The Ultimate T-Shirt Stain Removal Guide – Save Your Favorite Printed T Shirt!

We’ve all been there. You’re wearing your favorite printed t-shirt – and you watch in slow motion as a marinara-coated meatball falls towards it. While a paint splatter hurtles toward the fabric. While blood from a paper-cut drips onto the shirt – you get the picture. Your favorite T-shirt is ruined, right? 

Well, not quite! T-shirt stains are no fun, but they do happen – and you need to know how to treat them! If you take the right steps to prevent the stain from setting, use the proper techniques, and have the necessary supplies on hand, you can remove just about any T-shirt stain. 

So in this article, the team at Wizard of Words is going to take a look at everything you need to know about T-shirt stain removal. We’ll discuss the products, techniques, and tips you need to know in order to remove stains from just about any T-shirt. Let’s get started now! 

  1. Take Immediate Action After You Notice The Stain 

First things first, you need to make sure that you take action as soon as possible once you’ve noticed the stain on your shirt. Whether your stain is caused by food, paint, ink, blood or anything else, you need to work quickly to make sure that it does not dry and bond with the cotton fabric in your T-shirt. If you let the stain dry completely before you treat and the garment, it will be much more difficult to remove the stain entirely. 

In some situations, this may not be possible. If you are at work, for example, or do not have a spare shirt to change into. If this does happen, try your best to scrape away the majority of the material or stain, and treat it with cold water to help remove some of the material. Taking some action is better than just leaving the stain to soak into your garment. 

  1. Start With Pre-Treatment 

The first and most important step of removing a stain and preventing it from setting on your clothing is pre-treatment. Pre-treatment allows you to deliver a highly-concentrated blast of cleaning products directly to the stain, which will help eliminate the bulk of the stain quickly, and ensure that it can be laundered and cleaned to remove the rest of it. 

Pre-treatment is different for just about every type of stain, so let’s go over the treatment steps for some of the most common types of stains now. 

Food And Beverage Stains 

For food and beverage stains, the process of pre-treatment is quite simple. First, you want to soak your garment and flush it with water. Then, using a plastic bristle brush and liquid laundry detergent or powder, scrub in an up-and-down motion. The detergent will be rubbed into the stain, and the stain will be broken up by the quick motion of brushing. Once you’ve continued rubbing the stain for about 30 seconds, rinse the garment off, and soak the area in white vinegar to remove any remaining stain. 

For particularly thick or tough food stains, you can consider also adding some baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to your liquid laundry detergent or laundry pre-treatment. The abrasiveness of baking soda can help remove thicker stains and prevent them from setting. However, be gentle if you’re doing this on an older shirt. Brushing too deeply and vigorously could damage the cotton if it is already threadbare or worn. 

Bodily Fluids 

For blood, bodily fluids, baby formula, and other such stains, the process is slightly different. First, you should make sure you use cold water, because warm water can cause blood and other biological stains to set. Then, you should soak the shirt in a product that contains enzymes like lipase, cellulase, and protease. Soak for at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours for best results. 

Enzyme-based products are especially effective at “eating away” and removing proteins and other such biological material from a T-shirt. That makes them ideal for stains caused by bodily fluids like blood, vomit, and other types of waste.


Ink is best removed with a solvent like acetone or alcohol. However, this can damage or discolor some shirts. Because of this, it’s best to test the solvent you’re using, like nail polish remover, on an inconspicuous part of the garment, such as the inside of the lower hem. Apply some of the solvent, and watch for discoloration. If you don’t see any discoloration, you can proceed. Blot away excess in with a paper towel, then apply your solvent directly to the stain, soaking it thoroughly. Then, rinse it off with cold water, and pre-treat by rubbing in liquid or powder detergent using a stiff bristled brush.

Glue, Paint, Adhesives 

First, you should scrape off as much of the material as you can with a rubber or plastic scraper. You can apply ice or cold water to the surface of the shirt to harden the material, and make it more brittle and easier to remove. Next, saturate the area with liquid detergent or dishwashing liquid, and rub it in with a stiff bristled brush. Then, rinse the garment. Apply mineral spirits or acetone to a small, inconspicuous part of the garment to check for discoloration. If you see no discoloration, add the solvent directly to the stain, and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, rinse the stain away. 

Motor Oil And Grease 

If you get motor oil, grease, or other stains from working on your vehicle on your T-shirt, the first thing you should do is pre-soak the garment in warm water with a generous amount of powdered or liquid detergent. You should also rub some detergent directly onto the stain. Then, just let your garment sit for 3-5 minutes before laundering. You shouldn’t wash it with any other non-soiled garments, as the oil could be transferred to other shirts and clothing. 

