How to Get a Stain Out of Your Shirt

We’ve all been there. You’re on a great date when suddenly you dribble salad dressing or pasta sauce down the front of your shirt. Maybe you’re at a friend’s holiday party and realize you’ve dripped wine on yourself. Chances are, you don’t carry a stain stick around with you everywhere.  Because who does that. So here are some tricks and tips for early stain removal:

Don’t Panic

Keep a level head. Be James Bond. (Bond never freaks out when he has a stain. He just wears it well.) The more time you waste freaking out, the more time the stain has to set. Make a joke about the stain, because yes, everyone saw. Laughing at the situation is the first step to resolving it.

When You’re Out and About:

If you’re at a bar or restaurant, your options are pretty limited. Time to work some DIY magic. Start by using your napkin to carefully scrape away any food particles, but avoid rubbing the stain in further.

If you’re getting a stain out of a white shirt, order an ice water with extra lemon. Blot the stain (don’t scrub) with an ice cube. Then blot or lightly rub a slice of lemon over the stain. Keep this combination up until the stain fades.

For colored shirts, skip the lemon, as it may distort or fade the color of the shirt. Order an ice water and ask your server for a small cup of vinegar. (It’s likely that they’ll have it in the kitchen.) Mix a small amount of vinegar with the water, and dip a fresh napkin in the mixture. Blot the stain until it begins to fade.

The above options are safe for cotton shirts (even dress shirts), but if you’re rocking a poly-blend shirt, you can’t use anything too acidic, as it can dissolve the plastic that holds such fabrics together. Instead, ask for a little baking soda with your ice water. Wet the stain, then dab on the baking soda. Blot and rub lightly until the stain fades.

You’ll still need to soak your shirt in cold water and fabric-safe detergent when you get home before washing it, but these tricks will keep the stain from setting until you can fully remove it.

When You're At Someone's House:

If you’re at a house party or sit-down dinner, take advantage of what your host has in stock.

If you’re wearing a button-down shirt, you can ask your host for permission to soak the shirt in cold water and detergent. Start by wetting the stain area and applying a fabric-safe detergent directly. (Remember: blot, don’t scrub.) Then let the shirt soak until you leave. You may feel a little silly wearing your undershirt for the rest of the party, but be Fonzie and own it. 

If you want to keep your shirt on, you can still use the cold-water-and-detergent method on the stain area. If your stain is greasy, this is the way to go. Alternatively, you can use a gentle dish soap or a gentle household cleaner on the stain; both contain enzymes and/or vegetable glycerin that are good for stain removal. However, they may be harsher on the fabric than detergent. Save these methods for sturdy cotton shirts.