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The 9 Best Stain Removers (and how they work)

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We all know that you can’t leave your home in clothes with stains on them. No matter how small the stain, someone will notice.

Even your best friend will judge you over a faded tea stain on your shirt. It’s all part of the social contract where we agree to look our best when we meet other people.

But stains are not created equal. Some are easy to remove with soap and water, while others need heavy-duty stain removers.

The market is full of stain removers for just about every purpose and stain out there. But not all of these brands do an excellent job removing all types of stains.

If you’re looking for the best stain removers, this shortlist of the top products in the market should guide you.

  1. Best Overall: OxiClean MaxForce Laundry Stain Remover Spray
  2. Best Versatile: OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder
  3. Best for Food Stains: Zout Triple Enzyme Formula Stain Remover Foam
  4. Best Gel: SHOUT Advanced Stain Remover for Clothes
  5. Best Instant Wipes: SC Johnson Shout Instant Stain Remover Wipes 
  6. Best Whitener: OxiClean White Revive Laundry Whitener and Stain Remover
  7. Best Instant: Tide Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover
  8. Best Laundry Pens: Clorox Laundry Pens
  9. Best For Enzymes: Biokleen Bac-Out Enzyme Stain Remover 

Please note that all product links in this article are paid links to Amazon.

Why you Need Stain Removers

Some stains bind with the fabric and penetrate it, creating a chemical interaction that makes the stained part of the material. This translates into changes in the color and odor of the fabric.

Once the stain dries, this signals the end of the chemical interaction and means that you can’t just remove it with soap and water or drop it in the washer to get rid of it.

Stain removers work on different stains differently. Some stain removers have oxidizing formulas that target tannin stains like tea and coffee.

Others use surfactants to attack oil stains, break them down, and remove them.

The third group of stain removers is designed specifically for enzymes and other protein stains most commonly caused by sweating.

Types of Stain Removers

In order to choose the right stain remover, you need to understand the type of stain you’re dealing with.

While some stain removers can work with different stains, they are usually limited to a certain type or two.

Here are the main stain removers and how they interact with the different stain types.

  • Oxidizing: Tannin stains are often caused by tea and coffee, along with other fruits and veggies that contain this natural dye. Tannin stain removers rely on oxidizing the stain and removing the discoloration. Bleach is one of those stain removers that does a good job removing tannin stains, although it only removes the color but not the stain itself.
  • Enzymes: Enzymes are agents that tackle protein-based stains. Such stain removers interact with the stain itself and change its chemical structure. This turns the non-soluble proteins into water-soluble stains.  
  • Surfactants: These types of stain removers target oil stains and grease. Oil often binds with the fabric creating a sticky stain that smells. Oil has a high surface tension making it difficult to dissolve in water. Surfactants work on this surface tension allowing water to penetrate and dissolve the oil stain and flush it out completely.

The 9 Best Stain Removers

In our review of these 9 stain removers, we’ll focus on 4 types of stains that are quite common. These are coffee stains, wine stains, chocolate stains, and ink stains.

As stated, not all stain removers have all the formulas for all types of stains. And knowing what a stain remover product can and cannot do will save you time and money and possibly minimize the risk of ruining the garment.

1. Best Overall: OxiClean MaxForce Laundry Stain Remover Spray

You know you have a powerful stain remover in your hand when it comes in a spray bottle. Spraying the stain is more than just a convenience; it’s a sign that the MaxForce lives up to its name.

It doesn’t require rubbing in or soaking.

The powerful formula tackles all types of stains, from tannins to oils and protein-based ones, with high degrees of success. In short, it checks all the boxes.

MaxForce contains 4 types of stain removers in its formula. This allows it to break down stains, reduce the surface tension of oil stains, and change the chemical structure of protein stains.

It removes coffee stains as well as the discoloration of the tannin. It fights wine stains and oil stains just as easily.

As for ink stains, it works well on small stains. Large ink stains turned light after the treatment.

OxiClean MaxForce works on all types of washable fabrics, and it’s safe to use on colorfast clothes.

This is why it gets high marks and deserves to be the best stain remover overall.  

2. Best Versatile: OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder

OxiClean is a big brand with an established presence in the detergent market. And while the MaxForce stain remover works on the toughest stains, Versatile targets a wide variety of stain types and gets rid of them more efficiently.

Besides all the stain types that MaxForce manages to remove, Versatile also gets rid of persistent stains and set-in spots that regular detergents fail to tackle.

Perhaps the best part about OxiClean Versatile is that it works well with different laundry detergents. The powder is water triggered and releases its oxygen-based formula that works on different stains in the washer.

If you prefer to treat the stain before washing, then you can apply the powder to the wet stain and rub it in with your fingers.

Most stains would come out with just one application or two.

3. Best for Food Stains: Zout Triple Enzyme Formula Stain Remover Foam

If OxiClean is an oxidizing stain remover, Zout takes a different path as it targets protein-based stains with its triple enzyme formula.

