Stain removers, pre-treaters and stain sticks have saved the lives of many an item of clothing, but how do they do it? While each stain removing product has different active ingredients, they all fall into a few similar categories.

  1. Solvents – According to Wikipedia, a solvent is, “A liquid, solid or gas that dissolves another liquid, solid or gas.” Basically a solvent is something that dissolves the stain. When using solvents for cleaning, you’ll want to choose something that’s chemically similar to the stain. Not up to par on your chemistry? Don’t worry, solvent labels will clearly tell you what their product is meant to dissolve.
  2. Oxidizors – Chlorine bleach, borax and peroxides are all oxidizing agents. These products destroy the stains on a molecular level, breaking down the links that hold organic molecules together. Any smaller fragments left behind are easily washed away with water.
  3. Whiteners – Anyone who’s ever walked into a room with a black light and noticed that their clothes are spotted with the ghosts of long gone stains had seen first hand the work of “whiteners.” Whiteners are detergents that actually do not remove stains at all! Instead, these products lighten (whiten) the stain until it appears to be gone.
  4. Surfactants – Although this sounds like a foreign word, surfactants are the most well known type of stain removers. Most modern day soaps are surfactants, and act by surrounding grease molecules so that they are easily washed away in water. Sulfonates, an ingredient you’ll find listed in many fabric cleaners, are also surfactants.

Scientists are developing new cleaners that are more effective and safer for the environment all the time. Thanks chemistry!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>