17 Hardest Stains to Remove & Secrets for Getting Them Out

The most difficult stains to remove have nothing on you. Get them out with the right stain removers.

Published January 19, 2023
Father embracing daughter putting a dirty apron in the washing machine

Stains are everywhere! Those sneaky little devils can find their way onto any and everything. So, you're moving your couch... and bam! An unidentified stain just jumps out at you. You grab your go-to stain fighter and nothing. When old trusty isn't getting any results, you've probably ventured into the land of the hardest stains to remove. The lineup of these notorious stains ranges from delicious chocolate to that dazzling red nail polish you adore. These stains will fight you tooth and nail, but don't worry, you've got this.

Discover some of the hardest-to-remove pet, food, and product stains and how to knock them out of your carpet or favorite t-shirt in no time. You'll even get a few tricks to help make clean-up a little easier.

Hardest stains to remove infographic

Tough Pet & Human Stains and the Tricks to Remove Them

Stains aren't created equal. This is doubly true for human and pet stains. Why? Because they're a little different every time. Since the chemical makeup of blood and perspiration is unique to the person or pet, the stains themselves can be tricky. So, you're going to need a bit of persistence, a lot of know-how, and sheer cleaning power to defeat these stains completely.


Blood can be one of the most difficult stains to remove from your sheets, blankets, carpet, and furniture, especially if it's white. It has proteins that bind to the fabric, and its color is difficult to remove completely.

While blood is difficult to remove, it's not impossible. Grab white vinegar or enzyme cleaner to get the blood off your clothes, couch, or even counter.

  1. Clean up the blood as quickly as possible. Dried blood is harder to remove.
  2. Flush the area with cold water. (Warm or hot water can set the stain.)
  3. Spray down the area with white vinegar.
  4. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
  5. Blot and repeat until the stain is gone.

Pull out the enzyme cleaner if the white vinegar isn't cutting it. Follow the same instructions.


Those yellow armpit stains are typically a mixture of deodorant and perspiration, making them harder to remove. So grab some hydrogen peroxide and get to work.

  1. Mix hydrogen peroxide and a bit of laundry soap.
  2. Apply the mixture directly to the stain.
  3. Allow it to sit for 30 minutes.
  4. Rinse and repeat as needed.


The minute poop touches your carpet, upholstery, or clothing, it starts to stain. Act fast. All you need is white vinegar.

  1. Rinse away as much of the stain as you can.
  2. Add a few drops of dish soap, ½ cup white vinegar, and 2 cups water to a spray bottle.
  3. Apply it to the stained area.
  4. Blot and repeat until the stain is gone.

Urine Odors

Urine has acid in it, so it can damage textiles quickly both with staining and creating odor. You'll need baking soda and dish soap to combat it.

  1. Flush the area with water and dish soap.
  2. Apply baking soda.
  3. Let it sit as long as possible.
  4. Vacuum up the baking soda.

Best Natural Cleaners for Human and Pet Stains

A few common household items can clean most human and pet stains.

Stack of folded clean clothes with Eco bottles of detergent
  • White vinegar works well for most fabrics.
  • Hydrogen peroxide is best for white or light fabrics.
  • Detergent works best for clothes and upholstery.
  • Dish soap is best for carpets and upholstery.
  • Rubbing alcohol is best for leather and hard surfaces.
  • Baking soda works well for all fabrics.

Stubborn Food and Outdoor Stains to Treat

Food, grass, and mud stains - they happen to even the tidiest people. And if you have kids and pets, they happen daily. Get some quick tips and tricks for how to handle some of the hardest food and outdoor stains.


Coffee, tea, and fruit juices have tannins, which quickly stain. Coffee and tea also add heat, so they set into the fabric or surface quickly. To remove them, you'll need white vinegar and baking soda.

  1. Rinse the stain with cold water.
  2. Blot the area with straight white vinegar.
  3. Add baking soda.
  4. Allow it to sit for 30 minutes.
  5. Brush or vacuum away.


Grass stains can be very hard to get out, especially if you don't catch them right away. So for grass stains, use a Fels Naptha bar.

  1. Wet the bar.
  2. Rub it over the stain.
  3. Allow it to sit for 1 hour.
  4. Wash as normal.


While grease stains can be notoriously hard to remove because they aren't water-soluble, soak it up rather than trying to wash it out. Dawn dish soap and baking soda come in handy because Dawn breaks up grease, and baking soda absorbs it.

  1. Scrape off any remaining grease or oil.
  2. Rub equal parts of Dawn and baking soda over the stain.
  3. Allow it to sit for about 30 minutes.
  4. Remove any excess baking soda and rinse.

Hot Cocoa

Cocoa stains add the tannins from the chocolate, plus fats and sugar. While delicious, that's a frustrating stain combination. Turn to laundry detergent to get it out.

Young Boy Looking at Shirt's Food Stains
  1. Rinse with cold water.
  2. Apply heavy-duty laundry detergent right on the stain.
  3. Work it in with your fingers.
  4. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes.
  5. Blot with oxygen bleach if the stain remains.