With triple the power of other enzyme stain removers, this foam acts swiftly on the stain, breaking down the protein compounds in the fabric to make it easier for the water to flush them out and remove the stain, the colors, and the smell without the need for repeated treatment.

You can use Zout on all food stains, baby formula, chocolate syrup, and BBQ sauce which often prove too hard to remove.

Zout is not to be used alongside laundry detergents in the washer. It’s a stand-alone foam that should be applied to the stain directly as part of the pre-wash treatment. 

4. Best Gel: SHOUT Advanced Stain Remover for Clothes

Shout has an advanced double formula that contains both oxidizers as well as surfactants. That makes it suitable for dealing with both tannins and oil stains.

It works well against wine, coffee, grease, food, grass, and many other non-protein-based stains that you have to grapple with on a daily basis.

Many of these stains would fade after the first treatment. Repeated applications usually take care of it.

Shout is a gel to be applied to the stain in the pre-treatment phase of stain removal. It doesn’t go with the detergent in the washer.

Moreover, you shouldn’t expect good results with chocolate syrup stains. Repeated treatment takes most of the color off the stain but doesn’t remove it completely.

5. Best Instant Wipes: SC Johnson Shout Instant Stain Remover Wipes 

If you’re lucky enough to watch the stain happen in front of you, then you don’t have to go through the lengthy and complex process of pre-treating the stain.

You can get rid of it with SC Johnson Wipes.

The wipes work as you’d expect. They’re packed with a powerful oxidizing and surfactant formula that breaks down the food stain and absorbs it. It’s an easy and convenient way to remove fresh stains.

Before applying SC Johnson wipes, you need to blot the stain with a paper towel to remove the excess stain. Then place the wipe over the stain and press gently.

Don’t rub the stain as that would only spread it. Leave the wipe over the stain for a few minutes as it infiltrates the fabric and breaks down the stain.

When you lift the wipe, it would have removed all traces of the stain, including the coloration and odors.

6. Best Whitener: OxiClean White Revive Laundry Whitener and Stain Remover

As we all know, washing clothes make them fade faster. Even whites tend to look old after a few washes.

This OxiClean combines the power of its oxidizing stain remover with a powerful whitener formula that attacks stains and revives your whites in one simple process.

You can use it with all detergents when you put the stained clothes in the washer.

No pre-treatment is required.

Another way to use this stain remover/whitener is to dilute it in water and soak the stained clothes. This might be necessary when dealing with set-in stains and dry tea or wine stains.

While the stain remover works on the stains, the whitener brightens the colors of the clothes and gives them a new life. 

7. Best Instant: Tide Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover

When you get a stain on your shirt, and it’s not convenient to wash it or soak it right away because you’re out of the house, you can still treat it with the portable Tide To Go.

This instant stain remover comes in the shape of a pen.

  1. Simply pull the cover off and apply the tip of the pen on the stain.
  2. Work the pen through the stain as it breaks down the fresh stain.
  3. Then blot the excess stain with a pad or paper towel.

Apart from its portability, the Tide To Go doesn’t contain bleach. That makes it safe to use on most fabrics without worrying about losing color.

It’s also quite convenient and doesn’t leave any mess behind or get your hands dirty. You can use it to remove tomato stains, chocolate, wine, BBQ sauce, coffee, tea, grape juice, and ketchup.

8. Best Laundry Pens: Clorox Laundry Pens

With the success of the Tide To Go, Clorox caught up on the idea and made its own Clorox Laundry Pens.

As you might expect, these pens are not for large stains.

They treat small to medium spots on the go before you dump the laundry into the washer.

The pack has 4 pens; two of them have bleach, while the other two are bleach-free. The bleach pens treat mold and mildew, and other tough stains in the laundry.

The pens have dual tips for more control over the way you treat the stains. One tip is narrow for small spots that you can get off quickly.

The other tip has a brush to spread the stain remover over larger stains.

The bleach-free pens are for colors and can treat different strains with varying degrees of success.

9. Best For Enzymes: Biokleen Bac-Out Enzyme Stain Remover 

Besides removing stains, Biokleen Bac-Out is an enzyme agent that also removes bad odors from clothes and other fabrics.

The foam stain remover comes in a spray bottle, ready to use without diluting with water or preparing it.

The stain remover works alone as a pre-treatment for the stains. It’s not meant to be used with the detergent in the washer. 

The odor killer in the formula works well on diapers, pet accidents, drains, as well as on laundry. It’s a versatile product that you can put to good use around the house.

The eco-friendly stain remover doesn’t contain any toxins or harmful chemicals, so it’s safe to use on all surfaces, even with pets and children in the house. 


Stain removers are a necessity in this day and age. If you don’t have time to soak stains or treat them pre-washing, you can get a stain remover like OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder that can be added with the detergent to remove stains.

Other stain removers are either spray or gel and get rid of stains conveniently and quickly. Or you can use pens that you can take with you anywhere.

Next, you may want to check out my guide on removing stains fast.

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