15 Common Stains and Easy Ways to Get Them Out

iStock
iStock

There's a stain solution to nearly anything you've spilled, smeared, squirted, or slopped.

1. GRASS

Four people sitting on a bench with the photo cropped from the waist down. All of their denim-clad knees are covered in grass stains.
iStock

Everyone loves a lush, green lawn—except when it’s smeared on your clothes. The next time you’ve got a Kentucky Bluegrass mess, just apply some pre-wash stain remover and let it sit for 15 minutes. You can also go the natural route and mix up a solution consisting of one part vinegar to two parts water. Then, use a old toothbrush or other small brush to work it in. Finally, launder as usual.

2. BLOOD

When it comes to bloodstains, look to the experts: ER nurses. According to them, the first step is to rinse the spot with cold water ASAP and blot it until you’ve gotten as much blood up as possible. Then, dab a bit of hydrogen peroxide directly to the stain and watch it magically rinse away.

If the problem is upholstery or carpet, you’ll also want to use the cold-water-and-blotting method, but this time, add a tablespoon of dish detergent to two cups of cold water. Carpet cleaner intended for pet stains may also work well.

3. KETCHUP

A blob of spilled ketchup on a white background.
iStock

The next time you find yourself with this condiment running down your shirt, don’t despair. First, flush the spot with water, starting with the back side of your shirt. Pretreat the spot with a liquid laundry detergent and let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse well. Repeat this step until you’ve removed as much of the condiment as possible, then treat with a pre-wash stain remover and launder as usual.

4. TOOTHPASTE

Dribbling Crest on your shirt before heading out the door to work is certainly annoying, but it’s definitely not the end of your apparel as long as you act quickly. Remove the excess goop first, then get a cloth wet with warm water and blot the area. Next, add a few drops of laundry detergent to the warm water and continue blotting. Blot with clean, warm water to rinse and allow the spot to air dry.

5. RED WINE

A glass of red wine tipped on its side. Some liquid remains in the glass, while the rest has been spilled out onto a white napkin and tablecloth.
iStock

This solution almost feels like a science experiment: Find the affected area and stretch the fabric over the opening of a bowl, securing it in place with a rubber band. Generously sprinkle salt on top of the fabric, then pour hot water through the fabric into the bowl and watch the stain disappear. Finally, toss it in the washer as normal.

6. GREASE

Got a grease stain? There’s a good chance that the antidote is sitting next to your kitchen sink. Any petroleum-based dish detergent, like Dawn or Sunlight, is designed to cut grease. While you probably use it to get your pots and pans sparkling, it has a similar effect on clothes. Just saturate the grease spot with the soap, let it soak in for a few minutes, then toss in the washer.

7. COFFEE

A yellow coffee cup tipped sideways, sitting on top of a blue dress shirt. The coffee has spilled all over the blue shirt.

If it’s a really fresh stain, you might be in luck (and also scalded). Running the stain under cold water from the back of the stain just might do the trick. If that doesn’t work, rub liquid laundry detergent on it and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes. For old stains, soak the garment in cold water after you treat with detergent, then rub the fabric every 5 minutes to loosen up the stain. If it’s still stubbornly hanging on after about 30 minutes, soak it in warm water for another 5-15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.

If this all sounds like a lot of work, try a gel stain remover, which does a good job at getting into the fibers of the fabric.

8. DEODORANT

Even if you’re extremely careful, putting on your shirt after you’ve already put deodorant on can be a tricky affair. But you don’t have to find a new shirt after those telltale white stripes show up on your shirt. Rub the smudges with pantyhose, knee highs, foam rubber from a padded hanger, or a dryer sheet. If you don’t have any of those things available, you can even rub the fabric of your shirt against the stain to loosen the residue.

9. MAKEUP

Various circular and square pans containing liquid and powder makeup, with brushes dipping into some of them.

If it’s concealer, eyeliner, blush, eyeshadow, or mascara, just use a little prewash stain treatment and wash as usual. Lipstick or lip balm may be a little more stubborn. If stain stick followed by laundering doesn’t work, try sponging the stain with a dry-cleaning solvent and washing again.

10. SPIT-UP

When the baby douses your shoulder with the remains of her lunch, you’re better off if she's breast-fed. Simply wash your clothes in normal detergent, then hang to dry in the sun. The sun’s bleaching properties should do the trick if the detergent didn’t.

Because of formula’s chemical makeup, formula stains are another matter entirely. After scrubbing at the stain with a stiff brush to remove as much of it as possible, sprinkle the entire stain generously with baking soda. Then pour club soda over the stain and let it soak until the mixture stops fizzing. Then, launder as usual, air dry, and cross your fingers.

