TRIED & TESTED; OUT DAMNED SPOT

Red wine, grass, ballpoint pen or grease: common stains, but can anything remove them? Our panel finds out

EVERYONE has their own stain disaster story: the leaking pen in the pocket of the white suit, the brand-new blouse ruined by over-enthusiastic consumption of Indian food, red wine spilled over the lace tablecloth that has been in the family for generations. The next stage is agonised rummaging through cupboards for the ancient stain remover, unused for years, or a dash out to the shops to see if deliverance can be bought in a bottle or tube.

Stain removers come in several forms: sprays, liquids, creams, soap bars and powders. Each of our testers applied a selection of removers to one of four common stains: red wine, grease, ballpoint pen or grass. They also washed them in their usual detergent only, without using any stain remover. It didn't prove difficult to bust the wine and grease; virtually all the stain removers worked, as did detergent on its own. Ballpoint pen and grass were much harder to shift. On ballpoint pen stains, detergent worked just as well as some removers.

It seems that stain removers may not always be necessary. If you do use one, it should be stressed (at the risk of stating the obvious) that you must read the instructions carefully first. Some products cannot be used on certain fabrics. Using a stain remover on these can lead to an even worse fiasco.

THE PANEL

For ballpoint pen stains: Terry Dowdall, butler; grease: Sheila Kaufman, teacher; red wine: Jane Clinton, journalist; grass: Ann Francis, mother.

THE TEST

We did our best to stain l00 per cent cotton fabric samples with the four notorious substances. After applying the stain removers as instructed, our panellists washed the samples. They also washed one of them in their usual detergent, without any pre-wash soaking. Marks were awarded for how clear the instructions were, ease of use, effectiveness and value for money.

***BIOTEX

General purpose powder; pounds 1.85 for 500g

This product, which uses enzymes to break down stains, produced excellent results on grease and wine (as did almost all the methods, including washing in ordinary detergent). It was less successful on grass and ballpoint pen. Biotex is probably most useful if you have a number of stained items, less so if you have only one and no use for a quick clean-up job at a party. It comes in powder form, and is made up into a solution in which the garment is soaked or pre-washed, and was not the quickest or easiest to use. The instructions were unclear, and preparation entailed measuring out precise quantities of water and powder, and testing the water temperature. "It's too much palaver," said Sheila Kaufman, our grease stain tester. "I had to consult a baby book to remind myself how to test the water temperature by dipping my elbow in - which I hadn't done for 35 years."

****SHOUT

General purpose spray; pounds l.25 for 500ml

Shout, a stain-removing spray, got rid of grease and wine stains completely. It was also one of the few to be effective on ballpoint pen. Terry Dowdall, our ballpoint pen specialist, declared it "excellent, a very fast worker" and said he would use it on his shirts. Grass was more of a challenge. Ann Francis, our grass expert, said: "A stain was left on the material, but it was quite faint. I would use this for less stubborn kinds of stains." It couldn't be easier to use - just point and spray - though the instructions don't explain whether or not to leave it on before washing the garment. Jane Clinton, who tried Shout on red wine, commented: "A convenient method as it emits an even spray and does not require excessive rubbing of the fabric." In general, testers thought this product was good value for money and they liked its smell too.

DABITOFF

Designed for dry-clean only fabrics; pounds 1.45 for 100ml

Of the stains we tested, this product is suitable only for grease. Sheila Kaufman greeted it with cries of recognition: "Forty years ago, this was the only stain remover. The fact that it's been going all these years presumably means it works." In fact, it was the only product that failed to shift the stain, leaving a greasy patch on the fabric. It was also very smelly.

***VANISH

General purpose gel; pounds l.99 for 150ml

This was one of the best products for grass stains, but the least effective for ballpoint pen. "The only thing to vanish was the gel, not the stain," said ballpoint pen man Terry Dowdall. Like almost all the removers, it worked well on grease and wine. Its main advantage was simplicity of use - the gel is squeezed on to the stain, rubbed in with a built-in brush and left for one or two minutes before washing. Ann Francis liked it: "Very nice and easy to use, not a bad smell and good value for money." Jean Clinton had mixed feelings : "A good product, though the coarse brush could prove harsh on certain fabrics. It was also very difficult to squeeze out an even amount. Invariably, too much was emitted, leaving a very soapy patch."

***DIDISEVEN

General purpose cream; pounds 4.95 for l00g

This product, which combines a solvent and a bleach, was the most successful in terms of effectiveness. It was the only one to get full marks for grass stains, and one of only three to get rid of a ballpoint pen stain completely. But there were major disadvantages, including price, smell and instructions in such tiny print that they could scarcely be read. "Messy to use," said Ann Francis, "not a very nice smell, and the most expensive - but it left no stain. I suppose it's worth the mess and money if it does the job." Depending on the nature of the stain, hot or cold water can be used. "The instructions say grease needs hot water," Sheila Kaufman noticed, "so it couldn't be used on a fabric that can only be washed in cold." The manufacturers stress, too, that this cream must be used only on colourfast fabrics.

**STAIN DEVILS

Range of 12, designed for different stains; pounds l.45 for 50ml

To deal with the full gamut of stains, you have to buy several of these products. Each of our testers used the one that was suitable for his or her particular stain. Their results, however, indicate that it's not worth spending money to buy specific stain removers. While grease and wine were successfully shifted, ballpoint pen only faded rather than disappear completely, and the Stain Devil was one of the least effective at getting rid of grass stains.

Some of the Stain Devils weren't particularly easy to use either (the method varies according to the product). Jane Clinton used the one designed for wine, fruit and jam stains. "The instructions were far too complicated," she said, "and you need to have a thermometer to check the temperature of the solution; you also have to mix the powder with water and wait for the fabric to soap. I didn't think the Stain Devil was very good value, considering its size. Not one for a party, either, as it would mean spending an hour away from the guests." Terry Dowdall commented that the solution had "a dreadful smell when used in an enclosed area".

***ASTONISH

General purpose bar (with or without brush); pounds l.99 for 75g with brush

This product, which looks like a bar of soap and comes with a brush to use on stubborn stains, got rid of wine, grease and ballpoint pen marks completely but left a faint stain of grass. This was a favourite with Terry Dowdall, our ballpoint pen expert. "It's simple to use, and the brush is great," he said. "After 10 minutes, the stain on the sample had almost completely gone. I also used it to get rid of an ugly stain on a pair of white trousers."

Jane Clinton pointed out that the brush (which could double up as a scrubbing brush) would be unsuitable for delicate materials. "It proved very harsh," she said, "and affected the fabric sample quite severely. Otherwise good results, and no need for soaking." Sheila Kaufman found the instructions confusing.

***DYLON

Range designed for different stains; pounds l.65 for 75ml

This is another "family" of stain removers, albeit smaller than the Stain Devils clan. We tried out No 1 on grease, ballpoint pen and grass stains and No 2 on wine. They are both liquids, so there was no need to make up solutions. The remover was only moderately successful on both ballpoint pen and grass, though effective on wine and grease. Sheila Kaufman liked it: "Extremely easy to use; the grease came out on an absorbent cloth. Funny smell, though." Jane Clinton thought the smell was pleasant. "Quite a good product all round," she said. "Very easy to use, with the minimum of mess as it had a special pad to distribute the solution." Terry Dowdall said he was "not impressed at all". There is also a third, slightly more expensive, product in the range for dry-clean only fabrics.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones