For zero-waste followers around the world, caring for clothes and other fabrics is a sure-fire way to keep things out of landfill. Ensuring that items are used and reused for their entire functional life means buying less and being less reliant on waste disposal systems, as well as ensuring that the resources used within the manufacture of the product are put to optimal use. However, removing stains from clothes, upholstery and other fabrics is beneficial from a zero-waste perspective for a number of other reasons too.
Firstly, using eco-friendly products to clean your textiles helps to prevent nasty forever chemicals from getting into the environment. Secondly, removing stains from your clothes and soft furnishings using natural ingredients is kinder to your skin and overall health, as well as any animals you may have in the house. Finally, using or making your own zero-waste products reduces the amount of packaging that ends up being thrown away every year.
What is Zero Waste Stain Remover?
A zero-waste stain remover is a stain remover that has sustainability at its core. In general, zero-waste stain removers will be plant-based and cruelty-free. Any packaging that does come with them should be 100% compostable or recyclable.
Because most zero-waste products, like deodorant, hand wash, shampoo and conditioner are made with natural ingredients, they’ve generally kinder on both the environment and your body. This also makes them perfect for people with sensitive skin or those who may have allergies.
But what kind of things can be used for stain removal? And are they as effective as more industrialized chemicals? Here, we look at some of our favorite zero-waste stain removal ingredients and methods alongside a range of natural products that can be used to remove stains in a sustainable and ethical way. Additionally, we’ll show you how to identify your stain and use the right kind of stain removal technique for optimal removal. Discover how to make your clothes and fabrics last longer with our guide.
Know Your Stain
Different substances react to different treatments. To get the best results from your zero-waste stain remover, it’s important to know exactly what you’re dealing with.
Stains fall into five main categories and can be dealt with according to their intensity:
Protein-based stains are most things that have come from humans or animals. Think milk, blood, ice cream and bodily fluids. Oil-based stains are generally made by cooking oils, cosmetics and makeup, while tannin-based stains are left by tea, coffee, Coca-Cola and berries.
Dyes from ink and food coloring can also stain your clothes, or you might be unlucky end up getting something containing a mixture of substances–usually the most challenging stains to tackle!
If you suspect you’re dealing with a protein-based stain, don’t rinse or wash it in hot water. Heat will help the protein to bind to the fabric and make the stain even harder to remove. Instead, rinse the mark with ice cold water as soon as you notice it. You should then leave the item to soak in water mixed with your normal zero-waste laundry detergent, before putting your clothes into the washing machine on a normal cycle.
The sun is a powerful and effective natural stain remover. Leave your clothes out on the line for a few hours in the middle of summer and the ultraviolet light will soon start to break down the chemical bonds of the stain and ‘bleach’ the mark away.
While it might not work for tough stains, a little sunshine can help to lighten most marks. And as the method is completely free and easy to work into your laundry routine, why not give it a go before turning to other zero-waste techniques?
Raid the Cupboard
You’ll find a lot of fantastic biodegradable cleaning products already waiting in your kitchen cupboards. Surprisingly powerful, many of these eco-friendly items can work wonders on stains and baked-in odors.
The most useful DIY stain remover products in your cupboards are baking soda, vinegar, and dish soap. Using a combination of these products should help you to shift most marks without the need for harsh chemicals. If you don’t already have these kinds of ingredients to hand, they can usually be purchased inexpensively from your local store or ordered online.
If you have an oil stain, like coconut oil or olive oil, sprinkle the area with baking soda, or make a paste by mixing the baking soda with water, and work it into the fabric with a cloth or toothbrush. The powder should begin to change color as it absorbs the oil from the textile. You can repeat this a few times if the oil stain is particularly heavy.
Shake off any excess baking soda before putting the item into the wash on a hot cycle. This should remove the stain and leave your fabric looking like new.
A 50:50 mix of water and vinegar can be used to treat stains including tea, coffee, and grass. Soak the stain in the solution before putting it in the washing machine or hand washing with laundry detergent. Make sure you don’t put the item in the dryer until the stain has been totally removed, otherwise you could make the situation worse.
Some people also believe that eucalyptus essential oil can help to treat stubborn stains. One mum claimed that a few drops of the oil helped to remove a stain left by a permanent marker. It can also be used to remove stains made by chewing gum and lipstick and to clear streaks on stainless steel.
Citric acid is found in lemons and other citrus fruits. You can use citric acid to treat a range of stains including tea and coffee in a similar way to vinegar. However, it’s essential to rinse the acid out before you put the item in the washing machine as it can react with rubber and damage your washer.
Stain Removal Sticks
Often, it’s just more convenient to have a purpose made product on hand to deal with spills and drips as soon as they happen. Stain removal sticks or bars are a great option for people looking for a plastic-free alternative to standard laundry stain remover, and they are usually very effective.
Unlike normal stain remover, a stain remover bar is usually cruelty-free, vegan and does not contain laureth sulfate, a chemical known to cause skin and eye irritation. Like a shampoo bar, a stain remover stick is concentrated and so will last longer than stain remover that comes watered down in plastic bottles.
Stain removal bars don’t contain bleach, chemical enzymes or artificial whitening products. Instead, they use naturally derived products like sodium cocoate (made from coconut oil), sodium palmate, sodium palm kernelate, palm kernel acid (made from palm oil) and glycerin.
To use a stain removal bar, simply moisten it a little and then rub the bar on the affected area, let it sit for a few minutes, rinse, and wash. For best results, wash with zero waste laundry detergent sheets.