How to Remove Stains: Soot, Tar, Food Coloring

Soot removal from clothing can be accomplished easily if you use a few simple precautions. Soot, being oil based, should never be rubbed in attempts to remove it. Remember, soot mixed with a solvent makes India ink! Instead, take the garment outdoors and shake vigorously to remove any excess soot. Launder the garment using an industrial strength liquid or heavy duty phosphate based detergent. Add one cup of water conditioner, and 1/2 cup of all-fabric bleach to your wash. Inspect the garment thoroughly after washing. Repeat as necessary. It may require four to five washings to completely remove the soot from your clothing.

On carpeting, vacuum up as much of the soot as you can, using the crevice tool of the machine. Never use the bristle attachment, as this will grind the soot into the carpeting. Apply isopropyl alcohol to a clean white pad, and blot the stain until it is removed. Do not pour the alcohol directly on the stain, as the alcohol will penetrate into the latex backing of the carpet, and possibly harm it. Do not rub in a circular motion. Repeat this process until no color shows on the white pad. If the spot persists, make a solution of one quarter teaspoon of a grease cutting liquid dish washing detergent such as Dawn with one quart of warm water. Blot the area with a clean white cloth to remove residue. Rinse the area with water from a spray bottle and blot up any excess with paper towel.

Tar can be removed from clothing by using a product such as Lestoil full strength on the garment. Place the garment in a Ziploc bag and let it sit overnight, and laundering per care label instructions. Research shows that WD-40 works well on tar removal. A unique way to remove from clothing is to coat waterless hand cleaner used by auto mechanics. Rub the stain gently to remove the tar, and then pour a little liquid detergent on the stain, working it in gently, to remove the oily residue of the hand cleaner. Launder per care label instructions. To remove from carpeting, first use a gunk removal product such as Goo Gone to soften the tar. Apply lighter fluid to a clean white cloth and dab the stain to remove. The lighter fluid acts as a solvent to aid the removal process. Use a liquid laundry detergent to remove any traces of the cleaning agents from the carpet, and then blot with war water to remove any trace.

Food coloring can best be removed from clothing by first presoaking the garments in a solution of 1 quart warm water, 1/2 teaspoon liquid laundry detergent, and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Allow to presoak for at least 15 minutes. Rinse the garment thoroughly, and launder immediately. Don't place in the dryer until you are satisfied the stain is removed.

If the stain persists, mix a solution of one tablespoon household ammonia to one cup of water. Test this solution on a portion of the garment that will be unseen, such as a seam allowance. Drip a small amount of this solution on the stain, using an eyedropper for best results. Blot with an absorbent white pad until no more color is seen on the pad. Rinse well with cool water. Launder per care label instructions.

For carpeting, apply club soda without saturating the pile. Blot with a white absorbent pad to remove the stain. Continue blotting until no color is seen on the white pad. With a solution of one tablespoon liquid detergent to one cup water, spray the stain using a spray bottle, allow to stand for at least five minutes, and blot up any excess. Rinse the area with warm water to remove residue. If the stain persists, use a mixture of one part hydrogen peroxide to two parts warm water. Be sure to test this mixture on an unseen portion of carpeting to insure it does not bleach out the carpet coloring. Spray this mixture on the carpeting and cover with a white towel to block light from the stain. Light transforms the chemical properties of hydrogen peroxide. Allow to stand for thirty minutes. Check periodically to insure there is no color loss. Rinse the stain with warm water to remove residue and blot dry with paper towel.

Although these techniques work well on most stains, some stains, such as food coloring, are at times almost impossible to remove. Always be sure to follow care label instructions, and if the stain is on a garment that is dry clean only, seek the help of a professional.

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Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.