How to Remove Mystery Stains from Linen

How to Remove Mystery Stains from Linen

You’re enjoying that jelly doughnut and cup of latte right up to the point the jelly dribbles onto your shirt. You know immediately what caused the problem and how to tackle the stain (or you quickly look it up!).

But, sometimes mystery stains appear on clothes and you don’t remember how they got there. Or, when you pull dirty laundry from the family hamper, the members of your household offer no clues as to how that brown spot or sticky spot ended up on their shirt.

So, where do you start to effectively remove the stains?

There are three clues – the location of the stain, how the stain smells, and the color of the stain – that will give you a starting point on how to remove the stain.

Location Of the Stain

  • Food stains are often on the front of the garment or on the seat of trousers.
  • Perspiration stains are typically under the sleeves and around the collar.
  • Black grease is often on pants or skirts at car door levels.
  • Bleach stains can occur around waist level after cleaning in a kitchen or bathroom.


  • Old oil or grease stains may smell rancid, but appear dry.
  • Gasoline and fuel odors linger to offer a clue.


  • Typically, if a stain is brown, it is protein-based and needs a product with the enzyme protease as an ingredient.
  • If a stain is gray, it is in the oil or grease family and requires the enzyme lipase to remove the stain.
  • The absence of color means that the color has been bleached from the fabric. This is most often caused by splashed or spilled chlorine bleach. There is no way to reverse bleach stains. If you use chlorine bleach, always clean up the work area carefully before moving to the next laundry load. This is especially important in shared laundry rooms and laundromats. Check that your washer’s bleach dispenser is working properly and not leaving a bit to drip on the next load of dark clothes.
  • However, stain colors can be misleading. Rust-colored stains may be tea, coffee, caramelized sugar, felt marker, rust oxide or many other culprits. Cosmetics containing benzoyl peroxide can bleach many colors to look rusty.