Stubborn Stains

based on 29 ratings
Author: Ora Chaiken
Grade Level
Upper Elementary/Middle School
Difficulty of Project
$5 - 20
Safety Issues


Material Availability

Materials are readily available, except for the stain remover, which can be purchased at your local grocery store or drugstore. If you do not have any rags/old clothes on hand to use for this experiment, you will need to purchase these materials, too.

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

5 hours. 


See how effective a stain remover is in removing different types of stains (pencil, blue pen, tomato sauce, or soy sauce) on different types of fabrics (towel, jeans, or T-shirt). Which combination of cloth and stain will the stain remover remove the fastest?

Materials and Equipment / Ingredients

  • Tide to Go (stain remover) stick, or store brand stain removal stick
  • At least 12 square inches white, cotton t-shirt material
  • At least 12 square inches terry cloth, cotton Towel
  • At least 12 square inches denim Jeans
  • A pencil (for marking cloth)
  • Blue Pen (for marking cloth)
  • Tomato sauce (1 tablespoon)
  • ¼ teaspoon measuring spoon
  • Soy sauce (1 tablespoon)
  • Eyedropper (for soy sauce)
  • Ruler (for measuring cloth, and marks on fabric)
  • Clean rags
  • Scissors (for cutting cloth)
  • Stop watch (must have mil seconds)
  • Pencil and paper


Have you ever noticed that some stains don’t come out when you wash your clothes? Are some stains harder to remove than others? Maybe there is a reason why it’s smart to wear a smock or old clothes when you’re doing an art project, fixing your bike chain or cooking tomato sauce. In this experiment, you’ll see if some stains are easier to remove than others and what impact the fabric has on the outcome.

Research Questions

  • Will the type of stain matter more, or the type of material? For example, will all the tomato sauce stains take longer to remove than the pencil stains, or will all of the stained jeans take longer to clean than all of the stained towels.
  • Are your results consistent across all three trials? If so, then it is likely that another person could duplicate your results. If your results are consistent, you can be more certain that your conclusions are accurate.

Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research

In this science project, you will stain different fabrics. You will try to remove them with a stain remover. The key ingredient of the stain remover used here is a peroxide surfactant that is used to bleach the stains. The manufacturers say this stain remover is best for fresh food and drink stains – things that are organic. Soy sauce has deep colored pigments that create dark stains. Tomato sauce is highly acidic. Pens leave permanent marks while pencils marks can be erased. Which of these properties do you think is most correlated to the results you observe? The jeans, T-shirt and towel are all made out of cotton. How does the density of the material influence the results? What do you expect to observe?

  • Peroxide: A compound of hydrogen and peroxide, used as a bleach.
  • Surfactant: This is an abbreviation for a “surface active agent.”   Detergents are surfactants that help remove organic compounds from a substance by making them dissolve more readily in the water in which the substance is washed.
  • Organic: Materials that come from plant or animal sources, or other compounds that contain carbon.
  • Bleach: To make something whiter or lighter by treating it with a chemical.
  • Pigment: A substance used to add color.
  • Acidic: Technically, a material that produces positive ions in solution. Acids taste sour and react with bases and certain metals to form salts. (See the lemonade science experiment for more information on acids and bases).
  • Correlated: Two items which are correlated vary together. For instance your grade on a test is usually correlated with how much you have studied. There can be a positive or negative correlation between items. For instance, the more you brush your teeth, the less likely that cavities will form in your teeth.
  • Density: The degree to which something is compact or closely spaced together.
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