drying

  • Inspect wet laundry before drying to be sure a stain has been removed. If a stain is still there, do not dryer dry as the dryer heat sets stain.
  • Do not iron or press stained fabrics until the stain is completely removed. Heat sets most stains.
  • Have patience; it takes a little extra time and effort to remove some stains.