Freshening up clothing with mild stains.

Whether you’re taking clothes out of the closet for a new season, you want to spruce up clothing you purchased at a retail shop or garage sale, or you want to rid a new stain from your clothing, most stains in clothing can come out with a little extra work.

If you are taking clothing out of storage, there were a few things at work to cause stains in clothing that may not have been seen before they were stored. If the clothing was damp when it was stored, mildew may have formed on the clothing. Another major culprit is drool & sweat mixed with the air over time. This stain will cause yellow spots. Synthetic clothing releases a gas that can also cause discoloration.

* NOTE the following information if only for everyday clothing that can be laundered in a conventional machine. Heirloom and dry clean only clothing should be handled according to the label or known procedures for clothing preservation.

How the stain may have formed:

Acid (spit, drool, sweat, & glues) + air = problems the stains sometime aren’t there when you put the clothing away, but years, or even months later the problems begin to show up.

Water + cotton + air = problems – Mildew forms on the clothing and can only be eliminated with bleach.

Synthetic clothing + trapped gases = Problems: Synthetic clothing naturally brakes down and releases a gas that can cause yellowing of clothing. If the clothing is either in an air free environment, OR an environment that releases the gases, the clothing is less likely to discolor.

Oils (formula, skin oils, drool, sweat,gravy, butter etc.) + air + time = problems. They may have appeared to be removed in the original wash; however, they will show up as yellow spots after setting for a time. These spots are usually impossible to remove; however you can try the methods listed below to try to remove the yellow stains.

Overview of the steps for freshening up the clothing are
1) Separate the clothing by color.
2) Check new looking clothing for color fastness. Wash clothing that bleeds color separately.
3) Soak in oxygen bleach and/or an enzyme cleaner overnight.
4) Wash & Double rinse clothing in cold to warm water.
5) Examine clothing before you dry it in the dryer. If in doubt air dry the clothing to see if the stains are still present.
6) If stains are still present, air dry the clothing inside with an enzyme spray on the stains and leave to dry and work its magic for a few days. Then rewash the clothing.
7) If Stains are still present, try setting the clothing out in the sun.
8) If stain is still present, try setting the clothing in the sun with an enzyme spray on the stain.
*) If stains are still present in the form of mildew, try a VERY mild bleach of only a few drops bleach in a bucket of water and allow the clothing to soak for a few minutes to over night. Gradually increase the strength of the bleach 1 or 2 drops at a time always come back to check the clothing after a few minutes to make sure the color isn’t fading.

Details of the stain removal steps listed above:

Separate Clothing by color and if in doubt, wash it out. If you are unsure about a color running, rinse the garment in hot water to see if the color will bleed.

Pre-treat known stains with a detergent or spray containing Enzymes (BacOut, Biz, Shout, Spray-n-wash, Dreft, liquid dish soap containing enzymes, and most non-“Clean and Clear” detergents.)

After 5 minutes (or what is recommended on the bottle), soak like colored items in cold water for 30 minutes to 12 hours in a non-“Clean & Clear” detergent or Clean & Clear Detergent with a scoop of Ultra Biz. Make sure you do not pour the detergent on the clothing directly if you plan on having the clothing soak for many hours in a bucket. I have had clothing end up with faded spots where the detergent sat overnight.
I like to run the laundry though the wash with the lid up so that the clothes are agitated, the detergent can be mixed in throughout the water, and the clothing can still soak until I put the lid down.

Wash laundry as normal. If you still notice stains or are unsure if the stain is still on the clothing, hang the clothes to air dry. If I see a stain I also treat the stain with an enzyme spray (spray-n-wash or something similar).

For very stubborn stains I will rewash the clothing and then hand the clothing outside in the Sun to see if the sun can bleach the stains. The sun is the key here and this can be done in the winter by hanging the clothing in a window. I also spray the clothing with Shout or Spray-n-wash before hanging it in the sun unless the clothing is brightly colored. I’m not sure if enzymes help to fade the color out of clothing or not, but I have had some clothing with faded spots from detergents.

*** If you or members of your family have sensitive skin; double or triple rinse the clothing to filter out the enzymes. If you are still irritated by the clothing, wash the clothing in hot water (well above 140 F) and 2 Cups of vinegar.

Scientific reasoning behind stain removal:
Enzymes break down organic material (milk, blood, dirt, grease, formula, grass stains, etc.) and allow them to become hydrophilic/ Water soluble.
Most Enzymes used in detergents work best in lower temperatures (cold to warm) and base environments; however, new enzymes in detergents are starting to withstand higher temperatures (up to 140 F) and greater acid environments.

Detergents bind with the water soluble particles and then the particles are washed away down the drain.

The sun is the best bleach. It will fade clothes if left out in the UV rays for too long; however, UV light can naturally bleach out stains.

* Note to those with sensitive skin from enzymes. Enzymes are usually rendered inactive when they are washed out, placed in temperatures above 140 F, acidic environments, and/ or Bleach from chlorine or peroxide. If you or your child is irritated from Enzymes, first try to double rinse clothing, then turn up your heat on your heater above 140F and add a couple cups of vinegar. Only use Bleach when no other option seems to work and only use it after you have tested the clothing for colorfastness.


I have developed the above remedy for stains after reading different manufactures directions for stain removal, reading studies on how enzymes work, and developing a method that works best for me.

You may also visit the following web sites for further study and help on stain removal and preservation of clothing.

My review of Enzyme inactivation with more information how Enzymes work:

Clothing doctor with helpful information on stain removal

Storing Wedding Gowns and Textile Heirlooms –



2 thoughts on “Freshening up clothing with mild stains.

  1. I have had problems with the stain removal product, like Shout or Spray-and-Wash leaving a spot (almost) greasy-like on my clothes. What would you do in that case?

  2. This could be a problem with “detergent buildup” on the garmet.
    I would first try to put a bit of Dawn or another regular dish detergent on the stained area, rub the detergent in, and then wash it as normal. If this worked then you may want to switch to a spray stain remover instead of a stick.

    If the stain is still there after washing. If it is then try to soak the stain in an enzyme detergent for a few hours and then wash with a load of laundry to see if it comes out.

    I am going to put a post up soon on detergent build up in diapers and this may help with this item as well.

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