When to Use Hot & Cold Water to Remove Stains From Fabric

If you use the wrong temperature water, it could set a stain in the fabric. Here's how to avoid that.

Published May 17, 2023
Woman Cleaning Stained Shirt in Bathroom Sink

There's nothing that gives you a punch to the gut quite like spilling something on your favorite shirt. With time of the essence, you might not take a moment to look up if you should use hot or cold water for the fresh stain. But knowing which stains can be saved using hot vs. cold water can mean the difference between something looking like new or being relegated to the rag bin.

Hot Water vs. Cold Water: Stains Edition

When you get a stain on you clothes or bedding, your first instinct is probably to toss it in the wash right away. But that might do more harm than good if you don't know which water temperature you should be using. Hot water is best at removing oily stains, while cold water fights against protein-based stains like bodily fluids. When it comes to cleaning with hot and cold water, there are a few faux pas you should never make, like mixing up these rules.

Hot vs. Cold Water Stains Infographic

How to Clean Stains Using Hot Water

For many stain types, using hot water immediately can actually bake the unwanted material into whatever you're cleaning. Blood is a great example of something you shouldn't ever toss hot water onto if you have hopes of it coming out clean. Instead, use hot water on these stains.

Hand washing cloths

Sweat Stains

Sweat stains are one of those necessary evils that comes with activity and antiperspirants. Bacteria + antiperspirants + sweat often leads to discoloration in the armpits and armholes of your shirts. To clean sweat stains, soak the stains in a mix of ½ cup of distilled white vinegar with 1 cup of hot water. Then you can toss them in the wash on a hot water cycle, and you should see the stain lift.

Oil and Grease Stains

From cooking to cars, oil is one of the most stubborn and inescapable liquids around. When that bacon grease or stir-fry oil pops up onto your shirt, immediately blot out as much of the excess as you can. Then rub some dish detergent or specialty stain remover (if you have it on hand) into the stain. Depending on the fabric, using a toothbrush can help you work in the detergent. Next, toss in the wash for a hot water cycle.

Essential Oil Stains

Essential oils are a vital part to many people's daily routines, but when a spill happens, you need to act fast. Blot up as much oil as possible and then apply baking soda or cornstarch to the stain to draw out the excess. Scrape it off after 30 minutes or so, and then treat with a stain remover before washing the fabrics in a hot water cycle.

Foundation Stains

When you're wearing foundation, going in for a hug can be a dangerous thing for the other person. One press of your dolled up face into someone's shoulder, and there could be a large stain left behind. To clean foundation stains, hot water is the way to go. Rinse the foundation off with hot water, pouring water from the back of the stain. Then, treat it with a stain remover and put it in the hottest laundry cycle available.

How to Clean Stains Using Cold Water

Cold water is everyone's go-to for rinsing out stains to keep them from setting in. Of the myriad of things cold water can do, cleaning these stubborn stains is just one of them.

woman doing the laundry in a launderette

Alcohol/Wine Stains

Wine and spirit stains are notorious for being difficult to get out, but they're nothing that a soak in some cold water and then a stain remover can't fix. For a dark wine stain, try soaking the stain in distilled white vinegar before blotting it out and washing like normal.

Grass Stains

If you've got any kids in sports, you know just how stubborn grass stains can be. Thanks to the chlorophyll in the grass, those stains often turn your clothes a greenish hue. If you want them to keep their light green mottling, then by all means, use hot water. But if you want to draw the stains out, soak them with cool water and enzymatic liquid detergent. Blot at the stain and rinse with more cold water. Then toss in the wash as usual.

Blood Stains

If you happen to be one of the many members of the menstruation club, then you probably learned that dousing your blood-soaked clothes in cold water right away could rinse out those stains in a heartbeat. Then wash in a cold cycle as normal.

Helpful Hack

You can also put meat tenderizer on your blood stains before blotting them out because it breaks down the enzymes in the blood.

Chocolate Stains

Chocolate stains are like most of the cold water stains on this list. You only need some distilled white vinegar, cold water, and about 30 minutes to get rid of them. Soak anything that's been stained with chocolate in cold water mixed with ½-1 cup of distilled white vinegar for 30 minutes. Then, use a toothbrush to scrub out the stain and wash in a regular laundry cycle.

Coffee Stains

The best tip for getting out coffee stains is flushing them using cold water. Simply run cold water through the stain for about 15 minutes, or until it runs clear. If it's still there, rub in some liquid dish detergent and rinse out with more cold water. Then wash in your regular laundry cycle.

Baby Food and Formula Stains

Babies are notoriously messy creatures. You can go through dozens of onesies in a week, but if you treat the stains right away, you should be able to save them from staining forever. To clean baby food and formula stains out of fabrics, blot away any excess mess and soak in cold water for a few hours. Then, pre-treat with a stain remover and wash in cool or mildly warm water on a regular wash cycle.

Cleaning Stains With the Secret Third Thing - Both

When cleaning, it's not always hot or cold, though. Often, it's both. For many stains, the first line of defense is soaking in cold water and then laundering in hot water. The cold works to rinse out the stain and not bake it in, and the warm water penetrates the clothes quicker, getting into all of those stubborn crevices.

Fruit and Fruit Juice Stains

From eating watermelon on a hot day to sipping on grape juice with your breakfast, there are so many chances to spill some fruit juices on yourself. Get rid of those stains (after blotting away the excess) by flushing them with cold water first, pre-treating the stain with a stain remover, and washing on a warm laundry cycle.

Tomato Sauce Stains

Nothing beats of a heaping pile of spaghetti, but with every slurp or spin of your fork, there's a chance you could splatter that bright red sauce over everything. To keep it from marking your floor, clothes, and tablecloths forever, give it the double punch system. After scraping away any excess, flush the stain with cold water for about 15 minutes. Let soak in cold water mixed with some laundry detergent for 30 minutes to an hour, and then wash on your hottest laundry cycle (if the fabrics permit it).

Urine and Vomit Stains

Everyone has accidents at some point in their life, but that doesn't mean you should have to be constantly reminded of it by lingering stains. To treat both urine and vomit stains, flush the fabrics with cold water. Then soak the fabric in cold water mixed with enzymatic laundry detergent for about 30 minutes. Finally, wash in a regular laundry cycle at the hottest temperature possible for the fabrics.

They're Hot Then They're Cold

Cleaning is an imprecise science. Everyone has their favorite natural solution to just about any stain imaginable, and for many, cold and/or hot water is their go-to. Just make sure you know which stains prefer which temperature, and how to get the most power out of a combination treatment when necessary.

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When to Use Hot & Cold Water to Remove Stains From Fabric