Nicole’s Magic Stain Remover

For about a year and a half now, I’ve been frustrated by my failure to perfectly clean Aaron’s white dress shirts. I’ve attributed this failure to harder water in our new home. It could also be that Aaron’s favorite shirts, which have a special coating to keep them wrinkle-free, are losing their protective coating and thus picking up more dirt. Either way, it’s been driving me crazy, as you can read in my recent post “Who Can Find a Virtuous Laundress?

I had nearly settled on a sort-of-okay stain remover made by blending Resolve Spray & Wash with borax to make a paste, and spreading it over the pre-sprayed dirty collars. This was better than spraying alone, but still left a shadow of a stain. I wasn’t exactly content, but I didn’t know what else to do.

And then Aaron’s aunt and uncle dropped by for an overnight visit, and we got talking about laundry and stains. I told our aunt what I’d tried and how disappointed I was in the results, and she said, “Oh, you need to try Nicole’s stain remover! It’s amazing. It will get anything out.” She texted her daughter Nicole a request for the recipe, and Nicole immediately sent it.

She explained that Nicole, a talented artist, had learned how to make a mixture in an art class to transfer a print from photo to canvas or paper, allowing the artist to combine the mediums of paint and photography.  Nicole, who is astute and who also values clean laundry, quickly recognized its potential as a stain remover. When I asked Nicole about it, she explained that the original recipe had included just dish detergent (Dawn, she says: it does matter), baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide, and Nicole’s addition of a natural cleaner called Citrasolv had elevated the spray to the level of a magical cleaning elixir.

Last weekend, I eagerly gathered my supplies. I already had some Dawn dish soap, and I buy baking soda in bulk, so all I needed was peroxide and Citrisol. I’d never heard of it before, but I found it easily in the cleaning aisle of our favorite grocery store.  In a larger place, the Citrasolv would probably be with the natural cleaners.

Ingredients for Nicole's Magical Eraser Laundry Spray
Ingredients for Nicole’s Magical Eraser Laundry Spray

Mixing it was fun, like a science experiment without a final exam at the end. The peroxide and Dawn turned sparkly with tiny bubbles. By the time I’d measured and added the concentrated Citrasolv — which turned the mixture opaque — the dish soap and peroxide had already mixed themselves. The baking soda added to the bubbles, which quickly died down to leave a pretty, pale-green mixture with a heavenly scent of orange. I poured the mixture into an empty laundry spray bottle.

It wasn’t long before I had my first experimental laundry ready: a load of diapers. In addition to the ones that, as usual, were in serious need of cleaning, I had some that were just starting to look a tiny bit grungy after 11 months of use. To make sure I knew which ones I’d used the spray on and which were extra-dirty versus just grungy, I attached green ribbon (for extra-dirty) and blue ribbon to the snaps on the diaper covers and inner pads. (I use BumGenius pocket diapers, which have size-adjusting snaps on both the outer covers and the absorbent terrycloth pads.) Then, I washed them as usual, using the Sanitary cycle on my machine with a pre-wash and an extra rinse. By the way: feel free to thank me for not including a “before” photo of those diapers.  Just trust me. They were dirty.

For the last few months — since solid food started (parents of babies will understand what I’m talking about) — I’ve found it necessary to also run a “Quick Wash” cycle on the clean diapers to get rid of residual odor. The first thing I noticed when I opened the washer, after doing a load of diapers in which just two covers and three pads were sprayed with the new spray, was that the entire load smelled like fresh oranges. They didn’t just smell clean. They smelled GOOD, making it unnecessary to run another cycle. And I can’t be sure, but I think that some of the diapers that were starting to show just a bit of grunge but that were not sprayed with the new cleaner, looked fresher and whiter. It seemed to me that the whole load, not just the ones with the new treatment, was cleaner after using the spray on just five items. And the ones I’d sprayed were perfect. Not a stain in sight.

I was pretty happy with the diapers. However, they weren’t really my focus. They’ve always come very clean. I think it’s because after rinsing and spraying them with stain remover, they have time to sit in the Diaper Genie, letting the Spray & Wash work away until they’re put in the laundry. Aaron’s shirts, my real cause of distress, never have a chance to soak. And they have been remaining stubbornly less than perfectly white. I had my chance to try the stain remover with one on Saturday. I sprayed. I washed. I dried. I pulled the shirt out…examined it…and…

VICTORY!

That is one clean shirt.

It’s white. It’s crisp. It practically glows with cleanliness. It. Is. Beautiful.

So. Do you want the recipe? Of course you do. Here it is:

Mix two parts peroxide with one part Dawn (Nicole says yes, it really has to be Dawn) dish soap. Add two capfuls of concentrated Citrasolv and two tablespoons of baking soda. I used a 22-ounce bottle to hold the spray, so my amounts translated to 7 ounces of Dawn, 14 ounces of peroxide, 1 1/2 tablespoons of Citrasolv, and 2 tablespoons of baking soda.

A few notes about this spray:

1. Nicole warned me that if it’s used on dyed natural fabrics like cotton or wool, it can cause bleeding or fading. I didn’t have any pure natural fabrics that were colored to experiment on, but I had some blends. I used the spray on some tempera paint on Niko’s jeans and on a food stain on a pair of Sofia’s pants, both a cotton-polyester fabric. I also used it on a white cotton cardigan of Sofia’s that was looking a little grungy. My worry with this one wasn’t that it might bleed or fade, obviously, but that it might cause something else in the laundry to do so and thus become discolored. All three of these items were just fine — stain-free, with no bleeding, fading, or color transfer. I’m pretty sure the fact that the darker ones were blends accounts for their colorfastness. And Sofia’s cardigan was in the load of delicates, which rarely has anything dark in it anyway. So, although I haven’t experienced it firsthand, Nicole’s advice still stands: It’s best not to use it on a colored natural fabric unless you’re prepared for the consequences.

2. The spray is a bit foamy. What this meant for me was that the empty Resolve Spray & Wash container had a hard time spraying it. After several good squirts, it would give up working and only send out some halfhearted bubbles. This was easily fixable by taking out the spray straw, inserting it into some water, and spraying until water replaced the bubbles completely. Then it would keep spraying the cleaner for some time. Of course, putting in another nozzle and straw was even easier. I had three empties on hand, so that worked well for me. You could also use a bowl and sponge. Not with diapers, though. No double-dipping there!

3. When I stored it in my garage, it overflowed. It made a mess on the shelf and I lost quite a bit. (On a positive note: That shelf is REALLY clean now.) I didn’t  see it happening, but I think it rose up through the straw and out the nozzle. I suspect that loosening the nozzle so that there’s air flow inside the bottle might be the solution, but I haven’t had time to experiment with this with a full bottle. You could also stand the bottle inside a plastic container so as not to have to worry about mess. (Update: I made a giant batch in a big 72-ounce bottle with an ordinary screw cap, and the bottle swelled up before finally overflowing. So yes, set the bottle in a container to catch overflow.)

4. I’m updating this post after a couple of months of using the spray to add that it seems to lose a bit of effectiveness in a large batch. I’ve come to the conclusion that the foaminess I noted in #2 above is a result of a small chemical reaction, not just suds, and that this reaction is necessary for the cleaner to be highly effective. Once the reaction stops, the stains don’t lift in quite the same amazing way, though it’s still pretty good.

5. One more detail for cloth diaperers, with an advance apology for grossness: you MUST rinse the dirty diapers before spraying, even if there’s only a little bit of residue left after tipping the…uh…solid waste into the toilet. The spray seems to need complete contact with the fabric to work. I found this out the hard way. Yuck.

Other than these considerations, this spray is amazing. It is the bee’s knees. It works better than commercially available laundry sprays; it smells delightful; and it’s fun (and inexpensive) to make. Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your recipe, and a big thanks as well to Nicole’s mom for passing the idea on to me!

Who Can Find a Virtuous Laundress?

It haunts me with unrelenting persistence, this pursuit of laundry perfection.

My laundry list: Niko’s mud-stained, grass-stained, who-knows-what-else-stained jeans and shirts emerge from the washing machine victorious, pristine. Sofia’s grubby-kneed pants and sticky sleeves are as new when the laundry is done. Unspeakably soiled diapers? Pure as the Snow Queen’s gleaming white hair. And then come Aaron’s work shirts. They’re nearly perfect when they go into the washing machine, really. He’s a tidy, order-loving person who never spills food or smudges ink. But the collars, of course, after being worn all day in the heat of a California drought (he travels often for work), are – forgive me, Aaron – not quite as flawless as they could be. And, since moving to Oregon, when they come out of the wash, they remain not quite flawless.

