How to Remove Stains From Clothes (Without Harsh Chemicals!)

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If your house is anything like mine, laundry stains are a daily fact of life.

For many of us, laundry tops the list of household jobs we’d rather not do. It’s often voted the one job we’d gladly hire someone to help with if we could. Especially with small children, stains make laundry even tougher.

Even some of my most crunchy friends will turn to conventional stain sticks and sprays to get stains out. Yes, even friends who make their own deodorant, toothpaste, and laundry soap still use conventional stain removal methods.

And who could blame them, since many natural stain removal methods don’t seem to work on tough stains?

Why Use Natural Stain Removal Methods?

When you switch to natural cleaning, you can’t just spray it all with Shout, wash it in Tide, and call it a day… so what to do?

Conventional laundry stain treatments are some of the most toxic cleaning products available. They contain harsh detergents, solvents, parabens, and a host of artificial colors and scents.

Then there’s chlorine bleach often used for white clothes that’s a major health concern. A 2010 study reported well over a quarter of a million children under the age of 5 were injured by household cleaners. Bleach was the leading source and can be lethal if ingested (most reported cases were from kids ingesting bleach, usually from a spray bottle).

Pre-Made Natural Stain Remover

Already know you want a natural stain remover, but don’t want to DIY it? Branch Basics has a non-toxic natural stain remover that works really well. You can use their cleaning concentrate and Oxygen Boost to pretreat the stained area.

Another good option is Truly Free. I’ve used their natural liquid laundry detergent for years. Truly Free has an Oxyboost stain fighter, as well as an enzyme stain remover and a laundry stain stick.

Both of these brands offer good non-toxic options if you just want something quick and all-purpose. If you want to create your own stain removers though, then read on!

I borrowed some wisdom from my grandma’s era and with the help of my professional stain creation experts (aka my children). I compiled a helpful list of effective stain treatments for various types of stains. You can keep this list handy for reference when you’re doing laundry. I’ve also included a printable version (at the bottom of this post) in case it will be helpful to you too.

How to Remove Stains From Clothes

Removing stains naturally takes a little more know-how and work than the conventional products. When used correctly, these methods can remove some of the toughest stains (and you won’t have to keep the poison control number on hand!).

TIP: Always treat stains from the back, rather than the front, to avoid rubbing the stain in more.

Natural Stain Remover Supplies

First, you’ll need the following staples on hand:

Optional, but nice:

How to Treat Different Types of Stains

Here are some of the most common stains and how to treat them naturally. Be sure to check the product care label first before proceeding.

  • Paint Stains: Soak in rubbing alcohol for 30 minutes and wash out.
  • Tea or Coffee Stains: Immediately pour boiling water over the stain until it’s gone. If it’s an old stain scrub it with a paste of borax and water and wash immediately.
  • Grass Stains: Scrub with liquid dish soap or treat with equal parts hydrogen peroxide (3%) and water.
  • Mud Stains: Let the dirt dry and brush off what you can, then scrub with a borax/water paste and clean in the washer immediately
  • Tomato-Based Stains: For ketchup and other tomato products, treat with white vinegar directly on the stain and wash immediately.
  • Nail Polish: Use a clean cloth or paper towel to immediately blot up the nail polish before it air dries. Use a cloth dipped in dishwashing liquid and warm water to dab up the stain, then rinse in cool water. If there’s still a color stain, then make a paste with equal parts cornstarch and white vinegar. Apply to the area and let sit for 20 minutes before scrubbing off with a toothbrush. Rinse with cold water and launder.
  • Ballpoint Pen Ink Stains or Marker: Soak in rubbing alcohol for 30 minutes or spray with hair spray and wash out.
  • Red Wine Stains: I use a mixture of soap, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide. You can get the recipe for my red wine stain remover here (there’s also an option for upholstery).
  • Wax Stains: Do not try to clean hot wax off of fabric, as this only pushes it deeper into the fibers. Once the wax has cooled, place an ice cube over the area to harden the wax. Scrape off as much as you can with a dull knife or spoon. Dab some enzyme-based stain remover (Branch Basics or Truly Free have good options) over the area. Use a clean cloth or soft toothbrush to work in the cleaner. After 15 minutes rinse with warm water and then launder.
  • Dingy Whites, Sweat Stains, or Deodorant Stains: Soak the stain directly in a mix of 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water for 30 minutes. Then add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to the wash water. For really tough yellow stains, make a paste of 3% hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and rub into the stain. Leave on for 5 minutes before laundering.
  • Other Food Stains: Treat with a mix of 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water and soak.
  • Grease Stains and Oil Stains: For oil-based stains sprinkle the area with dry baking soda to remove any loose oil or grease and brush off. Then, soak in undiluted white vinegar for 15 minutes, rinse, and scrub with liquid dish soap before washing
  • Vomit, Urine, Poop, Egg, Gelatin, Glue, or Other Protein-Based Stains: DO NOT WASH IN WARM WATER!!!!! This will set in the smell. Soak in cool water and then wash with an added mixture of 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 cup baking soda in the washing machine.
  • Blood stains: Like other protein stains, hot water will only set the stain in. To remove blood stains rinse/soak in cold water, then apply hydrogen peroxide to the area before tossing it in the wash.

