woman mopping floor
© Yuri_arcur | Dreamstime

Stain-Fighting Guide

If you live with kids, pets, or anyone prone to spills, chances are you're used to stains. But they don't have to be permanent.

Consult this guide to find stain-fighting solutions for almost any problem on almost every surface. With basic cleaning supplies and a little elbow grease, your home will be spotless in no time.

Stain fighting cleaning supplies
© Matka_wari | Dreamstime

Before You Begin

  • Test a stain remedy in an inconspicuous place. If the material remains unharmed, proceed as directed.
  • Try the least toxic remedy first. Stronger cleaners are often more corrosive.
  • Avoid mixing cleaners. Some combinations, such as chlorine bleach and ammonia or an acidic product like tile cleaner, produce toxic fumes.

Laminate kitchen countertops
Michael Scott

Laminate Countertops

You can use these remedies on countertops or floors.

  • Organic stains: To remove stains from food, coffee, tea, etc., wipe your counter regularly with a soapy sponge, and these should disappear.
  • More stubborn stains: Mix three parts baking soda to one part water. Let stand several minutes on the stain; gently wipe away, rinse, and dry. An all-purpose household cleaner, such as Fantastic or OxiClean Miracle Foam, can also be effective. Allow it to sit on the spot for a few minutes; blot with a clean cloth and rinse.

Solid surface countertops
Courtesy of DuPont

Solid-Surface Countertops

  • Light blemishes: Treat with a dish-washing liquid or an ammonia-based cleaner, such as Windex.
  • Stubborn stains on matte surfaces: Apply an abrasive cleansing powder, like Comet, with a nylon scouring pad.
  • Stubborn stains on semi-gloss surfaces: Use a mild abrasive cleaner, such as Soft Scrub, with a sponge or a mixture of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water with a scouring pad.

Stone kitchen countertops
© Elenathewise | Dreamstime.com

Stone Countertops

Apply these stain-fighting solutions to stone floors as well.

  • Most stains: Flush the spot with water and dish-washing liquid, rinse well, and dry; repeat.
  • Oil-based stains: For stains caused by caused by cooking oil, grease, milk, etc., clean with ammonia, mineral spirits (a type of paint thinner), or acetone (nail-polish remover).
  • Ink: On light-colored stone, use hydrogen peroxide or bleach; on dark stone, use lacquer thinner or acetone.
  • Metal or rust stains: Apply a poultice; try RPP Stain Remover.

Linoleum floor
Laurey W. Glenn

Linoleum or Vinyl Floors

Clean your floors every week to help keep them stain free.

  • Scuff marks: Rub with a nylon scouring pad and a solution of half dish-washing liquid and half water. Lift other types of marks with a pencil eraser.
  • Set stains: Treat stains from food, beverages, blood, grass, ink, and pet accidents with a cloth soaked in two cups water and a quarter cup of bleach.

Wood floor
© Elenathewi | Dreamstime

Wood Floors

These tips are intended for wood floors treated with a polyurethane finish.

  • Most stains: Tackle with a scrub pad and a cleaner made for a polyurethane finish, such as Bruce Dura-Luster No-Wax Floor Cleaner.
  • Scuff marks: Use a dab of mineral spirits (a type of paint thinner) on a soft cloth.
  • Crayon: Place a plastic bag filled with ice on scribbles until they harden, and then peel them off with a plastic spatula.

Red wine stain on carpet
©Istockphoto.com/Bridget McGill


The same rules apply to wool and synthetic rugs and carpets, but synthetics resist stains better. Be aware before you buy rugs made of plant fibers such as sisal and jute, it's often impossible to remove stains from them.

  • Most spills: Quickly blot with a paper towel. If the substance is liquid, pour on a small amount of soda water -- the bubbles will help the soil rise to the surface. Blot, and then apply a carpet shampoo or stain remover, following the manufacturer's instructions. Or mix a teaspoon of clear dish-washing liquid with a cup of water, brush it on with a clean cloth or paper towel, and then blot.

Turquoise wall with orchid
Norm Plate


It's hard to remove marks from flat-finish paint, so paint with semi-gloss when possible.

  • Scuffs and most marks: Start by dusting the wall thoroughly. Apply a thick paste of baking soda and water with a sponge and rub gently. (Scrape off crayon first with a plastic spatula.)
  • Grease spots: Tackle with household cleaner, like Spic and Span, diluted in water.
  • Washable or scrubbable wallpaper (vinyl or plastic): Clean with water and a small amount of dish-washing liquid. Apply with a sponge, rubbing in a circular motion. Rinse with a damp sponge and pat dry with a clean cloth.

upholstered chair
Rob D. Brodman


Never oversaturate the fabric with water or a cleaning solution -- it could leave a stain.

  • Most spills: Check the furniture's care label, which usually carries a symbol indicating the proper cleaning approach. "W" means you can use a water-based cleaning agent (try Woolite Fabric & Upholstery Foam Cleaner) or a dish-washing liquid solution. "S" means you can spot-treat with a dry-cleaning solvent such as Afta, but never use a water-based cleaner -- it can damage the fabric. "WS" means you can try any of the above treatments. "X" means that no cleaner is safe; vacuum only.


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