Close-up of a white button-up shirt

How to Get Stains Out of White Clothes

A stain on white fabric is likely to catch your eye, but you can use this simple guide to help rescue your wardrobe. Discover which stain fighters can help lift everything from coffee to ketchup, five steps for removing stains and additional tips to get the most out of the process.

What are Ways to Remove Stains from White Clothing?

Enzyme-based detergents, stain removers and oxygen bleach are tried and tested go-tos for helping to remove stains from white clothes. The enzymes in detergent speed up chemical reactions to help break down stains and dirt, while oxygen bleach helps tackle stains on both colored and white fabrics.

You can also try using household staples like baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide or degreasing dishwashing liquid to help remove stains, but don’t mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide together. For instance, you can massage a paste of baking soda, salt and hydrogen peroxide into stained fabric and let it sit prior to washing.For grease, oil or oil-based makeup stains, gently work dish soap into the stain, allow it to sit, then rinse it out before washing.

Always refer to your clothing’s care tag and washer owner’s manual before you treat a stain with non-detergent substances. Some additives shouldn’t go in your washer, and certain types of fabric may not tolerate these household remedies.

Removing Stains From White Clothes: A Step-by-Step Guide

You can conquer nearly any stain when you follow the five steps below. Read on to learn how to help fade stains from white clothes, including when to treat a stain, how to prep your clothing and which stain-fighters to use. Always refer to your clothing’s care tag before treating a stain.

  • Paper towel or cloth

  • Enzyme detergent or stain remover

  • Cold water

  • Chlorine or oxygen bleach

  • Spoon or dull knife

  • Washing machine

T-shirt with a stain icon

Step 1: Remove Excess Residue

Blotting, flushing or scraping away excess residue can help prevent the stain from spreading while you pretreat the area. Spills like spaghetti sauce, mud, chocolate or makeup can leave thick residue on your clothing, so start by using a spoon or dull knife to scrape off any clumps. Blot—rather than rub—excess residue from oil and grease stains, or rinse with cold water from the underside of your clothes to help flush out blood, red wine, coffee, juice or tomato splatters.

Clock icon

Step 2: Act Quickly

Treating the stain right away gives it less time to settle into the fabric, so it’s wise to tackle a stain as soon as you see it. When immediate care isn’t an option, remove excess residue then soak your clothes in a mixture of water and laundry detergent until you can get to them.

Enzyme icon

Step 3: Pretreat with an Enzyme Detergent

Pretreating can help break apart a stain before it goes through the washer. Apply an enzyme detergent or stain remover directly to the stained area and let it sit for several minutes, or soak the stain in a water and detergent mixture. For delicate fabrics like silk or wool, mix a gentle detergent with cold water, pour the mixture over the stained part of the garment and use your fingers to squeeze the water through the fabric.

Water and thermometer icon

Step 4: Wash in Warm Water

Most types of stains require pretreating with cold water, but sometimes—as with coffee and ink stains—washing your clothes in the warmest water possible after pre-treatment can help eliminate the stain completely. If the care tag permits it, add chlorine or oxygen bleach to the load to help boost stain-fighting power, then wash the garment in the warmest water recommended for the fabric.

Repeat icon

Step 5: Check the Stain and Repeat

One round of this process can often do the trick, but you may need to repeat it to try to get rid of the stain for good. After treatment, remove your clothes from the washer and check the stained area. Heat can set the stain, so avoid putting your clothes in the dryer if the stain is still visible. Instead, repeat steps one through four above.

Person pouring detergent over white shirt Person pouring detergent over white shirt

Tips for Trying to Get Stains Out of White Clothes

Simple tricks like treating the stain as quickly as possible, pretreating with cold water and working from the outside in can help you contain and eliminate nearly any stain. During the pretreatment process, make sure to rinse stains from the inside out, as this helps drive the stain out of the fabric rather than further into the fibers. 

If you’re not sure how a stain remover may impact the fabric, apply the stain remover on an inside seam or hidden part of the clothing before using it on the stained area.

Close-up of purple stain on a white shirt


Old stains that are set with time or heat may require a lengthy soak to help loosen the stain. Fill a sink with water (referencing your care tag and stain type to choose the water’s temperature), then mix in an enzyme detergent and allow the garment to soak for a few hours prior to washing. For delicate fabrics like wool, silk or leather, it’s best to let a professional handle stains.

Close-up of pit stain on a white dress shirt

How Do You Get Pit Stains Out of White Shirts?

You can try to remove pit stain discoloration with a soaking solution of white vinegar and water. Then, rinse thoroughly and apply a paste made from baking soda, salt and hydrogen peroxide.


First, mix 2 cups of water and 1 cup of white vinegar, then soak your shirt for 30 minutes. Thoroughly rinse and squeeze out the solution, then apply a paste made of ½ cup of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide to the stain. Let the mixture soak for 20 minutes, then wash your shirt using the warmest water temperature setting your garment’s care tag allows. Hang your shirt out to dry (as heat from the dryer can set any lingering stains).

If the sweat stains are still visible once the shirt dries, repeat the process above until they’re gone. Use this guide to learn about treating any lingering deodorant stains and remember to refer to your clothing’s care tag and washer’s user manual before using non-detergent additives.

Chocolate popsicle next to a dress with a brown popsicle stain

How Do You Get Dark Stains Out of White Clothes?

A dark stain can feel like the end for the whites in your wardrobe, but it doesn’t have to be. Tackle dark stains like chocolate or barbeque sauce by scraping off excess residue with a spoon or dull knife, then turning the garment inside out and flushing the stain with cool water. 


Next, spot-treat the stain with an enzyme detergent (or soak it in cool water mixed with laundry detergent) before washing it in the warmest water recommended on your care tag. You can add chlorine or oxygen bleach to the load, if permitted by your care tag, to help remove stains. 


Avoid putting your clothes in the dryer until you know the stain is completely gone, since the dryer’s heat can set stains. Instead, air dry the garment, then check the area. If it’s still visible, repeat the process.

Ketchup stain on white canvas fabric

How Do You Remove Tomato Stains from White Clothes

Treat unplanned pops of color—like ketchup or spaghetti sauce—on your whites using a spoon, cold water, a paper towel and stain remover. First, scrape excess residue from the stain using a spoon or dull knife, then blot the area with a paper towel or cloth. Rinse the stain from the back of your clothes with cold water. 

Treat the stain with an enzyme detergent, stain remover or liquid dish soap. Let it sit for at least five minutes, then rinse and air dry your clothes. Repeat the steps above if the stain lingers. If it’s gone, you’re all set to wash your clothing in the warmest water recommended on your care tag. Line dry your clothes to ensure the stain is completely gone, as heat drying sets stains.

Close-up of coffee stain on white shirt

How Do You Get Coffee Stains Out of White Clothes?

Your morning pick-me-up may find its way onto your outfit, but a few simple steps can help eliminate coffee stains and get your clothes ready for the next wear. Rinse your clothes in cold water to flush out as much of the stain as you can, then apply an enzyme detergent and let it sit for several minutes. 


Wash your clothing in the warmest water recommended by the care tag and add chlorine or oxygen bleach to the load for extra stain-fighting power. If the stain lingers, repeat the process, then air dry your clothes to make sure the stain is completely gone, to avoid setting the stain in the dryer.

Explore Maytag® Washers

You can fight everyday tough stains with the help of Maytag® washers. Select models feature a built-in water faucet that lets you rinse, spot-treat or soak clothes right in the washer. Plus, the Extra Power button on some models boosts stain-fighting on any wash cycle with an intense pre-wash and extra agitation.

Discover More from Maytag Brand

Was this article helpful? Pass it on