Spring picnic in the woods with a peach-coloured picnic rug, plates of finger food (sandwiches, strawberries), and glass bottles of soft drinks, with a dark blue glass in the foreground
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How to remove picnic stains

As we head into brighter, blue-sky days, it’s time to fill your basket with a different kind of load, because picnic season is here! So grab a blanket, your favourite soft drinks and finger food, and throw in a frisbee or two. After your fun in the sun, however, it’s important to treat stains on your clothes as soon as possible, to prevent them setting and permanently ruining your favourite pieces. Read on for our picnic stain removal guide.

Fabric types and solvents

Before proceeding, always check the fabric content and specific stain you’re treating, to ensure you use the appropriate technique, solvent and water temperature. If you’re unsure which types of fabric can tolerate what, check out our ultimate stain removal 101 guide, which also includes a complete list of common solvents for stain removal.

Sauce stains

BBQ sauce: Working from the inside, flush with cold water by putting a clean paper towel under the messy spot, then spraying with water, to ‘transfer’ the stain. Alternatively, run your garment under cold tap water. Pretreat with liquid laundry detergent like Kair, or with a dish soap solution (see our stain removal 101 guide for the correct quantities), then ‘tamp’ the splotch to break up the stain (to tamp, tap the area with a soft-bristle brush). Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes, then rinse well. If necessary, sponge with a solution of distilled white vinegar, then rinse and repeat. For very stubborn stains, pre-soak in either vinegar or warm water for up to 30 minutes, before laundering on a cool wash (> 30ºC).

Ketchup/catsup: Follow the same method as for BBQ sauce, again sticking to cool water.

Mayonnaise: Scrape off excess globs with a blunt knife, then dab on a dish soap solution with a cloth. Spot-treat with detergent and flush with cold water, before laundering on a cool wash (be sure to avoid hot water: heat can cause the proteins and grease in the mayonnaise, from the egg and oil mixture, to cook, and set further into the fabric.

Mustard: After removing any residue, flush with a solution of distilled white vinegar, then dab with dish soap. Spot-treat with liquid detergent, before laundering on a cool wash. You can also try using glycerin (available in most drugstores), which works by loosening the stain from the fabric. Dab the glycerin onto the stain, leave to sit for an hour or so, then blot the stain with a cloth, working the glycerin in without scrubbing, before rinsing under cool water to remove the excess material, and again laundering on a cool wash.

Food stains

Ice cream: Flush the garment’s reverse side with cold water, then dab on a dish soap solution with a cloth. Pre-treat with liquid detergent, before laundering on a cool wash. 

Strawberries/blackberries: Carefully remove excess fruit with a blunt knife (without mushing in the berry juice any further), then pre-treat the stain the either vinegar or lemon juice before laundering as normal (berry stains are plant-based, so can be loosened/broken down by acids. If that’s not enough, dab with hydrogen peroxide.

Drink stains

Juice: Flush or run under cold water, then dab on a dish soap solution with a cloth. If that’s not enough, try applying a diluted ammonia solution as well, before rinsing and laundering. 

Beer: Flush or run under cold water, then dab on a dish soap solution with a cloth, leaving the solution to soak for up to 30 minutes. Launder on a cool wash before air drying. 

Outdoor stains 

Sweat: Remove all traces of ugly yellow armpit stains by pre-soaking your garment in distilled white vinegar or lemon juice. If that’s not enough, dab with hydrogen peroxide, then rinse with the hottest water the fabric will allow. Consider also making your own sweat and odour-removing paste with baking soda: simply combine 4 tbsp of baking soda with a 1/4 cup of water, rub the paste onto the stain, then leave it to sit for 1-2 hours. Brush the pasta off your clothes into a sink before laundering and then, if possible, drying outside.

Grass: Flush or run under cold water, then pre-treat with detergent. If necessary, soak in a solution of vinegar for a few hours or overnight as well, then rinse again with cold water. 

Mud: Let the mud dry, then scrape, vacuum or crumble the mud off. Use a soft-bristled brush, such as a toothbrush, to lift loose dirt, before applying either dish soap or hydrogen peroxide using gentle circular motions. Rinse and repeat until the marks are gone. Launder as normal per your garment’s care instructions, sticking to cool temperatures. 

Suncream: Scrape off excess lotion with a blunt knife, then spot-treat with dish soap solution to cut through the oils and grease in the product. Wash in warm water, per the care label (not hot - high temperatures can cause oily stains to set). To remedy discoloration post-laundering, hang your white fabrics out to dry in the sun - the sun is nature’s very own bleaching agent, and it’s safe and gentle. For very stubborn stains, squirt a little lemon juice on the stain before drying to intensify the effects of the sun.

With these top tips and tricks, you can easily clean up your laundry messes, and enjoy picnic season to the very fullest. Just remember to act fast, otherwise your stains will set!


Cover image by A Thousand Threads

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