Back in Anchorage, I would spritz the collars with laundry stain remover, toss them into the washer on the delicate cycle, and pull them out again, spotless. It was one of my few areas of housekeeping pride. Dishes may have been unwashed, floor may have had a bit of dust, laundry remained unfolded for days, but by golly, those shirts were clean. Every time. I would hold one up, note the gleaming white collar, and feel a warm glow of pride. Did it again! That is one clean shirt!

In Oregon, the laundry routine has been the same, and the washing machine is an updated version of the same model. But the shirts no longer have the incandescent whiteness of a beautifully laundered shirt. And my pride has suffered as a result. Oh, how it’s suffered.

When this began, I turned, naturally, to Google, and discovered that hard water can lessen the effectiveness of laundry detergent. Borax, I read, can soften the water and get clothes cleaner. Naturally I rushed to Target and bought a monster box of the stuff. I started shaking some into each load. It helped, but not enough. Aaron’s shirt collars were still notable for their imperfection. But I was out of energy. I was pregnant with Sofia, growing more uncomfortable every day, and miserable in the unfamiliar summer heat reaching past the 90s and into three-digit temperatures. Grudgingly, I settled for almost good enough. But it still disturbed me.

I know, of course, why this bothers me so much. This one area of housekeeping success has been my token of the Virtuous Woman.

I remember joining the other teenaged girls in a chorus as we recited Proverbs 31, demonstrating our willingness to embrace virtue as well as our skill at memorization: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil…Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land…She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” We were relaxing in our Sunday School teacher’s living room on a Sunday morning, preparing to read from our slim navy hardcover book — Beautiful Girlhood, it was called — about staying modest, wearing hose at all times, being sure our knees (better yet, ankles) were covered, and — above all — being sure that, should our vanity lead us to wear makeup, we be sure to remove it each night, lest unsightly leftover makeup mark us as undesirable.

We didn’t take most of it too seriously — while we lived in a Christian commune, our style was as modern as budget and the knee-and-cleavage-covering dress code allowed. After the requisite reading from the book each Sunday, the rest of our 45-minute pre-church session was mostly spent giggling and chattering, mostly about the old-fashioned suggestions in our book. But the virtue part — that stuck, for me, anyway. We heard it in so many ways as we grew up. None of us doubted that we’d someday have a husband. Each of us firmly believed we’d be an excellent wife. Hadn’t we been cooking for scores of people at each meal since we were old enough to reach the counter with a stepstool? Didn’t we take frequent sewing classes? Spend untold hours each summer gardening, harvesting, canning? Yes, we would be the epitome of Virtuous Women.

Of the girls in that group, only one remains on the commune. Our beliefs have evolved — even the beliefs of the one who’s still there, though her beliefs probably look a little more commune-traditional than mine. We no longer feel anxious if our knees are revealed; we know our virtue isn’t dependent on marriage. And yet, for me at least, the need to prove my womanliness remains.

If this were an inspirational novel or memoir, I’d have had an epiphany accompanying my realization of the source of my obsession with those shirt collars. I’d have realized that an obsession rooted in an over-religious upbringing might not be what I need for a guiding life principal. But I just can’t let those shirt collars go. How can my husband be praised in the gates, if his shirt collars are grimy?

Now that Sofia is nearly a year old and has fewer tummy troubles, thus being less needy and giving me a bit more time for frivolous obsessions, the urge to assert my status as a Woman of Virtue is rising again. Over the last month or so, I’ve tried a couple of solutions. One week, I tried making a mixture of borax, Spray & Wash, and a bit of  water to combine them, and I spread the paste over the collars. It actually left the shirts less white than before. Not the desired outcome.

The next week, I sprayed the collars with stain remover first, then spread the same paste over the damp cloth. Victory! Well, almost. I could still see the shadows of stains, but it was so much better than it had been that I decided cleanliness had been satisfactorily attained. All I needed to do was to write a post and hit “publish”, and I would officially be a Virtuous Woman again. I wasn’t entirely pleased, but it was… well, it was close enough, right?

Then, Aaron’s aunt and uncle came by for an overnight visit. Over dinner, I happened to mention my search for the perfect stain remover. “You need Nicole’s recipe,” our aunt said. “It’s like magic. It will get absolutely anything out. She used it to get three-year-old paint stains out of a jacket.” And, because she could see how excited I was over this magical concoction, she texted her daughter Nicole, who promptly texted back with the recipe.

I can’t even tell you how ridiculously thrilled I am about this new stain remover. In my next post, I’ll give the recipe and tell how effective it is. (Spoiler: It’s VERY effective.)