The Stain Removal Trick That Saves Kids Clothes, Money, and My Sanity

The Stain Removal Trick That Saves Kids Clothes, Money, and My Sanity

johanna eating in highchair

This was a good night. A really good night.

Johanna LOVES to eat. With her fingers. Exactly what we are eating. While yanking off her bib.

My three year old still desperately needs a bib at mealtimes, though he fights it. My 5 1/2 year old ought to wear one permanently. Just for walking, talking and breathing. Here’s her shirt from today:

abbies shirt with paint

Again, this was a good day. Only a few small paint stains? Bravo! Hip hip hooray!

For the longest time, I was just losing it over the daily clothing massacre that was occurring in our household. It felt so needless, so wasteful, yet I seemed to be powerless to put an end to it.

I’ve been using natural stain removers for a long time, and I was coming to grips with the fact that they just didn’t seem to cut it. Oh yes, I carefully sorted through the dirty clothes, pre-treated everything while I got my piles of laundry ready to go and my washer filled up. It didn’t matter, though. Inevitably there was at least one permanent stain left behind for all of the others that came out each time I did laundry.

I wasn’t willing to switch to something stronger and more chemical-filled. I also couldn’t afford to keep replacing my children’s clothing.

spray bottle closeup

This little spray bottle became the answer to my dilemma.

There’s nothing particularly fancy about it. It is filled up with:

I’ve also made this work using my homemade stain remover, but I’ve decided that ultimately the Bac-Out works just a little better and is just as cost-effective because I buy it when it goes on sale and I water it down by half.

spray bottle on dresser

Here’s my trick:

I got my husband to buy three of these little bottles at the dollar store one day. I decided that I needed to put them in 3 important places:

  1. The kid’s bedroom
  2. Our bedroom
  3. The laundry room

My line of thinking is this: When you use chemical stain removers (like Shout or similar) you can usually just apply them 5 minutes before you wash, giving them a good spray or scrub, etc. These powerful removers can work quickly like that.

Natural stain removers don’t work like that. They need time to work and they need to be applied right away.

I was initially concerned about using an enzyme-cleaner like Bac-Out and leaving it sitting on our clothes for possibly days before I got around to washing them. It hasn’t been a problem. I have not noticed any marks or wearing out of clothes in places where I have sprayed them and let them sit.

spraying abbies shirt

Here’s me spraying Abbie’s paint-adorned shirt tonight, up in our family closet, where we keep everyone’s clothes together (look for an upcoming video of how we’ve organized our family closet!).

(Note that I am too busy taking a picture to actually spray the stain.)

Nothing dirty is allowed to go into the hamper without being looked over and sprayed first. That’s my new rule. Then they sit as long as they sit. Half a day, 5 days, it doesn’t seem to really make a difference.

The end result?

When I do actually focus my aim and pre-treat all stains immediately when clothes come off (or even immediately after the stain occurs, if I catch it that fast), something miraculous happens in the wash. Even in the cold water, natural detergent wash.

Stains come out! Hallelujah, jubilee!

It works for me, it will work for you, too. Get thee to a dollar store, get as many bottles as you have bedrooms, fill them with Bac-Out (or your favorite natural stain remover) and spray away. Soon you will be singing “oh happy day” along with me.

How do YOU ensure that stains come out of your children’s clothes, without using strong chemicals, and without taking a lot of time and effort to get them out?

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  1. Okay, I have been fighting a losing battle with stains on my kids clothing recently too. I’ve tried all different types of natural stain removers and like you said, sometimes they work great, but other times, for whatever reason, the stain just doesn’t come out.

    Bac-out has been on my list of things to buy the next time I place an online order, because I haven’t been able to find it in stores around here, and I have been thinking that maybe I need to pre-treat stains right away to have a higher chance of the stains being removed. You have just given me the kick I need to do both!!

  2. my kids just wore stained clothes! Nowadays, with older kids (youngest is 7) and less stains I use my homemade soap for all our stains. I want to try some of the ideas that were on that chart contributor guest post a while back but for most everything my homemade soap works fabulously. I just hand scrub it, even after the laundy has been sitting for a few days with great success.
    Another idea for little ones is to just strip off their shirts while eating. My sis-in-law did this for years. no clothes, no stains!

