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We Ruined Four Perfectly Good T-Shirts to Find the Best Stain Removers: Which Came Out on Top?

Looking for the best stain remover to save your favorite t-shirt from certain doom?

We’ve all been there: you’re out and about enjoying a nice burger, salad, and glass of red wine when all of a sudden one, or all three, decide to spill on your favorite t-shirt and you’re suddenly in desperate need of the best stain remover. There are dozens of options out there from sprays to pens, powders and bars, all designed to help you remove clothing stains — but which one, if any, actually does the trick? We decided to put the best stain removers for clothes to the test to find out.

Removing a stain can be a complicated, multi-step process depending on the type of fabric you’re working with, the type of stain, how long it’s been sitting, and the stain remover you have access to. We could’ve spent months and months staining different types of fabrics with different substances, leaving them for different amounts of time and tallying up extremely granular, in-depth results for every possible stain scenario.

Instead, we decided to mimic the average, everyday stain scenario using both portable stain sticks and pre-wash spray removers on cotton white t-shirts to see which ones will lift your next spill the best. In total, we tested 12 popular stain removers against five common types of stains — coffee, pen ink, mustard, ketchup and olive oil.

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Read More: The Best White T-Shirts of 2022

SPY testing the best stain removers for this review. Taylor Galla | SPY
Taylor Galla | SPY

So how did the best stain removers stand up to our before and after tests? Keep reading for our full review of the best stain removers of 2022, plus more information on our testing process.

The Best Stain Removers: At a Glance

BEST stain remover

Shout Advanced Stain Remover Gel

Buy Now On Amazon $3.48 Jump to Details
best portable stain remover

Shout Wipe & Go Instant Stain Remover Wipes

Buy Now On Amazon $9.69 Jump to Details
CONTENDER

Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover Laundry Spray

Buy Now On Amazon $12.99 Jump to Details
best for families

Hate Stains Co. Stain Remover

Buy Now On Amazon $14.50 Jump to Details
BEST VALUE

Zout Triple Enzyme Formula Laundry Stain Remover Foam

Buy Now On Amazon $16.39 Jump to Details
QUALITY PICK

Resolve Spray n’ Wash Stain Remover Spray

Buy Now On Amazon $15.25 Jump to Details
best stain remover stick

OxiClean On-The-Go Stain Remover Pen

Buy Now On Amazon $8.06 Jump to Details
runner-up stain stick

Nellie’s Wow Stick

Buy Now On Amazon $9.99 Jump to Details

OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder

Buy Now On Amazon $8.36 Jump to Details

Editor’s Note: When testing the best stain removers for clothes, we included the popular product The Stain Solution from The Laundress. They have since recalled their entire product line due to potentially harmful bacteria, so we’ve removed them from this guide. They may still appear in some of our original photos. You can read more about the recall and find more information on their recall website here.


The Best Stain Removers: Before & After Results

As you can see, no stain stick is a perfect match for yellow mustard, the bane of dry cleaners the world over. However, we found that the best stain removers from Tide, Shout, Oxi-Clean and some lesser-known brands were highly effective at removing the most common types of clothing stains.

Our portable stain removers before and after washing. Taylor Galla | SPY
Our at-home spray stain removers before and after washing. Taylor Galla | SPY

The Best Stain Removers for Clothes in 2022

After a comprehensive wash-and-wear test, we found that Shout’s Advanced Stain Remover was the best at-home spray stain remover, it removed stains most effectively and was the easiest to use. On the whole, the at-home sprays performed better than the portable stain remover sticks. However, our top picks in that category were Hate Stains Co.’s Stain Treater Spray and Shout’s To-Go Wipes.

To our surprise, the always-popular Tide Stain Stick was not the most effective stain remover for clothes. Keep reading to see all of our top picks, as well as more info on our testing process.

