Your ultimate (Scientific) guide to treating different stains

How to remove red wine stains, and other stains from your clothing

About this article

Do you ever wonder why some stains come out with ease, while others seem to cling to your clothes like they’re in it for the long haul?

In this article, we’re going to embark on a stain-busting adventure and explore the fascinating chemistry behind those pesky spots on your favorite garments.

Laundry day might not sound like the most thrilling activity, but understanding the science behind stains can actually make it a lot more fun. So, grab your lab coats (or maybe just your trusty stain remover), and let’s dive into the world of stainology!


  1. 3 Main Stain Categories
  2. How to treat different stain types
  3. The Miracle of Enzymes
Laundromat's guide on stain removal from clothing

Stains can be classified into three main categories

Before we start unraveling the secrets of stain removal, let’s cover the basics.

  • Protein-Based Stains: These are usually from organic sources like food, blood, and sweat. Think of that spaghetti sauce splash or the occasional mishap with your morning coffee.
  • Oil-Based Stains: These are the result of grease, oil, or oily substances like makeup or salad dressing. They can be quite persistent and are often seen on clothing collars and cuffs.
  • Tannin-Based Stains: This category includes substances like red wine, tea, and coffee. They’re notorious for leaving behind dark, unsightly marks.
Easy ways to treat stains

How To Treat Different Stain Types & The Chemistry Behind Stain Removal

Different stains require different treatments because they’re made up of various molecules that interact differently with water, soap, and other cleaning agents.

Protein-Based Stain Removal

When it comes to those spaghetti sauce splatters at dinner, you’re dealing with protein-based stains.

These contain complex organic molecules that are soluble in cold water.

How to treat protein-based stains:

The secret here is to use cold water to rinse and pre-treat these stains before tossing them in the wash.

Don’t use warm water! This can actually set protein stains, making them harder to remove.

Oil-Based Stain Removal

Grease and oil stains are a bit sneakier.

They repel water, which makes them difficult to get rid of using regular detergent.

How to treat oil-based stains:

To tackle Oil-Based Stains, you’ll want to use a grease-cutting agent, like dish washing soap or a dedicated stain remover.

Apply it generously, let it sit for a few minutes, and then wash as usual.

The soap will help break down the oils, allowing your regular detergent to do its job.

Tannin-Based Stain Removal

That red wine stain on your white shirt may seem like a lost cause, but fear not!

How to tannin-based stains:

Tannin-based stains can often be vanquished with a combination of cold water and a bit of salt.

Rinse the stain under cold running water and sprinkle salt generously over it. The salt will absorb some of the color. Then, launder as usual.

You might need to repeat this process a couple of times, but victory is within reach!

Always Dab, Never Rub!

When dealing with stains, remember to be gentle.

Dab at the stain with a cloth or paper towel rather than rubbing it vigorously.

Rubbing can push the stain deeper into the fabric, making it even more stubborn.

The Miracle of Enzymes

Let’s talk about the unsung heroes of stain removal – enzymes!

Enzymes are natural molecules produced by living organisms, and they play a crucial role in breaking down stains.

In your laundry detergent, you’ll often find enzymes like amylase (for starches), protease (for proteins), and lipase (for fats and oils).

These little helpers target specific types of stains and break them down into smaller, more manageable components.

Next time you’re shopping for laundry detergent, take a closer look at the labels and opt for one with a good mix of enzymes. It can make a world of difference in stain removal.


We’ve peeled back the curtain on the fascinating world of stainology. Understanding the chemistry behind different types of stains can turn your laundry day into a thrilling adventure of stain-busting prowess.

So, the next time you encounter a stubborn stain, remember the basics – cold water for proteins, a touch of dish soap for oils, and some salt for tannins. And don’t forget to give a nod of appreciation to those trusty enzymes in your detergent.

With this newfound stain-fighting knowledge, you’re ready to take on any laundry challenge that comes your way. Happy laundering, and may your clothes stay spotless!

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