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Originally published Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Some of Grandma's remedies are still good stain removers

Stain removers rooted in the past may still be good options. Housekeeping experts offer their favorite remedies and tips for ousting stains.

The Associated Press

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Unusual remedies

THE KITCHEN PANTRY may hold a good solution to stains and sticky situations.

Mayonnaise: Time to say goodbye to that "Nixon for President" bumper sticker on your car. Slather the sticker in mayo. Let sit for several minutes so the mayo dissolves the glue. The sticker will wipe off.

Cooking spray: Tired of tossing plastic containers because you can't remove the red haze left behind by tomato sauces? Apply a light coating of nonstick cooking spray on the inside of the container before you load it up; wash as usual when through.

Ketchup: Brighten copper pots and pans using ketchup as a cheap tarnish remover. Coat the copper surface with a thin layer of ketchup and let sit for five to 30 minutes, depending on the severity of tarnish. Rinse and dry immediately.

Source: "Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things" from Reader's Digest

Stain busters

KEEP these stain-fighters handy:

Absorbents: Cornstarch, cornmeal and talcum powder sop up greasy stains.

Ammonia: Purchase the non-sudsy, unscented household version for removing dried blood, perspiration, juice, felt-tip pen, urine and other acid-based stains.

Bleach: Keep two types, chlorine and oxygen (all fabric). When in doubt, use the oxygen bleach. Never mix oxygen and chlorine bleaches. They cancel each other out. And never mix chlorine bleach and ammonia to avoid potentially hazardous fumes!

Glycerine: Softens hardened stains on carpets and upholstery, can be purchased at pharmacies.

Hydrogen peroxide: Useful on stubborn stains that include bird droppings, feces and chocolate. Use a 3 percent solution.

Rubbing alcohol: Removes pencil, mascara and colored candle-wax residue.

Waterless hand cleaner: Good as a prewash for stubborn oil and grease stains.

White vinegar: Particularly effective on old perspiration stains and for neutralizing pet stains and odors on carpets and upholstery.

Source: "Good Housekeeping Stain Rescue! The A-Z Guide to Removing Smudges, Spots & Other Spills"

Stain rules

FABRIC STAINS CAN BE TRICKY. Using the wrong remedy may set the stain permanently. Some rules to clean by:

Read up: Check labels before proceeding.

Stock up: Keep treatments and tools on hand.

Color: Find a hidden spot and check for colorfastness.

Be quick: Timely treatment boosts success.

Soak: Loosen it up before treating.

Pretreat: The best-case scenario is to completely remove a stain before laundering.

No dryer: Completely remove stain before heat drying to avoid setting a stain for life.

Out of town: Take along a stain stick. Can usually be left on for up to a week.

Patience: Treatment may need redoing to remove a stain.

Source: Housekeeping Stain Rescue! The A-Z Guide to Removing Smudges, Spots & Other Spills

Back in the dark ages — 1977 — I trooped off to college with a "homemaking" chart from my grandmother offering cheap, quick and easy ways to tackle life's scum, smears, glop and spills.

Quick and easy, that is, if you happen to know what oxalic acid is or keep Javelle water on hand. Well, turns out oxalic acid is a rust remover and Javelle water is a bleach, both valid remedies for stains today.I still have my grandmother's now-yellowed tips using everyday fare from the fridge, pantry and medicine chest as the first line of defense against stains. Though carpets, fabrics, countertops and floorings are more sophisticated, home-based stain rescues remain immensely popular.

Versatile, handy remedies

"People would love one magic wand and that obviously doesn't exist," said Carolyn Forte, home appliance and cleaning products director for the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. "Know your fabrics, know what kind of stain it is. There's a little bit of science and a lot of luck behind it."

Getting a stain up fast will swing the luck part in your favor. Cornstarch, cornmeal and talcum powder are absorbents and will work on greasy stains, for example. For stains on upholstery and carpets, reach for a bleach-free, lanolin-free liquid hand dishwashing detergent — a surprisingly versatile stain fighter.

"One surprise for me was liquid dish soap," said Jaimee Zanzinger, editor of Real Simple magazine's guide, "Real Simple Cleaning" ( Real Simple, $21.95). "Just your basic hand liquid with no coloring agents. Degreasers can be dangerous on certain surfaces, but the plain kind is safe on everything and dirt cheap. You can clean your windows, your marble countertops. Using products that you already have lying around the house to do your dirty work is kind of a no-brainer."

For some of spring's toughest challenges, try eradicating grass stains with a solution of water, white vinegar and liquid dish soap, or apply a paste of vinegar and baking soda on ring-around-the-collar before throwing it into the wash. Baking soda also works well to rid washable surfaces of crayon.

While my grandmother likely fell back on home remedies for lack of reliable commercial products, we now have shelves and shelves of choices. Cold water on a fresh blood stain works beautifully, but protein-fighting enzyme pre-washes and detergents work well, too, and may be easier.

Proceed with caution

Forte suggests proceeding "slowly, cautiously and smartly" when it comes to home remedies for stains. Read care and product labels, and always test a remedy on a small spot first. What works on a soft drink stain on a T-shirt may not be the right approach for the same spill on your carpet.

Also keep an open mind. Some people see club soda as a miraculous stain fighter, but Forte said there's no scientific basis for its popularity other than it's usually on hand so a stain is treated quickly. Tap water is cheaper and works just as well, she said.

Some of today's stains may be too tough for home remedies and commercial cleaners alike.

"Long-lasting lipsticks are a nightmare," Forte said. "They last on your lips and they last on your clothes."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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