BEST stain remover

Not only is Shout’s Advanced Spray our favorite at-home spray stain remover by far, but it’s also one of the most affordable. It outperformed all others in our before and after stain testing. In addition to Shout’s stain-removing gel, a silicone bristle attachment makes it easy to apply the formula onto the stain without being too rough on clothes. It’s safe to use on all fabric types and all water temperatures, and we were very impressed with the results. It eliminated the ketchup and coffee stains and significantly lightened mustard, ink, and olive oil as well.

  • Type: Gel Squeeze Bottle
  • Setting Time: 5 minutes
  • Fabric Safety: Safe on all washable fabrics

Pros

  • Very effective at removing stains
  • Gel formula isn’t as messy as liquid ones
  • Silicone bristles make it easy to rub in

Cons

  • Not portable
best portable stain remover

When it comes to portable stain removers, the Shout Wipe & Go stain remover wipes fared the best. They’re seamless to use on the go, offered impressive stain improvement across our test stains, and are safe to use on all washable fabrics. Unlike portable sprays or pens, the wipes allow you to moderate how much stain removal liquid you use and there’s much less bleeding and mess during the application process.

  • Type: Wipe
  • Setting Time: 0-5 minutes
  • Fabric Safety: Safe on all washable fabrics

Pros

  • Wipe is portable, clean, and easy to use
  • Comes in a large pack you can separate and store in different places
  • Effective at removing different types of stains

Cons

  • Each wipe is single-use
  • Not as environmentally friendly as sprays
CONTENDER

This stain remover spray from Grandma’s Secret Store impressively removed all five stains on the tester t-shirt and is made gentle for use on all washable fabric types, so you shouldn’t need to worry about accidental bleaching or damage. This spray was originally designed for rust stains, so it’s specially formulated to get out tough, set-in stains.

  • Type: Spray liquid
  • Setting Time: 5-10 minutes
  • Fabric Safety: Designed for safe use on all fabrics

Pros

  • Very effective stain remover
  • Tough formula that’s also designed to not damage fabric
  • Comes with a mini, portable bottle

Cons

  • Liquid spray, so it can be messier to use and apply than a gel or solid stick
best for families

This stain remover from Hate Stains Co. is made with gentle, biodegradable ingredients that are safe to use with babies and children. It also happened to work incredibly well on all the stains we tried removing. It noticeably lightened and improved every stain, except for the mustard, and was very easy to spray without too much bleeding or mess.

  • Type: Spray liquid
  • Setting Time: None
  • Fabric Safety: Safe on all fabrics, even non-washable ones

Pros

  • Effective, commercial-grade stain remover made without intense chemicals
  • Entirely biodegradable
  • Safe to use around children, newborns, and babies
  • Worked very well on nearly all stains we tested

Cons

  • Didn’t improve mustard stains
  • Despite branding, not just for parents
BEST VALUE

Zout was the preferred at-home stain remover of SPY Senior E-Commerce Editor Taylor Galla before completing this test and it stood up to the competition fiercely. It removed or drastically improved nearly every test stain, and was an easy one-step process to get there. In the world of spray-and-wash formulas that use harsher chemicals to get the job done, this is our favorite.

  • Type: Spray liquid
  • Setting Time: 5-10 minutes
  • Fabric Safety: Safe on washable fabrics, but use caution due to harsh ingredients

Pros

  • Classic, powerful stain remover that works very well with minimal steps
  • Easy to use, requires minimal steps to be effective
  • Worked very well on pen ink compared to other spray options

Cons

  • Made with harsher ingredients that are not as gentle on fabrics as other options
  • Spray has an odor
  • Spray bottle has a very narrow head that’s a bit tricky to use
QUALITY PICK

Resolve Spray n’ Wash also makes an excellent pre-wash stain remover spray that was super effective during testing. It was not as effective at removing ink or mustard stains but worked quite well on ketchup, coffee, and olive oil. It has a moderate setting time and, like Zout, is safe to use on most fabrics that can handle harsher chemicals. We were impressed with its performance and would rate it mid-tier overall.

