The Best Stain Remover for Clothes: Testing Laundry Stain Removal (page 2)

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Author: Tricia Edgar


The fabric with the bleach and the homemade stain remover will be the lightest. Depending on what store-bought stain removers you used in your experiment, these will likely be runners-up. The grass stains will be the least changed.


Different cleaners clean up your mess in different ways.  

Soap cleans because it is an emulsifier. It allows water to mix with other substances, such as the stains that you have on your shirt. If stains are locked onto the fabric, soap helps set them free. Soap works best in water that’s moving. They help stains come off fabric and move into the water, and this happens best in moving water (like in a laundry machine).

Bleach works differently. Bleach uses chlorine (the chemical used to keep swimming pools clean) to loosen the chemical bonds of molecules so that they have no color. Bleach doesn’t really remove the stain – it changes the ability of the molecules to absorb light and produce color. If you spill juice, jam, or ketchup on a colored shirt, bleach may not be the best solution, since it lightens the dye in the fabric also, not just the stain.

Hydrogen peroxide is closely related to bleach, but uses oxygen instead of chlorine and is safer to use on colored fabric. The homemade mixture combines the effectiveness of soap and a bleaching chemical to make a great stain remover.

Store-bought stain removers most often use solvents that dissolve other molecules to remove stains. Alcohol is an example of a popular solvent used in commercial stain removers. However, there are many different kinds of solvents, and each reacts differently to the various substances that cause stains. This is why some stain removers you can buy at the store may be more effective on certain kinds of stains than others.

Did you find that most of the stain removers had little effect on the grass stains? Grass stains are particularly difficult to remove because chlorophyll is a pigment—an insoluble colorant that cannot be dissolved in water. The makeup of this pigment is similar to the makeup of natural fabrics, so once they have bonded, it’s very hard to separate them again. 

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