Mustard & Turmeric Stains

Turmeric is an effective dye, and mustard stains are high in turmeric. Get right on the stain before it sets with laundry detergent, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap.

  1. Remove excess mustard and run cold water over the back of the stain.
  2. Add laundry detergent directly to the stain.
  3. Work it around the area and blot it up.
  4. Mix equal parts hydrogen peroxide and dish soap.
  5. Add it to the stain.
  6. Allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes.
  7. Rinse.

The hydrogen peroxide and dish soap method works well on most surfaces, including counters, couches, and carpets. Just remember, hydrogen peroxide can work as a bleaching agent.

Red Wine

Red wine is basically a dye. So, the minute red wine creeps onto your carpet or white blouse, it's already depositing colors. Strangely enough, you can grab the white wine to treat this stain.

  1. Blot the area with a paper towel.
  2. Pour white wine over the stain.
  3. Add baking soda to soak it up.
  4. Flush with water.

Tomato Sauce

Red stains are hard to remove. This is also true for tomato sauce stains like ketchup, spaghetti sauce, etc. These tomato stains are more concentrated and harder to remove when they make their way to the sofa or countertop. You'll need hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar and laundry detergent.

Dirty tomato sauce stain on white shirt
  1. Flush as much of the stain as you can.
  2. Apply hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar to the stain.
  3. Add laundry detergent and work it into the stain.
  4. Allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Blot with water.


Salt can be a nightmare on your carpets, clothes, and shoes in the winter. It mixes with the snow and seeps into your clothes, making that ugly white ring. Get rid of it with white vinegar.

  1. Mix a cup of cold water and a few tablespoons of white vinegar.
  2. Blot the area with a cloth.
  3. Let it soak overnight.
  4. Use a bristle brush or vacuum to brush it away.
  5. Wash as normal.

Tips to Remove the Hardest Product Stains

If food and waste weren't enough, you have tons of chemicals around your home that create some hard-to-remove stains. Among the top are dyes, inks, and makeup. These products are meant to be permanent or stay in place. But, when your toddler creates a Picasso on your wall, removal is necessary.


If hair dye lands on your bathroom sink or even your shirt, all hope isn't lost. But be prepared for a little elbow grease and a hard-fought battle. You'll need white vinegar, dish soap, a toothbrush, and baking soda.

  1. Flush the stain with water.
  2. Mix ¼ cup of white vinegar, 1 teaspoon dish soap, and 2 cups of water.
  3. Apply it to the stain.
  4. Work it in with a toothbrush.
  5. Allow it to soak for 30 minutes or more.
  6. Make a runny baking soda paste with water.
  7. Let it sit on the stain for 1 hour.
  8. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Ink/Permanent Marker

Remove permanent marker on fabric effectively with some rubbing alcohol. If it's on your walls, you can also try sunscreen.

  1. Apply the sunscreen to the wall in circular motions.
  2. Rub away.
  3. Repeat as needed.


Lipstick is greasy and pigmented - a combo makes for a mess when it falls into your lap or smears on your collar. Knowing how to clean it can save your wardrobe. You'll need dish soap, rubbing alcohol, and a cotton swab.

Lipstick Stain On Shirt
  1. Scrape off as much lipstick as you can.
  2. Apply dish soap (like Dawn) to the stain.
  3. Rub it in with your fingers.
  4. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
  5. Handle any remaining stain with a bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab.
  6. Rinse and repeat as needed.


Mascara is meant to stay put on your lashes all day long, so it has to be resilient. This makes dropping your mascara wand onto your carpet a code-blue situation. Thankfully, with a bit of tenacity and a lot of dish soap, you can remove mascara pretty easily.

  1. Create a 1:4 mixture of dish soap to water.
  2. Blot the area with the mixture until the stain is gone.
  3. Add white vinegar for stubborn stains.

Nail Polish

Nail polish can be notoriously hard to remove because it dries fast and has so much pigment to it. Rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover is a must.

  1. Blot the area with rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover.
  2. Use dish soap and water to handle any lingering stains.

Acetone can be harsh on carpets and some fabrics, so you'll want to test it first. You'll also want to make sure your cleaner is safe for your walls.

Tricks for Stubborn Stains

A bit of cheese on your shirt. Not a problem with your old trusty cleaner. But some stains need a little finesse to get them out. So, if one method doesn't work, try another or call a professional. Keep these tips in mind when dealing with stubborn stains.

  • Use cold water to soak or rinse. Hot water can set stains.
  • Act fast because fresh stains are easier to remove.
  • Always blot instead of rubbing. Most of the time, rubbing will move the stain around.
  • Check the label to make sure it can handle water.
  • Air dry to ensure the stain is gone. Heat will set the stain.
  • Start with a natural cleanser like white vinegar, baking soda, etc., and move on to bleach and ammonia as needed.

The Hardest Stains to Remove Have Nothing on You

No one likes a stain, but some stains set in and removing them is difficult. Grab your tools and start attacking these stains using a few easy-to-find products. With a little persistence and know-how, there's no stain you can't handle.

17 Hardest Stains to Remove & Secrets for Getting Them Out