  3. Aaaakkk! I have been losing the battle lately w/stains. Just yesterday I washed my toddler’s shirt that he’d gotten pen ink all over (I forgot to even spray anything on it…not that what I’ve been spraying would have worked anyway) and there were the stains still when I was folding it.

    Of course kicking myself ensued.

    This post is just in time to save my hiney any more pain (and my kids’ shirts any more carnage) – I need to try something better than what I’ve been using….where o WHERE can I get this Bac-Out stuff???


  4. I’ve been soaking stained clothes in a large bowl of cold water with natural oxygen powder. I let them soak for 2-3 days, then wash and hang in the sun. This works great, and it’s amazing for old stains, even on clothes that have been put in the dryer stained. A friend gave me a ton of adorable, pricey baby clothes and some of them had spit-up or other stains, but the oxy-soak method took them all out. I would like something that didn’t require a giant bowl of soaking clothes in my kitchen though, and Bac-out was also recommended for soaking mama cloth, so I guess I’ll finally break down and get some. 🙂 Thanks for the tip!

  5. I have a spray bottle of distilled white vinegar that I use. I keep it in the laundry room and I just spray when I see a stain (as soon as they happen, if I catch them in the moment) We mostly wear cotton and this seems to work on pretty much everything – though it hasn’t worked on ink, sharpie marker, or grass stains. But, then again, I don’t know of too many chemical things that work on those either.

    Love the idea of having small spray bottles in strategic spots. Great tip!

    1. @Kara,

      Hairspray works great on ink and even helps on sharpie (but it’s hit or miss if it gets the sharpie all the way out)

  6. My kids just wear stained clothes, or they get donated, or if they are really bad, they get turned into rags or pieces for sewing projects! Stain removal has never seemed worth the extra effort or expense unless a clothing item is really special. We buy almost all of our clothes at consignment shops and garage sales, so nothing is sacred! I like the diluted bac-out idea for special items! 🙂

  7. Stephanie, thanks so much for sharing this! I had thought that I had to just deal with stains on some clothes since I didn’t want to use toxic stain removers any more, but I’m going to give this a try! I do have separate ‘play’ and ‘nice’ clothes for the kids, and I’m a little more careful about what they eat/play when they’re in nicer clothes, that’s cut back on the stains a little bit. But life happens too!

  8. Great idea! I hate using Shout, but that’s the only one that seems to work. Which type of Bac-Out do you use? I notice there are a variety of cleaners for “different uses.”

  9. We love Bac-out! But, if you want to avoid the work of getting out stains, try wearing “aprons” at meal times. My cousin does this with her 10 yo daughter. Now her daughter even suggests it when mom forgets.

  10. Thanks so much for this post! I have been fighting the same battle with our clothes. I want to keep them looking nice, but hate that it seemed I was always nagging the kids to eat more carefully, etc. Two questions:

    1) Which bac-out did you use? The like had several types listed.

    2) Have you used this on khaki clothes? I noticed on some chemical stain treaters it says not to let it sit too long on khaki items (otherwise they fade a bit in that area.)

    Thanks! 🙂

  11. i lurk on here a lot, and i haven’t commented before. but i just had to chime in on this one. my son is brutal on his clothes. but i’ve found i can get most of the stains out with 2 things: boiling water and sunlight. most stains, hanging them out in the sun seems to do the trick, as long as you don’t throw them in the dryer first. for the ones that don’t comeout with this, mainly things like berry stains, i wet them when it happens, and then after he goes to bed, i boil a stockpot of water and either swish them around in there for a few minutes or just pour the water over them, before washing them and then hanging them out to dry. gets it almost everytime. it’s amazing how it just washes right out. a few more stubborn stains i’ve scrubbed with dish soap or bar soap before washing and that really seems to do it too. 🙂

  12. For stubborn stains and heat set grease stains that you miss and then run through the dryer “Aargh” –I use Citra Solve concentrate. it is an orange based cleaner sold in most health food stores. One drop of this stuff is all it takes and i can do it right before the clothes go in the dryer. I am notorious for splattering my clothing with oil while making dinner and this stuff takes it right out. I don’t dilute it at all. I just take a little bottle and stick a pinhole in it so that I can drip it where it needs to go. It takes out blood, oil, and most organic stains. It also will get rid of sticker residue that has been cooked into a shirt that was washed with the name tag on. 🙂 It also makes your laundry smell like fresh oranges.

