It’s that time when the entertaining begins. The food! The wine! The mess! Yes, it’s the season of stains — on your clothes, your furniture, even your carpet. To get you prepared for the holiday spills and smudges, we thought we’d try out some popular stain removers that promise quick and easy ways to remove even stubborn stains.
Stain sticks seem to be the shtick of the season, so we decided to check out the Clorox Bleach Pen, Procter & Gamble’s Tide to Go pen, and S. C. Johnson & Sons’ Shout Wipes. They all retail for around $3. But how well do they work? Their commercials were so tempting, so we tried them out.
We purchased four white T-shirts. I then had the dirty job of staining each with mustard, red wine, ketchup and coffee. We then asked one of our “Today” interns, Adrienne McKee, to read the directions on the products and to start getting rid of those nasty stains.
First we tried the Shout Wipes. Their commercial touts: “New Shout wipes now wipe out stains wherever you go. Just rub on the help remove stains in a matter of seconds.” Well, in our experiment that wasn’t exactly the case. Adrienne’s take? “It looks like it didn’t work at all,” she said. You could clearly see the each of them, especially the coffee and mustard. The makers of Shout Wipes, S. C. Johnson & Sons, declined to comment on our findings.
OK, so onto the next stain buster. Tide to Go is sold as an “instant” stain stick remover. This time Adrienne went to work on the next T-shirt with the same stains. She worked hard pressing pen marks and food into the fabric. After using some elbow grease, the stains were lighter, but still visible. Adrienne’s take this time? “It says instant stain remover and it didn’t quite get all of it out” she said. “I would not want to wear this shirt out.”
Proctor and Gamble, the makers of Tide to Go did offer us a comment: “Our extensive internal and independent testing both have confirmed that Tide to Go works well, if used according the packaging directions, on fresh food and drink stains … like: coffee, BBQ sauce, ketchup, tea, wine, chocolate syrup and grape juice. Mustard is one of the toughest to remove.”
Don’t give up hope, yet. Our last product the Clorox Bleach Pen was a winner! Unlike the others, this was a pre-treater and only works on whites. After Adrienne covered the stains with the Clorox, we tossed it in the washing machine. Adrienne’s take this time? “It did a great job, it definitely works,” she said.
Please keep in mind that we tried these stain removers just once on each T-shirt and that this is by no means a scientific test. Consumer Reports, a consumer-oriented magazine, tried Tide to Go and Shout Wipes and found that they did work on some stains, but not all of them.
If you don’t need “instant” results, we did some research and found other ways people swear by removing stains.
- Lipstick: Use nail polish remover
- Blood: Use cold water only, dishwashing detergent and hydrogen peroxide (a mild bleach)
- Coffee and chocolate: Use one teaspoon of white wine vinegar on one quart of cold water. Sponge on stain and wipe clean. (Make sure to never let a coffee stain set in. The longer it sets, the worse off you are.)
- Ink: rubbing alcohol removes ink off most surfaces, but give it 30 minutes before wiping clean.
- Gum and wax: Freeze gum with and ice cube. Ice hardens making removal easy.
Janice Lieberman's Bottom Line: The biggest mistake people make is using hot water or putting a stained shirt in the dryer. Heat sets stains and makes it much more difficult.
Janice Lieberman is the “Today” show’s consumer correspondent. She joined NBC News as a consumer reporter in 1999. She is author of “Tricks of the Trade: A Consumer Survival Guide.” She is a graduate of Rutgers University.