11. MUD

The ankles of a pair of mud-splattered blue jeans hanging in front of a washing machine.

First, resist the urge to work on the stain while the mud is still wet. Most of the time, it pays to work on a stain while it’s fresh, but wiping at mud is only going to smear it around and make the stain bigger. Once it’s dry, shake off the dirt or vacuum it up. Then rub liquid detergent into the stain and let it soak for about 15 minutes. Rub the stained area with your fingers every few minutes to loosen the dirt. If the stain remains after 15 minutes, apply some stain stick, gel, or spray, and let it sit for five minutes. Wash with detergent as usual.

12. PAINT

Remove as much of the paint as possible with a paper towel, or, if the paint is dry, scrape it off with a dull knife or spoon. If the paint is water-based, all you have to do is rinse the stain in warm water until the color has run out, then wash as usual. If it’s oil-based, you’ll need to treat the mark with turpentine first, then rinse and launder.

13. INK


A pen in the pocket of a white dress shirt, with a blue ink stain starting to form in the bottom of the pocket.

The ink removal method will depend on what type of fabric you’ve marked with ink, but in many cases, rubbing alcohol or a solution of vinegar and dishwashing detergent will take care of it. Better Homes and Gardens has a quite comprehensive list of fabrics, from cotton to velvet, including detailed instructions for each. Your ink stain doesn’t stand a chance.

14. MARKER

Just because it’s permanent marker doesn’t mean you’ve got a permanent problem. Get the stain damp first, then spritz it with a non-oily hairspray. Blot at the marker stain with a paper towel until you see the color transfer from the fabric to the paper towel. You can also try the same method with rubbing alcohol, putting paper towels underneath the stain to absorb the color.

If you’re up for a bit of an experiment, soak the affected area in a bowl of milk and watch the marker ink change the milk colors. Repeat with a fresh bowl of milk until the stain is gone.

15. FRUIT JUICE

A clear glass tipped sideways on an off-white colored carpet, spilling red juice out onto the rug.

Contrary to most of the other advice for stain removal, you don’t want to get liquid detergent anywhere near a fruit juice stain—it will only set it. Instead, use white vinegar to blot the stain, then rinse with cool water. If the stain persists, try a digestant enzyme paste (unless your fabric is silk or wool) and let it dry for 30 minutes, then rinse.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Argentine Ants

A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
Marc Matteo, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A supercolony of invasive Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) stretches for 560 miles beneath California, from San Diego to San Francisco. The billions of Argentine ants are unlike other ants in many ways—and they are virtually indestructible. Along with their supercolonies in Europe, Japan, and Australia, L. humile’s global domination is rivaled only by that of human beings. Here’s what you should know about these prolific pests.

1. Argentine ant colonies are ruled by hundreds of queens.

Most ant colonies revolve around a single queen. Growing much larger than the worker drones, she is programmed to mate as quickly as possible, then to leave her nest of origin and establish a new one. In some species, a single queen can lay millions of eggs in a lifetime, producing an army of worker drones and future queens who will go off to build their own nests. But unlike most ants, Argentines are polygynous: Each nest contains multiple queens. In some, they can form up to 30 percent of the population.

2. Argentine ants move their nests frequently.

Nest types vary from ant species to ant species, but those who live in soil commonly dig tunnels and chambers deep into the earth that will protect the colony throughout the life of the queen. L. humile, though, is transient and ever shifting. Argentine ants frequently pack up their eggs and move the entire colony, queen and all, to a new nest, even when there is no apparent threat. Biologist Deborah Gordon told Ars Technica that the ants typically have 20 to 30 shallow nests at any one time, which can be built up in a matter of just weeks.

3. Argentine ants traveled the U.S. before settling down in California.

Argentine ants arrived in the United States from Northern Argentina in the late 19th century, when the first recorded Argentine ant was found in Louisiana in 1891. Researchers believe that the ants hitched a ride to North America in Argentinian shipments of coffee or sugar off-loaded at the Port of New Orleans. From there, they traveled—most likely by train—across the South and into California. Enticed by the Mediterranean climate, one similar to that of its original home in South America, the ants set up shop. By 1907, they’d displaced local native ants and begun their first steps towards total soil domination along 560 miles of California coastline.

4. California’s Argentine ants are more laid-back than their South American cousins.

In side-by-side comparisons of Argentine ants from their South American homeland and California, researchers have found that those from the West Coast are far more mellow than those from Argentina. In studies, it was typical for two ants from different nests to fight when placed in the same vial in Argentina, but in California, ants from different nests rarely fought, even when they were collected from locations several hundred miles apart.