  13. I’ve been using this same “remedy” for stains for the past couple of years. It’s great! Lately, I’ve just been getting their concentrated “All-Purpose” cleaner, since it’s often easier to find (and on sale) more than the Bac-Out, and it works great, too. I get mine from Azure Standard.

    Michele 🙂

  14. Thanks for this post! I have not been too thrilled with the homemade stain remover, but maybe not letting it sit long enough was part of the problem too. I would never admit this, but I have been known to lecture my husband on the necessity of bibs on my 1-year-old and cringe slightly whenever my boys get really “into” their crafts or playing outside. I was just telling my husband the other day, while folding laundry, how hard I work to find inexpensive clothing and how I don’t have the time or the money to keep buying new things.
    Hopefully your solution with change our laundry life (and our marriage, ha ha)! 🙂

  15. Okay, I could have easily written this post word for word…well except the part when you give us a solution to the problem 🙂

    Thank you so much. We LOVE Bac-Out around here!

  16. I sometimes think I need a permanent bib. Oh wait, I just call it an apron! 😉

    Thanks for the tip!

  17. Thank you for taking time to post this practical tip! I have been searching for a better method for treating stains. I love the simplicity of this.

    (I also can’t wait to see how you’ve reorganized your family closet! I need help in that area, too!)

    Thanks, Stephanie!

  18. THANK YOU! I have been in analysis paralysis for a couple weeks after my last bottle of Resolve ran out and I couldn’t bring myself to purchase another chemical-filled stain remover. Now I know exactly what to do to rid my house of stained clothing. And it’s not just children’s clothes around here — my toddler’s favorite sign of affection is to bury her face into my shoulder, and the more messy the face the more likely she is to do it!

  19. I love the humor and practical advice in this post! I can’t remember the last time my daughter did not stain her clothes in a days time. One more baby step towards a more natural home. I think I am making progress! Thanks for the help in that direction.

  20. Good to know! I have Bac-Out which I have used for getting stinks out of cloth diapers. Have used it on carpet stains too but hadn’t thought to put it on as an early pre-treatment for clothes. I’ll definitely be trying it…have been having stain issues as well. Oh, and I originally bought mine at Whole Foods but have seen it at my local grocer, Kroger, for a good price too which is much more convenient for us.

  21. Thank you for sharing! I will have to try this, although I don’t know where I would find Biokleen where I live. I’ve also tried other natural stain removers with NO results (not even any stain removal at all).

    So…I’ve also felt this frustration. I asked a lot of people for advice (people who live more naturally) and finally came up with something that works for us. I love that both my methods also seem to work on OLD stains, even ones that are set in by the dryer! I use two things. One is powdered “Safe Bleach” by Soap works also known as powdered hydrogen peroxide (mine also has washing soda in it, since it was the best deal, but I’ve also tried Ecover’s powdered non chlorine “bleach” and nature clean’s and they work similarly). I put a container with as hot water as I can get away with and sprinkle in about 2 teaspoons of the powdered safe bleach. Then about the same of my regular natural laundry detergent. Then I swish to dissolve. Then I add the stained item, making sure its immersed the stain well. It usually takes a few hours, but sometimes I have to change the water and try it again. 99% of the time I don’t do it twice, and mostly, it sits there about a day until I go back to it, the stain is gone. It does NOT work with grease stains though.

    For grease stains (I really don’t know where they come from at our house. I noticed throw up, once washed and dried, leaves a grease stain, as does breast milk. But we (mainly me, maybe its the breast milk) get this daily). I use dish soap, or I use Dr Bronner’s Sal Suds. I did notice that Sal Suds contain SLS (after I bought it) which really surprised me, but they do mention they believe its safe in this way…I don’t know. I’ll go back to just dish soap and see when this bottle is finished.

  22. Oh I also wanted to know, I’ve noticed online here and there people using this same Bac-out for stinkies in cloth diapers. Is it safe for all cloth diapers, fleece, PUL etc? How do people use it? Does it last de-stinked? I have occasional issues with my cloth diapers…but its wierd since its not consistent.