  • Type: Spray liquid
  • Setting Time: 5-10 minutes
  • Fabric Safety: Safe on washable fabrics, but use caution due to harsh ingredients

Pros

  • Effective pre-wash stain treatment spray
  • Requires minimal steps to work
  • Pairs well with other Resolve laundry products

Cons

  • Made with harsher chemicals that could damage some fabrics
  • Formula has a slight odor
best stain remover stick

We tried a few ultra-portable stain remover stick and wipe options and this one from OxiClean was the most impressive. It lightened stains immediately upon use and also after a soak and wash. The pen itself works very well and was easy to use. It didn’t bleed quite as much as Tide To Go did and was more effective overall.

  • Type: Liquid pen
  • Setting Time: None
  • Fabric Safety: All washable fabrics

Pros

  • Portable pen you can stash in a bag/backpack
  • Easy to pump and spread onto a stain with a rounded, textured tip
  • Was effective on all stains with minimal bleeding

Cons

  • Liquid formula spreads more than gel
  • Didn’t fare as well against mustard
runner-up stain stick

This Wow Stick from Nellie’s was one of the most unique stain removers we tried, and we were very impressed with the results. It’s made of a waxy material that you wet before use, so it’s a bit like using a bar of soap as a stain remover. It makes for a much cleaner, albeit stickier, process overall, and its effectiveness impressed us on nearly every test stain. While it lacks the name recognition of the best stain sticks, we’d recommend this over the ubiquitous Tide Stain Stick.

  • Type: Wax stick
  • Setting Time: None
  • Fabric Safety: Safe on all washable fabrics

Pros

  • Cleaner stain remover than sprays and gels that can get on your hands and other clothing
  • Dries out after use so it stores cleanly
  • Lack of liquid during use makes it very portable

Cons

  • Once you wet the wax it becomes a bit slippery
  • Has a scent

Other Stain Removers We Tested

These were stain removers we weren’t as impressed with, or didn’t have any standout qualities like the ones previously discussed, but were worth including in the piece nonetheless. None of them damaged our clothing or were particularly difficult to use, they just didn’t “wow” our editors either.

Shout’s Stain Remover Spray worked perfectly well during testing, but not better than Resolve’s Spray n’ Wash, Zout or other options previously mentioned. It didn’t remove mustard or ink nearly as well as some other samples and despite removing coffee and ketchup quite well, it doesn’t have any unique or notable features we picked up on during testing.

$7.74 $17.91 57% off

Buy Now On Amazon

We’re a bit surprised to rank this popular stain stick so low, but we were unimpressed by Tide’s results as a whole. The pen bleeds quite a bit during use, making it somewhat impractical for use on-the-go while you’re wearing the stained item. Tide’s wipes, on the other hand, would be much easier to use on something you’re already wearing.
Upon first application, pre-wash, it made the ink stain much worse and didn’t lighten anything else. It ran out of formula quickly and required frequenting pumping to dispel enough to cover the stain.

$8.36 $10.99 24% off

Buy Now On Amazon

This is another product we were disappointed in. Not only does it take longer to use because they recommend a pre-soak of 2-6 hours before washing for stain removal, but it didn’t remove stains nearly as well as other, less intensive options. It’s also a powder form which is convenient for general stain removal in your washing machine, but is less ideal for isolated stain treatment.


How We Tested The Best Stain Removers of 2022

SPY editor testing the Oxi=Clean Stain Removing Powder. Taylor Galla | SPY

In order to test the best stain removers we, you guessed it, stained a few pieces of clothing and used our test removers to side by side to see which one performed the best. After thoroughly researching the stain removers most cleaners across the web recommend, and finding the most popular ones on Amazon, we created a lengthy list from the top brands in the space.

Portable Stain Removers vs. At-Home Stain Sprays

Note: all of the stain removers we tested fall into two distinct categories — portable stain removers designed to be used out of the house and pre-wash spray treatments designed to be used at home (think on-the-go stain sticks versus spray bottles and powders). They’re both formulated for the same purpose, but their approaches are different and come with unique pros and cons. We ultimately compared them against each other for our final verdict, but took their distinct designs into account when closing ranks.

For the portable stain removers we took stock of how well they faired before washing in addition to after washing because they’re designed for on-the-go use when access to an immediate washing machine may be limited. For the pre-wash sprays we put them in the wash before judging their effectiveness.