A DNA study of ants from both locations in 2000 revealed a stark difference. In the ants from Argentina, microsatellites—short, uniquely patterned DNA sequences passed down from generation to generation—had more than twice as much variation as the microsatellites of the Californian ants. When two individuals from different nests in California were placed together, they recognized one another as family. The ants from Argentina didn’t, making them more likely to display territorial aggression.

The difference is rooted in the genetic bottleneck the ants encountered on their arrival to the Golden State over a century ago. According to biologist Neil D. Tsutsui, who conducted the DNA study, the ants in California today are all descendants of that founding colony. “It would be as if all of the people in the United States were descended from the Pilgrims who came here in 1620,” he told the Stanford Report in 2004. Instead of competing with one another, generation after generation has worked together to take out native ants and build an immense California colony.

5. Argentine ants protect other insects in exchange for sweet, sweet honeydew.

Argentine ants
Two Argentine ants share a tiny blob of honeydew.
Davefoc, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Argentine ants love to feed on sweet nectar, but flowers and suburban kitchens aren’t the only source of such desirable foodstuffs. Insects that feed on plant sap, like mealybugs, scales, and aphids, naturally excrete sugar-rich liquid “honeydew” from their butts. To secure a steady flow of the sticky-sweet substance, Argentine ants will fight off the predators of their insect chefs, including soldier beetles and midges. They’ll even relocate their honeydew producers to better food sources or microclimates to get the most they can out of their anal secretions.

6. The California Argetine ant supercolony is one-sixth the size of Southern Europe’s.

The California supercolony, which scientists have named the “Californian large,” is only the second-biggest conglomeration of Argentine ants in the world. The biggest colony is found along Southern Europe’s Mediterranean coast, where it stretches 3700 miles from northern Italy to the Atlantic coast of Spain. The ants, introduced around 80 years ago, now number in the billions. Smaller supercolonies also exist in Japan and Australia.

7. Argentine ants are second only to humans in their scale of world domination.

In 2009, researchers discovered that Argentine ants from three of the world’s largest supercolonies (Southern Europe, California, and Japan) are so closely related that they actually form a single mega-colony. The study, led by Eriki Sunamura from the University of Tokyo, found that when placed together, ants from the three supercolonies refused to fight. Instead, they rubbed antennae in greeting the way L. humile does when interacting with genetically-related individuals.

The researchers believe that the Argentine ant mega-colony isn’t just the largest insect colony ever identified; it rivals that of human colonization around the globe. Presenting their findings in the journal Insect Sociaux, they wrote, “the enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society.”

8. A mass execution of Argentine ant queens takes place every spring.

Each spring, just before mating season begins, worker ants go on a killing rampage and assassinate 90 percent of their queens. Entomologists aren’t sure exactly why the large-scale execution occurs, but one hypothesis, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology in 2001, suggests that it is a “spiteful behavior” to kill the queens that are less related, on average, to the workers.

In their study, researchers from the University of Lausanne hypothesized that Argentine ants are regularly separated from direct family members through free exchange among the nests. Before mating season begins each year, those that are genetically related band together to kill more distantly related queens. Doing so decreases the nest’s genetic diversity and allows it to be rebuilt with a queen who is directly related to the greatest majority of workers.

The study’s results were inconclusive and the question remained unanswered, yet researchers learned something unexpected in the process. Instead of finding genetic diversity among worker ants, those belonging to each nest were actually a homogenous population. Only the queens were genetic outliers with relatively few familial relationships in each nest.

9. Climate change is making Argentine ants more of a nuisance to humans.

Argentine ants thrive in a Mediterranean climate where winters are cool and wet and summers are warm and dry. When conditions are ideal, they largely keep to themselves, but when conditions are drought-like or extremely wet, the ants move indoors in search of more hospitable climes. Experts at survival, Argentine ants can find food or water that’s been left unguarded in just minutes.

With the climate crisis, conditions in California are becoming more extreme. Hot days, no longer relegated just to the summer months, are becoming more numerous and prolonged. Droughts are becoming more frequent. While these changes are unlikely to harm much of the California supercolony, they are likely to drive the residents of urban nests more frequently into people's homes, making the ants a major nuisance for residents from San Diego to San Francisco.

10. Argentine ants are almost impossible to eradicate.

Individual Argentine ants are easy enough to kill, but an Argentine ant colony is a different story. The California colony has no natural predators and, thanks to their high levels of cooperation and massive numbers, L. humile has effectively destroyed possible competitors and disrupted the ecological balance of native species in the process. Insecticides, which are unable to penetrate into the underground nests, aren’t particularly effective. And because the ants can pick up and move their entire nest so quickly, neither are household control measures such as ant bait. After just over a century in California, Argentine ants are now virtually invincible.