  23. Would you recommend spraying your clothes ahead of time with your homemade stain remover or just prior to washing. I looked at your recipe for that and would also like to try that one out.

  24. Oh my goodness! This might be the best post yet – I hate seeing ruined clothes, but my daughter is a messy eater, a rough and tough player and a budding artist. Stains happen ALL-THE-TIME and I feel helpless… The natural stuff doesn’t cut it and I refuse to use chemicals – so, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!

  25. I’ve tried Bac-out before but I have actually found that Hydrogen Peroxide works the best for me and it’s not as expensive. I’am not sure if you consider that a chemical or not but I do know that Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions says you can use it on your veggies to clean them so it can’t be that bad right?

  26. I usually just put a bit of concentrated laundry soap right on the stain, scrub a little (perhaps with a pinch of water) and then wash normally. Usually does the trick for me! 🙂

  27. I’m sooo trying that for my four little messies!

    Oh, and how do you use Bac Out for cloth diaper stinkies? Like still smelling some poop kind of stinkies. I’m having that issue all the time lately. I’ve tried stripping and changing detergents and natural soaps and everything. Water softener, you name it. I have moderately hard well water and a front loader. Any advice? A year ago I started using pocket diapers when before I’d only had cotton prefolds and Bummis covers. Don’t remember having major stink issues with those.

        1. @Jodi, I do have stink issues with my diapers, but it’s minor. I If I use Bac-Out in the diaper wash (which I don’t very often) it’s maybe 1/4 cup (I don’t measure) in the first cold wash, so that they get rinsed really thoroughly in the hot wash after I use it.

  28. I LOVE Bac-Out! It smells so good! But this idea is absolutely brilliant for this mom of 9! I have all sorts of little spray bottles that I’m going to press into service. And I’m so glad to know that watering the Bac-Out down works, too. I had done that for the little people to clean bathrooms so they wouldn’t go through too much. However, I thought it had to be full-strength. Woohoo! (happy dance)

  29. So, is bac-out all natural?

    We use shout just because we couldn’t find anything else decent enough and I got tired of trying things that I wouldn’t ever use again. BUT, I just bought my girls (3 and 1 year old) the cutest new outfits and guess what…they immediately got stains on the tops. ARGH! I shouted them out (the spray, not verbally…although thought about it!) and the stain is still there. Not as obvious but still there and they were bRAND new :*(

  30. Oh.. This is so awesome.. Now only if I knew how to get my hands on it here in india.. Or is there a substitute that I can look for? I’ve been scrubbing the clothes as soon as they get dirty but it doesn’t always work, especially when we’ve done baking and my toddler’s liked the batter bowl clean:-0
    Please, does anyone know how I can substitute Bac-Out or get something similar here?? Thanks!!

  31. I picked up Bac-Out this weekend from Whole Foods, looking forward to testing it out on ALL of our clothes. Our daughter manages to get stains on both hers, my husbands, and my clothes too!

  32. I LOVE your new rule! Looks like I’ll be breaking out my beloved laminating machine to stick this one on our hamper! Soon, our whole house will be plastered full of these lovely little “reminders” 🙂

  33. Great idea! My friend and I have a laundry service from our homes. We normally try to use a white vinegar mixture on stains. I think I’ll try this out at my house and maybe start using it on client clothes as well. I love the idea of having a bottle near each laundry basket! Thanks for sharing.
    Philadelphia Laundry Care

  34. Hello everybody. I was wondering where to get bac out in california?? Also, would bac out work on automotive greases?? I spaced out and wore my favorite white shirt while doing a motor swap :'( I’ve soaked it, scrubbed with blue Dawn dish soap, washed with cascade dishwasher powder/vinegar/bleach/gain powdered detergent. I didn’t want to use bleach, but wanted to try and get the stains out before they set in. The shirt is still bright white, but has light gray stains that used to be black. It looks OK but it was a Christmas gift, and although it is a car show shirt, is my favorite shirt. I want to make it look like it never happened. Thank you all for any and all advice 🙂

  35. Can you tell me more details about your stain remover? When I go to the product page, there are several types of products. Can you narrow it down? Thank you!

  36. I had never heard of this. I picked it up yesterday at WF. The old stain on one of my favorite camisols is almost gone. Another few hours of soaking and I’ll be able to wear it again!

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