We’ve all been at the table when someone spills a little gravy out of the boat on the way to their plate, or that chunk of melty butter for your roll falls off the knife and onto the tablecloth. There’s a momentary cringe– well, that’s going to leave a stain.

In honor of Spring (yes, it’s FINALLY here), I wanted to do a few experiments. At least once a week, I read about some new household remedy for stain removal, but I’m always left wondering, do they actually work?

This week, I tackeld oil stains. I started by pouring about 1/4 cup of olive oil onto a Basic Polyester napkin. Just to make sure the stain had a chance to set, I let the oil soaked napkin sit over night.

I tested out 5 household stain removal techniques I’d read about in various places– hand sanitizer, shampoo (for oily hair), table salt, coca-cola, and WD-40. I let them sit on the stained cloth for about 2 hours before I threw the napkin in the washing machine. I didn’t soak the napkin, as is usually recommended for stains, because I wanted to see what these remedies could do all on their own.

After the first wash, I was kind of disappointed. None of the home remedies seemed to make the stain worse (I had my doubts about the coca-cola and WD-40), and the stain was definitely lessened, but there was still some major discoloration on the napkin, with one exception. The spot where I treated the stain with shampoo for oily hair was less discolored than the rest of the napkin.

You can clearly see the discoloration in the cloth remaining after the first wash. But, if you look below the “Shampoo” label, you’ll see a spot that’s less discolored than the rest of the napkin.

So, I decided to treat the entire stain with shampoo for oily hair and try again. Just from hand-washing the napkin with shampoo for oily hair, most of the stain was lifted. After soaking the napkin in a bucket with my normal laundry detergent and throwing it back through the washing machine, the stain was gone.

So, here’s what I learned from my experiment:

  • The sooner you treat a stain, the better chance you have of getting it out. Obviously, it’s not practical to remove a tablecloth in the middle of a meal to treat a stain, and you can’t keep tabs on how clean every guest’s napkin is, but as soon as the meal is done, get your table linens soaking for safe measure.
  • Soak your table linens in warm water, when possible. The warm water loosens the fabric fibers, allowing the stain to release more easily.
  • Make sure to check the stains after you wash the table linens, before you put them in the dryer. Putting stained table linens in the dryer is kind of like sealing the stain into the fabric fibers, and the stain will be harder to get out later.
  • For oil stains, use shampoo for oily hair to treat the stain. Think about it: shampoo, especially shampoo for oily hair, is a soap that’s made to break down grease and oil. Why wouldn’t it work on fabric, too? Plus, unlike some other household degreasers, it’s likely much more fabric-friendly.
  • I’m not saying that these other household stain remedies won’t work– they may have worked better if I had treated the stain immediately, let them sit a little while longer, or if I had stained the cloth with a different kind of grease (like butter). But, the shampoo for oily hair seemed to be the clear front runner for removing the oil stain.

Do you have a tried-and-true method for removing grease and oil stains from your table linens? them in the comments!