A cotton shirt at the Gap runs about $50, while a sofa at Ikea can easily cost $400. Carpet your living room with a $2.59 per square foot variety from Home Depot, and materials could run $800. You don't want these items ruined by a careless tip of a wine glass or a rogue child with a marker.
Becoming a whiz at stain removal and prevention helps you stretch the life of those items and avoid spending money on a replacement, says Carolyn Forte, director of the home appliances and cleaning products lab at Good Housekeeping magazine. "Maintenance cleaning" helps too, she says: It's "going to prolong your investment."
If picking up this life skill means you can replace fewer shirts, skip a few trips to the dry cleaner, or avoid buying a slipcover for your sofa, you can save $150 a year, easy. Here are some expert tips:
Limit the stain's power. Cleaning expert Melissa Maker, host of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube, says the important thing is to start working on a stain as early as possible, which can help curb the damage. "You want to remove whatever you can," says Maker. For example, use the dull edge of a knife to scrape off cheese, wax, or peanut butter. For the leftover stain, "take a paper towel and press, but not rub, and move the towel a few times so you get a clean area."
Know your stain type. The best way to treat a stain depends on the substance that caused it. Stains fall into three main categories, Maker says: There's oil/fat (like butter or olive oil), protein (like milk or blood), and tannins (like juice and wine).
"For a tannin stain, hot water works very well, but if it's a fat or a protein, use cold water," she says.
Find the right stain remover. Maker likes to use a high-quality eucalyptus essential oil called Thursday Plantation. "This will work on almost any material. Not silk, but any cotton or polyester," she says. "It's a solvent and it will help remove stains. Throw it into the wash and it should come out clean. If not, you can do it a second time."
Be prepared to experiment. "People can get discouraged when they don't get something out the first time," says Maker. "But I've gone back and then a stain comes right out, so be patient."
Stop stains before they happen. Upholstery stains can be trickier than clothes, because they can soak through to areas that are tough to clean. Unless your couch cushions have removable covers, for example, you can't toss them in the washing machine.
"What I would focus on is preventative treatments," says Maker. "If you are having people over where you know there might be food passed around, you might want to take some blankets that are nice enough and casually drape them over the upholstery. That way you have a layer to absorb any drops, and the sofa can be safe. So it's a nice, cozy solution."
This also goes for any potentially messy activities, like letting your kids make an art project or bringing in a pro to give the living room a fresh coat of paint. "I paint my nails on the sofa, and I set up a towel," she says. "Just make sure you have something that you don't care about and use that as prevention. It's always easier to prevent than to fix."
Test cleaning methods before you commit. Before you attack a stain on your upholstery directly, "you have to test it in a hidden area first to make sure it works with your particular fabric," Maker says. Otherwise you risk that the treatment will create more noticeable damage than the stain.
"Mix dish soap and hydrogen peroxide in equal parts, and apply to the surface," she says. "Use a very small amount, and once you blot it out you need a very thin amount on the stain." Apply the solution with a small, clean toothbrush, and use the mixture sparingly to avoid a leftover ring of product.
Stain protection starts at your front door. Forte says you should do whatever you can to keep outside dirt from touching your carpet: "Mats on the doors in and out. Shoes at the doors work great," she says. "When you think about what's on the bottom of your shoes, you don't want that in your house."
Take extra care with pet stains. "Make sure you get a pet and odor remover with enzymes so you tackle both the odor and the stain," she says. Forte notes this is particularly important because animals often return to the original location. She says Bissell's Professional Pet Stain and Odor Removing Formula carries the Good Housekeeping seal.
Move fast with wine stains. Forte says the Wine Away stain remover was tops during a GH testing and is great for red wine. If you're not prepared to tackle the stain immediately, she says, start by sprinkling salt on a stain to start the blotting. "The salt acts like an absorbent," she says: It won't eliminate the stain but it's helpful if you don't want to pause your holiday party to scrub the carpet.
Consider buying a steam cleaner. You could drop $200 on a steam cleaner and accessories, while renting one can cost you about $40 for a 48-hour session. But investing in a steam cleaner could save you money over time, especially if you have kids or pets.
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