Removing Stains from Household Fabrics

Oh No! That Stain’s Gotta Go!

Your grandson marks up the upholstery of a beloved chair with crayons. The family dog returns from a scrap with your neighbor’s cat and spatters blood all over a white, sheer drape as he shakes himself in front of it. You’re confounded by the appearance of mildew on a fabric window shade, with no apparent source of moisture nearby.

These are all actual scenarios described to ADVANCED ON-SITE by individuals seeking removal of notoriously difficult substances. Truthfully, while all WERE removed, and the overall success rate exceeds 95%, elimination of all traces of a substance can never be guaranteed. Primarily because there’s no way to know for certain that previous attempts to remove it have not already been made.

First, Stop and Think About the Risk

Consider the fact that a stain can be permanently “set” if the wrong method is used to remove it.

Any substance with the potential to gain a foothold in textile is going to have a protein, oil, or tannin base. Some substances actually contain elements of more than one base. In such cases the correct spotting agents must be applied in a very specific sequence, often repeating each more than once, before moving to the next. These sensitive operations are best left to a professional.

Even then, certain factors reduce how aggressively a stain can be attacked. Including fabric type and weave. More on that in a minute.

Mechanical Action

Rarely does a stain just dissolve away with the simple application of a spotting agent. Anyone who does their own laundry knows, more often than not mechanical action is necessary.

While the agitation that occurs in a washing machine is a form of mechanical action, it is less effective than other, more direct means. For example, washboards used from colonial times right up, and into, the 20th Century. Then there’s the ancient method of beating clothes on rocks. On the other hand, a simple fingernail can sometimes coax particulates from the fibers of a garment, or other household fabric.

Scrubbing a stained area against a non-stained area of the material is also effective. Commonly available stain removing formulas are usually applied, allowed to “dwell,” then reapplied for this purpose. The key is knowing how much mechanical action can be brought to bear before the material sustains damage. Too much, and “abrading” will occur.

Inherent Dangers

Abrading is something we’ve all seen. Think of a rope rubbing against a rock or a tree. The first sign of damage will be a fraying appearance at the point of contact, indicating that small fibers have been severed and lifted from the main body.

Natural fibers are quicker to abrade than synthetics. But, all will eventually show signs of wear. Even before abrading occurs, the trajectory of individual threads can be disrupted in coarse or loosely woven fabrics, thereby making them appear twisted and uneven.

The Safe Solution

By now you’ve likely concluded that stain removal can be a tricky business. And you’d be right. In addition to everything else, when a stain is treated without, first, cleaning the entire chair, drape or shade, it ends up looking like just that – a stain treatment. In other words, it appears obvious that you’ve cleaned the stain and the area around it, while the rest of the item retains dust and other pollutants that have accumulated over time.

When a stain must be removed from an expensive window treatment, what you need is a company that guarantees against damage. ADVANCED ON-SITE is that company.


2 Replies to “Removing Stains from Household Fabrics”

  1. Hi,
    We have a lift chair my elderly husband sits in. It’s showing stains where his arms go. I thought it was sweat. I used soapy warm water and a toothbrush. Its better but still there.

    My daughter found this article were it says a stain can be permanently “set” if the wrong method is used to remove it. Can soapy water set this? What can I do? I’m worried because it’s expensive and we don’t want to replace it. But it looks awful. Please help!
    Thanks, Helen McDonald

    1. If you’ve used soapy water and nothing else, chances are you have not “set” anything.

      The professional fabric care specialist’s first step in stain removal nearly always involves a solution whose active ingredient is essentially a degreaser. Degreasers are not much more than concentrated soaps with elevated ph values. The process is often done in “wash, rinse, repeat” fashion, until no improvement is seen between applications.

      You might think about another two or three attempts with your soapy solution, making sure to rinse after each. However, we would caution you about too much use of the toothbrush. There exists the potential for changing the fabric’s appearance. Better to coax contaminants out with a fingernail, or something like a plastic spatula with no sharp or irregular edges.

      Degreasers are typically only available from restaurant, medical and janitorial supply houses that do not sell to the public. Even more difficult to find are protein and tannin cutting agents that become necessary when no further improvement is seen using the degreaser alone.

      Feel free to contact us if you need professional help. And thank you for visiting

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