Emergency Cleanups: How To Remove Ink, Wine & Oil Stains

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Emil Evans)

Spills are almost always unexpected, and always a pain. My mother clearly knew this: when I left for college she gave me a small, thick book called “Field Guide to Stains,” which I still have and reference more frequently than I ever thought I would.


I find the best way to deal with stains is to be prepared. I keep my cupboard stocked with enzyme detergent (best for removing protein-based stains such as food or sweat), rubbing alcohol, baking soda, Borax, and clean absorbent rags.


I also follow these general guidelines: 1. never apply heat (iron or dryer) to a stained piece of clothing until the stain is completely removed; and 2. read the clothing label for washing instructions before cleaning. If the stain is on upholstery or carpet, the goal is to dissolve the stain with a solvent (often water or club soda) and pull it out with something more absorbent than the upholstery/carpet, like a sponge or rag. If using a harsher cleaning agent, make sure to test for colorfastness before accidentally bleaching the dye out of the fabric.

Some of the most common and most annoying stains are from red wine, ballpoint pen ink, and vegetable oil. Here are some techniques for cleaning them up.


  1. When discovered, immediately saturate the stain with club soda, cold water, or white wine.
  2. Blot with an absorbent cloth.
  3. Sprinkle with salt and let stand 1-2 minutes, then rinse in cold water and rub stain out.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until it stops fading.
  5. Rub liquid enzyme detergent into the stain and let stand 3-4 minutes, then rinse in cold water. Do not use natural bar soap or stain could set.
  6. If stain is still visible, apply a spot stain remover.
  7. Launder with liquid enzyme detergent.


  1. Blot up as much wine as possible.
  2. Soak the stain in club soda or cold water. Blot, and if necessary, repeat.
  3. Make a paste out of water and either Borax or baking soda. Rub it into the stain and let dry.
  4. Vacuum, and if necessary, repeat.


  1. Place stained fabric on top of an absorbent cloth. Blot with water or rubbing alcohol (whichever removes more ink) until no more ink comes off stain.
  2. Launder in hottest water safe for fabric.
  3. If stain remains, lay it out in the sun to bleach the rest of the stain.


  1. Apply a laundry presoak or clear (undyed) dish soap.
  2. Wash in the hottest water safe for fabric.

If you have any useful stain-fighting tips, please let us know in the comments!