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While taking stock during spring cleaning, you may come across a number of old tablecloths and T-shirts that need to be tossed because of salad-dressing stains, yellow armpit marks and various other unsightly markings. What better time to swear off stain complacency? Some tips on how to banish almost any blotch.

Know your ABVs

While much of Stain Removal 101 depends on the nature of the offending substance, there are certain commandments (thou shalt not rub) that apply to pretty much anything that spills, soaks or leaks. The "A" stands for action, as in take action immediately. "Probably the most significant factor that will determine whether a stain comes out is how quickly you can attend to it," says Charles Macpherson, household cleaning guru and founder of Canada's only academy for butlers. This means that if you value that blouse, forget modesty – get that garment under cold running water as soon as possible. Remember to soak from underneath the stain so that the water pressure is directing the mess off and not deeper into fabric. (Also remember to wear nice undergarments if you're prone to spillage).

Next, there is "B," which stands for blot, meaning repeated firm presses with a clean cloth. This will soak up the stain as opposed to grinding it into the fabric.

Finally, there is the "V" for volume. Before treating any voluminous stain (mustard, spaghetti sauce, jam), use some kind of tool (Mr. Macpherson likes a plastic spoon) to remove any excess gunk. Otherwise you are fighting twice or three times the stain power for no reason.

All you need is just a little patience

When it comes to stain-removal strategy, many of us assume that the washing machine is there to handle the heavy lifting. Wrong. "If the stain is there when the garment goes into the wash, it will be there when it comes out," warns Mr. Macpherson. Instead, he says that would-be Mr. and Mrs. Cleans need to be patient when attacking a particularly persistent mark. Often this means going through the various stain treatment cycles (see graphic) more than once (and not simply flinging a garment in the laundry basket in defeat). "The good news is that almost any stain will come out eventually," says Mr. Macpherson. As for stain-removal sprays and pre-treatments, these can be useful, but you will still have to rinse, check the stain and repeat if necessary.

Keep a well-stocked stain-busting kit

Collect the remedies and devices mentioned above and store them in the same place. If you have a laundry room, you probably have a cupboard, but condo-owners can follow Mr. MacPherson's example and assemble a tool kit. Having everything together will empower you to spring into action the next time a stain strikes.

And don't do this: Use bleach. Today there are so many more specialized stain-removal techniques that won't harm fabrics and turn white clothing yellow.

Learn the stain specifics

When it comes to materials that leave their mark, there are a few usual suspects, and it's important to know the different treatment techniques that apply to each as they are not interchangeable. (Nor are they instant: Don't forget the wash, rinse, repeat rule). Mr. Macpherson suggests keeping a stain chart in the laundry room for quick reference, or just use this article as a cheat sheet.

Yellow sweat stains: After soaking, coat the underarm area with a thick layer of paste made from white vinegar and baking soda.

Grease: Combine a PH-neutral dish soap (Mr. Macpherson uses Palmolive, "Just like Grandmother Macpherson used to") with equal parts water. Apply to stain, then gently coat the fabric by making circular motion with your finger. This also works with oil and salad dressings.

Red wine: Flush with water or club soda. Next, blot generously with a absorbent cloth and then cover in salt, which should absorb the remaining colour.

Blood: Soak in cold, salted water then spray with store-bought stain removal spray.

Ink: Dip a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol then apply to stain, making sure to replace with clean Q-tip when needed.

Urine: Before applying either water or club soda, blot as much of the pee as possible with a cloth or paper towel. Next mix 1 tablespoon ammonia with half a cup of warm water. Apply to stain using a sponge to avoid excess water.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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