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Got milk … stains on your sofa? When you share a home with kids, practically everything you own will qualify for biohazard status at some point or another. Linda Cobb, author of the Queen of Clean book series, reveals the secrets to erasing the weird, wild — and sometimes just plain gross — messes and marks that our little ones leave behind.

Toothpaste on a cashmere sweater  

“You want to act fast, since many toothpastes contain bleaching agents. First use a dull, straight edge — like an old credit card — to scrape off all the toothpaste that you can. Next, blot the area with cold water using a light-colored cloth until the remainder of the toothpaste is gone. Then moisten another cloth with cool water and a dab of hair shampoo. Work it in gently, rinse it out, and allow to air-dry.”

Chocolate hand-prints on a dress shirt

“Put the shirt in the freezer for 15 minutes to harden the chocolate, then use a dull straight edge to scrape it off. In a squirt bottle, mix up a batch of what I call my ‘Miracle Laundry Spotter’ — it’s my favorite because it works on most stains, including ketchup. The formula is two parts hydrogen peroxide to one part liquid dish soap. (I like Dawn Original or Ultra because it works well on grease.) Spray it onto the stain and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Flush with cool water and repeat if needed. Launder as usual.”

Grass stains on white jeans

“Using an old, soft toothbrush, work rubbing alcohol into the stains. If that doesn’t do the trick, repeat the process with some white, non-gel toothpaste. Flush with cool water, pretreat with Miracle Laundry Spotter or another stain remover, and launder as usual.”

Tree sap  

“Squirt a generous blob of alcohol-based hand sanitizer onto the sap and work it in with an old rag. Continue applying and massaging until the spot is totally gone, then launder as usual. Still won’t budge? Try nail polish remover. (Test it out on an inconspicuous area first.) Wipe it on and off with a cotton pad, then immediately launder as usual.”     

Butter on leather or suede

“Pat cornstarch or talcum powder into the grease spot. Allow it to sit overnight, then brush it off with an old toothbrush. (This works on both leather and suede.) For suede, next you’ll use an art gum eraser or very soft pencil eraser to gently brush the area. For leather, complete the treatment by wetting a microfiber cloth and rubbing it across a bar of moisturizing bar soap. Work it into the stain and then buff. No rinsing needed.”

Permanent marker

“If it’s hard furniture, simply rub the mark with a dollar bill — it will disappear! If it’s on the wall, it will be more difficult to remove. My favorite approach is wiping at it with a cotton ball or Q-Tip that has been doused in hairspray. If it still won’t come off, you’ll need to retouch the area with paint — but first apply a primer such as KILZ. Otherwise, the marker will bleed right back through the paint.” 

Play-Doh ground into the carpet

“Don’t wet it! Let the Play-Doh dry completely — this could take a day or so. Then use a stiff brush to brush it out of the carpet. Next, vacuum — using only the vacuum hose to increase the suction. At that point, the Play-Doh should be gone. If it leaves behind a mark, combine a ½ cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide with one tablespoon of ammonia. Dribble it onto the stain using a spoon. Let it sit, then blot and allow to air-dry.”

Paint on a rug

“Soften the paint by applying heated white vinegar to it. (The vinegar should be hot, but not boiling.) Allow it to sit for five minutes or so, then start blotting. Do not rub, or you will force the paint down into the fibers and it will work its way back up over time. Continue until it’s gone. Blot with cold water and stand on a heavy stack of paper towels placed on the area to speed up the drying.” 

Crayon wax on clothing

“Wash the garment in hot water, using your normal laundry detergent plus one cup of baking soda. If any stains remain, launder again in hot water, this time with chlorine bleach (or color-safe bleach for darker fabrics). Always make sure the stains are entirely gone before you put the clothes in the dryer, or they’ll set permanently.”

Ball-point pen on fabric

“Blot the stain right away — it’s important to treat ink spots as soon as possible. Dab at the spot with a clean cloth or paper towel, applying a big of pressure. (Don’t rub, or the stain will spread.) Work from the outside of the stain in, trying to absorb as much ink as you can. Keep changing the cloth or paper towels so that you don’t re-stain the fabric. If the ink is already dry, try using 90% isopropyl rubbing alcohol, testing it on an inconspicuous area first. (This works on leather, cloth and vinyl.) Blot — don’t rub — the alcohol onto the stain, then blot dry with paper towels. Allow to dry and retreat if needed.”

Gum

“Place the item in the freezer for several hours — it will harden the gum, allowing you to simply pull it off the fabric without spreading it. Launder to remove any residue.”

Blood(!)

“If it’s just a small spot, moisten it with a little of your own saliva — it will digest the protein in the blood. Blot with cool water, and you’re done. If it’s a larger stain, pour 3% hydrogen peroxide onto the stained area. Continue adding peroxide until it disappears. Flush with cool water and then launder.” 

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