If you want an easy way to remember all of these treatments, here’s a convenient printable guide!

How to Handle Really Tough Stains

When I encounter stains that don’t respond to the methods above, I’ll use stronger products that still contain natural ingredients. My favorite is Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, which gets an “A” from the Environmental Working Group, and is an amazing all-purpose natural cleaner. Be sure to use Sal Suds NOT castile soap, which won’t work the same.

It can be used directly on really tough stains in a pinch, though I prefer to make a natural stain spray:

stain remover
5 from 1 vote

Natural Stain Remover Spray

The closest non-toxic alternative I’ve found to stain removal sprays is this homemade version. It takes under two minutes to make and can be kept by the washing machine for easy use.
Prep Time2 minutes
Total Time2 minutes
Yield: 16 ounces
Author: Katie Wells


  • 1 and ¾ cups distilled water
  • ¼ cup Sal Suds (NOT castile soap)


  • Put the water into the spray bottle.
  • Add the Sal Suds.
  • Place the lid on the bottle and swirl gently to combine.


Spray on stains before laundering to help remove even tough stains.

Other Natural Laundry Tips

On-the-go stain removal:

My homemade baby wipes can be kept in a small silicone bag and make a great pre-treat spot remover on the go.

Laundry Booster:

Add 1 tablespoon of Sal Suds to a load of laundry as a natural stain-removing booster. I’ll also add my homemade OxiClean to really dirty loads.

Here’s a printable version of the infographic above: Click to download.

What’s your best natural stain-treating trick? Please share below! My kids could put it to the test….

wellness mama stain removal guide for laundry

Here is a printable version of the infographic above: Click to download.

This handy natural stain removal reference chart provides the best natural way to treat various types of stains without chemicals.

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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


102 responses to “How to Remove Stains From Clothes (Without Harsh Chemicals!)”

  1. Michael Loveroot Avatar
    Michael Loveroot

    You recommend washing in cold for stains like poop. But isn’t there concern that the bacteria or other pathogens won’t be killed unless it is washed in a hot cycle?

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      Hot water causes the fecal particles to bind to the fabric while cold water helps wash it away. You could always wash in hot water after the stain has already been removed, but a good detergent should take care of any bacteria.

  2. Cristi Avatar

    Hoping you can help me with a tricky stain on my white canvas shoes; I used straight hydrogen peroxide to take some grime off of them and set them in the sun thinking they would bleach out but instead the peroxide turned the area I treated light yellow!?
    Any thoughts on how I might be able to get them white again?

  3. Rebecca Avatar

    I use the Sal Suds stain remover, I follow your recipe exactly. But it discolors my husband’s clothes (America Eagle). Any suggestions? It works great on cotton cloth diapers and most other stuff.

  4. Chaslynn Avatar


    I am curious about this because Sal’s Suds has SLS in it…

    1. Rachel Winker Avatar
      Rachel Winker

      Lisa Bronner explains all about it in the article linked in comment 60.1 – the gist is that sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are two completely different things (before I read the article, I thought they were basically the same, too), and it’s the ‘laureth’ vs. ‘lauryl’ that makes all the difference: the laureth is a huge problem, while the lauryl is basically harmless (unless you’re extremely sensitive to drying agents, which some people are, so that’s still a legitimate concern, but Lisa addresses how to get around it in the article). Hope that helps.

  5. Philomena Avatar

    Does your removal of oil method apply to a blue linen dress I have watched with no results? Please help. Thank you.

  6. Carol L Avatar

    Hello. I am trying to find a solution to a specific ‘stain’: I drive my vehicle for a living. In the summer, I sweat and drive dusty roads, which then cakes the seatbelt, and rubs the sweat and dirt into my polyester top. I then get a half X shaped stain after several washings. How do I get this stain out? Any ideas?
    Thanks! BTW: cotton does the same, but right now I have the polyester tops….not the best for wearing, but there it is!

  7. Lucy Avatar

    I see you recommend Sal’s Suds which has sodium lauryl sulfate in it. From my research, that is not a “clean” ingredient. Any thoughts?

5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

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