Some of the portable stain removers we tested include Tide To Go, OxiClean’s On The Go Stain Remover Stick, Shout Wipes To Go and more. We also tested top-rated sprays from Shout, Resolve, Zout, OxiClean and Spray n Wash.

When you’re out and about the options for what can stain your clothing are aplenty, but we decided to narrow it down to five of the most common stain culprits of the food, beverage and liquid realm.

SPY editor testing the Oxi-Clean stain stick on various stains. Taylor Galla | SPY

Our Stains:

  • Coffee
  • Pen Ink
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Olive Oil

Our Staining and Washing Procedure

We took a pack of white cotton t-shirts, a neutral fabric that would obviously show stains, and created a grid on each of them for each stain remover we were testing and painted on each stain to create a splotch. We then applied each stain remover according to the directions, pre-soaked them and washed them with a “Normal” laundry cycle and a “Mixed Loads” drying cycle. We used a Tide Free & Gentle pod to limit the stain removing of the detergent.

Note: for the OxiClean stain removing powder we gave it its own t-shirt since it’s designed to be used as a pre-soak and added to a regular laundry cycle.


Finding the Best Stain Remover: Our Criteria

As we’ve mentioned above, we separated stain removers into two categories during this test: portable and at-home. We measured both based on the same criteria, taking into account that they’re not made with the exact same objectives in mind.

As with all of our tests, our criteria for judging stain removers includes some specs, objective criteria, subjective criteria and any “wow” factors we encountered.

We gathered data on the following objective criteria during our tests.

Form of Stain Remover

  • What form does this stain remover come in? Is it a liquid that spills everywhere? A gel that’s easy to manage?

Setting Time

  • How long does this stain remover need to set before you can wash it?
  • How long before the stain remover is effective?
  • Do you need to pre-soak it first, adding to the overall stain remover time?

Fabric Safety

  • Is this stain remover safe to use on all or most fabrics that don’t require dry cleaning?
  • Did it damage the fabric in any way during use?

In addition to gauging how effective each stain remover was at removing each type of stain, we also considered a few subjective criteria during our tests.

  • Does the stain remover have a strong smell?
  • How easy is this stain remover to use? Does it require multiple steps?

Taylor Galla | SPY

What to Consider When Choosing a Stain Remover

The best stain sticks and stain removers come in many forms, so there are a few factors you should consider before purchasing your preferred solution.

Stain Habits

How often do you stain your clothes? If it’s often it’s most likely while you’re outside the home, and a portable stain remover pen would be best. If your stains are further and fewer between, a spray for home use will suffice.

Clothing and Fabric

Another factor to keep in mind is the type of fabric you tend to wear. Some fabrics, like wool and cashmere, are harder to clean and need more care when removing stains. Others, like cotton, can tolerate sprays and intense wash cycles before fraying or shrinking.

Time and Effort

Lastly, you’ll want to consider how much time you want to dedicate to the task of removing stains. Are you a diligent cleaner who doesn’t mind a few extra steps? Do you want to exert the minimal amount of effort required? Some stain removers require a few extra steps while others take a few sprays and a good wash cycle, keep this in mind when making a purchase.


Why Trust SPY When Shopping for Stain Sticks & Removers

Here at SPY, we’ve written many how-to guides and reviews on cleaning, laundry and stain removal. We’ve tested and ranked carpet cleaners, how to clean a home security camera and how to wash your clothes at home. We’re also continuously improving and fine-tuning our testing process, including weighing the pros/cons of design, weighing convenience against effectiveness, and considering which product, out of many, we’d want to use in our real lives.


About the Author

Taylor Galla is SPY’s Senior E-Commerce Editor. She’s reviewed and written about a plethora of home and fitness products from bike locks to spin bikes, adjustable dumbbells, weighted jump ropes and fitness mirrors. She is a passionate cleaner and laundry-doer in her household, and after reviewing hundreds of products for SPY has nearly perfected her product testing process.