Are my white cotton clothes stained for good?
March 21, 2011 5:58 AM   Subscribe

How to remove washed-in tomato stains from white cotton?

I have an irritating habit of spilling tomoato-based foods on myself whenever I wear white. I've got a growing collecting of garments that I no longer wear because of the telling, pale orange stains. Everything I know about treating stains involves whipping your clothes off immediately, but I'm cursed to usually be in restaurants on holiday or hours away from home. By the time I get to the washer, it's too late. Are these clothes lost forever, or is there some secret way to get the stains out even after you've washes and dried them? Some of the garments are patterned, so bleaching would be tricky.
posted by londonmark to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Have you tried a long soak in Oxi-Clean? It seems to get everything out of my whites - I use it at twice the concentration that they recommend and end up soaking forever because I forget about it.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:02 AM on March 21, 2011

Direct sunlight will get out all tomato stains in about 30 minutes. The stronger the sunlight, the faster it goes. This is true for many fruit stains. Good luck.
posted by taff at 6:05 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Crud, just realised that you're in the UK so you've probably never even seen strong sunlight.....rewash in cold water and leave to dry in the closest approximation to sun you Poms can manage.

Or come down here for a visit and I'll do your washing for you.
posted by taff at 6:15 AM on March 21, 2011

I, too, have had amazing luck with removing old and washed-in stains with Oxi-Clean. Is it available in the UK?
posted by Andrhia at 6:55 AM on March 21, 2011

Two preventative tips:

A) good quality clothing will often resist staining

B) applying a degreasing-soap (like dish soap) soon after the spill will help. Even if 'ASAP' happens to be when you get home.
If you're worried the stain is stuck when it's time to wash the item, rinse it and apply more stain fighter -- it's actually going through the dryer that 'sets' stains . . .

Good luck!
posted by MeiraV at 7:49 AM on March 21, 2011

One of my biochemist friends used to work on laundry detergent formulations. She said (I can't find a link, sorry) that tomato stains are the result of colorless starch globs trapping the red pigments. To remove the visible stain, you need to break up the starch particles and remove them from the fabric.

Many laundry detergents contain enzymes that attack proteins and starches. Amylase is the enzyme used in detergents that attacks starch, so you want to find a detergent that contains amylase. Actually, I'd expect any detergent that contains enzymes will have amylase, even if it doesn't list the enzymes individually.

From what I can tell, Oxi-Clean (which several people have recommended upthread) contains enzymes. If you can't find this specific product in your area, look for any detergent that contains enzymes, which are the magic ingredient in fighting many stains. Biochemistry FTW!
posted by Quietgal at 9:09 AM on March 21, 2011

Thanks guys, you're awesome. I would definitely have tried the sunshine taff, but you're right to assume I don't have any to hand :) So I'm off to buy some Oxi-Clean and give that a go. I'll be amazed if it managed to remove my particular stains (some of them have been in and out of the wash a good few times since) but I've got my fingers crossed. I'll let you know how I get on.
posted by londonmark at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2011

The Oxi-Clean spray is quite wonderful stuff, but if you're dealing with an older, 'set in' stain on all-white clothes? Dye remover. Pretty gentle on the clothes, not like bleach. You can get it in discount department stores with the fabric dyes, and in craft stores. If the pattern is a printed one rather than dyed in the yarn, dye remover will likely leave the pattern unscathed, but that's definitely a 'test in an inconspicuous area first' sort of thing.
posted by kmennie at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2011

even though the stain is set, you've got nothing to lose by trying. I use a stain remover gel that can be left for a week before being put in the wash. When I had a dress with a shoe polish stain that just wouldn't go away, I'd put the stain gel on, throw it in with my current load, and check it when it came out. The stain would still be there, so I'd hang it up to dry and put the stain gel on it right then. I don't remember how many times I washed it, but eventually the stain did come out. if you've got a growing collection of stained stuff, try doing them as an additional load every time you do laundry; don't dry them in the washer again; put on the leave-in stain remover, and let them air dry, and just see what happens after a few washes. Good luck.
posted by lemniskate at 9:41 AM on March 21, 2011

For small stains on whites I've had good luck with the somewhat gimmicky bleach pen.
posted by GuyZero at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2011

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