Mud, Dirt And Grass 

Any thick dirt or mud that’s caked onto the T-shirt should be scraped away using a dull knife of the edge of a spoon. Soak the shirt in cold water – not hot – as the heat could cause the stains to set, with a bit of detergent or dishwashing liquid, then launder. For grass stains, use water and detergent and start scrubbing at the grass stain, then rinse. Next, use a solvent like alcohol or white vinegar, and dab it onto the stain. Scrub it with a moist rag or a toothbrush until the color begins to fade. When most of the stain has been lifted, continue to launder the garment.

Pre-treatment is certainly the most important part of treating a stain, and preserving your favorite shirt. If you follow all of the above tips to pre-treat common stains, you’re sure to have great success when laundering your garment – so let’s move onto the next step. 

  1. Laundering Your Garments 

As a rule, you should launder your garments using cool or warm water. Excessively hot water can cause many different kinds of stains to set, and they can be extremely difficult to remove once this happens.

When laundering your T-shirt, you should also make sure that you do not wash them with any other shirt that could become stained. Stains can transfer between different items of clothing, in some cases, especially stubborn stains like motor oil stains and ink stains. If you need to put more items into your washer for it to work effectively, or it won’t run while you launder only a single item, consider using old towels, T-shirts you no longer care about, or rags to fill out the machine.

You should also use a bit more detergent than normal, to ensure that the stain can be removed. You can also consider another laundry additive, such as Shout!, Oxi-Clean or a similar product. A color-safe bleach may also be used.

Naturally, you should avoid using any kind of chlorine bleach if your T-shirt is not white. It will discolor the garment, and make it look even worse than the stain did.

Make sure your garment is thoroughly pre-soaked and treated before you add it to the washing machine. Then, run the machine on its longest cycle, to make sure that the detergent and other additives have plenty of time to work on the stain.

Next, it’s time to tumble-dry your garment, right? Well, not quite! 

  1. Avoid The Dryer (At First) 

Remember how we said that high heat can cause stains to become “set” and “dried” onto your garment? That’s true, and that’s why we recommend that you do NOT put your shirt in the dryer until you’re certain that the stain has been removed. 

Immediately after the washing machine finishes its cycle, remove the T-shirt and squeeze out any remaining moisture. Then, check the stain. If your shirt is still very clearly stained, you may want to pre-soak and treat it again, and then repeat the washing process again – and continue doing this until the stain fades. 

If the stain seems to have mostly faded, you still shouldn’t toss it in the dryer yet. Hang it up to line dry, so that you can see what the stain looks like when the garment is dry. If the stain is still noticeable after the garment has dried, but has faded somewhat, repeat the above pre-treatment and laundering instructions. After a few more cycles, the stain should be eliminated. 

  1. Tumble Dry Low, And Enjoy Your Newly-Restored T-Shirt!

Once the stain on your shirt has faded completely, you can feel free to toss it in the dryer. This should cause you no issues. The stain has been completely removed, so there’s no stain or material left that could become “baked” into the material of the shirt. 

Hopefully, your shirt looks good as new – or the stain has been reduced to a point where it’s no longer unsightly, and your shirt is wearable. Some stains are more difficult than others, so it’s not uncommon to have to spend some time doing a few pre-soak and wash cycles to eliminate the stain. Give it time and be patient, and you’re sure to restore your shirt.

What If The Stain Can’t Be Removed? 

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes you have a pesky stain that just won’t come out, and leaves your shirt permanently damaged. If this happens to one of your favorite shirts, you don’t have to throw it away! You’ve got a few options. 

  • Display your shirt at home – You can buy special frames that are meant for displaying T-shirts. If you have a shirt that means a lot to you, this can be a great way to keep it around and show it off – and with a little creativity, you’ll be able to cover up the stain while it’s displayed.

  • Relegate your shirt to the sleepwear team – Sure, maybe you can’t wear a stained T-shirt in public. But there’s no reason you can’t wear it when you’re relaxing and lounging around the house. Nobody will judge you for that!

  • Cut out the stained area – If you’re a lady, for example, and your stain is on the lower part of your shirt, you could cut it off – and turn your shirt into a crop top! If you’re a man, and your stain is on the sleeve, you could cut the sleeves off and turn your T-shirt into a cutoff, perfect for workouts and relaxing on the beach!

Looking for more ideas? Here is a post with 22 creative and unique ideas for repurposing and using old or stained T-shirts! 

Follow This Guide – Save Your Favorite Printed Tee! 

We hope this guide from Wizard of Words has been fun and informative, and helped you save (or repurpose) a favorite stained T-shirt. Need to replace a shirt that’s been stained – or just add to your collection?

Start shopping at Wizard of Words right away! We’ve got hundreds of unique designs, and we use only the highest-quality shirts – you’re sure to find something you’ll love.

Back to blog