Below I've gathered several tips from readers, as well as a video from the web, which share spit up and baby formula stain removal instructions and tricks.
The key with these stains is to treat them as quickly as possible, whenever you can, because they can set quickly and also, especially in the heat, can smell sour and nasty quite soon.
The longer they dry onto the clothing, the more difficult they are to remove. Therefore, below you'll find some tips for neutralizing the spit up, which contains some stomach acid generally, to keep it from causing as much damage to the clothing before it can get washed away.
Further, some people differentiate between washing these stains from the baby's clothes versus adult clothes.
I personally don't think there is much of a difference, and have always treated my clothing and those of my kids in the same manner, but if you want to use products specifically designed for babies for their clothing you can.
There are always lots of ways to remove spit up and formula, so I don't claim I've gathered all the possible ways to do it. Therefore, if you've got another way that works for you I'd love it if you shared it with me here.
Further, the tips below focus on removing formula and spit up stains from clothing and other washable fabrics, such as bibs and burp cloths, but as you may know babies don't just spit up onto washable stuff. Instead, they also make a mess on upholstery and carpet. If you're searching for information for these surfaces make sure to check my article about removing formula stains.
Fels Naptha is a great pre-treater to have in the laundry room, but I have found that when traveling with a baby that it is very helpful to rinse out formula spit ups with cold water as soon as possible and apply the Fels, then rinse it out 5 to 10 minutes later.
This way when you are able to do laundry when you return home you have little or no stain to deal with.
Otherwise I have a lot of pre-soaking (and line drying) to deal with when I return, both on his shirts as well as mine!
I had already been using the 20 Mule Team Borax for soaking baby clothes (and mine), but when I saw your tip about pre treating formula stains with dish washing liquid I tried it, and it is really helpful.
Before I put the clothes in to soak I apply dish washing liquid, leave it on for about 15 minutes, rinse with cold water, and then apply a little more, rub in, and drop the garment into a soak bucket.
I use the same process for my tops because I get a lot of the same stains on them as well, just use a separate soak bucket.
When I am ready to wash a load, I just dump the bucket of clothes into the washer and add detergent.
Pretreating and soaking stained clothes makes a world of difference in the cleaning results, and saves time and money.
Of course I try to apply the dishwashing liquid to the stains as soon as possible, what a difference the timing makes.
Though it is not always possible, the other catch all here is that it is best to air dry all of the garments that you know were stained, just in case the stain was not totally removed in the wash.
Otherwise you can end up with clothes that you can only wear at home, believe me I have some of those.
Thanks for sharing this Liz. Everyone's got dish soap at home, so this can really help some new Moms with these pesky spots.
You can use dishwashing liquid for lots of cleaning and stain removal uses. Here's some more dish soap uses here, or share your own!
The Sun Plus Lemon Juice Is How I Deal With These Tough Stains
I use the power of the sun to remove extremely tough (old) formula stains from white clothing.
Once I have done my normal soaking and washing of these garments and there are any stains remaining, I will apply a liberal dose of lemon juice and let them dry in the sun. It works every time as a natural bleaching effect.
Basically, the premise is the same -- both the meat tenderizer and the laundry detergent or laundry pretreater contain enzymes, which help break down the formula stain, which is made of protein, mainly.
I guess the theory in suggesting meat tenderizer is that you can use items that will be in your pantry to remove the stain.
Unfortunately for me, I would have to go out and buy meat tenderizer at the store before I could use this stain removal method, where as I already have both a laundry pretreater and laundry detergent sitting in my laundry room.
However, this gives you an alternative way of removing these stains, for those of you who do keep meat tenderizer handy.
Further, I do like how this video suggests some additional methods for formula stain removal.
First, it suggests that if you catch the stain fast enough you may just be able to wipe it away with a baby wipe. Those are generally pretty handy if you are dealing with formula stains -- so I like this tip. (Click the link if you'd like to read more uses for baby wipe around your home, or to share your own.)
Finally, it suggests using undiluted lemon juice if the stain is on a white item, which can then be laid out in the sun (see the tip above for more details on that).
***Update: An SR101 reader wrote in to share this thought about the video with me. She said:
I agree with the video that you should use sunshine to help remove these stains.
I do this all the time for bibs and shirts that get spit up stains on them.
Baby spit up is generally acidic, since it came from your baby's stomach.
These stains can yellow quickly. To stop the acid in the spit up from yellowing your baby's clothes you need to neutralize it.
The easiest way to do this is sprinkle baking soda onto the spit up, and then wash as soon as possible.
If you do these steps many pieces of clothing and also your spit cloths can be saved from yellowing.
Of course, if you get out baby clothes from storage and see a yellow stain that you don't think was there before, it is not necessarily a yellow stain from the acid in the spit up, which got washed away in the wash.
Instead, it is most like oxidized proteins from the spit up, from either formula or breast milk.
For stains more than 1 day old or where there are multiple stains, i.e.baby food and formula:
Pre-soak with Clorox 2 powder noting the appropriate soak times for white versus colored garments. Rinse thoroughly.
Then apply Shout Gel if needed.
Leave the garment sit for about 10 minutes. Finally, launder with Dreft detergent.
For formula stains on adult clothing (a common event) apply the same rules as above. You may want to substitute another enzyme detergent such as Tide or Wisk since they tend to be more economical than Dreft.
Thanks so much for sharing what products and method you use for treating these stains.
I'd love to hear from even more people sharing what products they use too, be they baby laundry products, or more general supplies designed for everyone to use.
If I am unable to handle these stains immediately I presoak them with Biz powder over night before washing with Biz and Dreft. Biz really knocks out set in stains.
Thanks for sharing all these great ways for removing these baby stains.
I noted that you use dishwasher detergent to remove the stains. You may not be surprised, but many readers may be, that this cleaning supply actually has lots of other cleaning and stain removal uses. In fact, I've collected quite a few of them at the link, so if you're interested read the article to see how else you can use dishwasher detergent for stain removal. In addition, if you know of a use yourself please share it as well!
Monica from Desperately Seeking Coffee has a great suggestion for baby food stains that works for her, and I think will also work for you.
She keeps her favorite laundry stain remover right next to the hamper where she puts her baby's clothes once they've been worn.
That is a wonderful idea, because the quicker you can put a stain remover on the stain, the easier it will come out in the wash.
And babies, as any parent knows, have a tendency to make a mess on the majority of their clothes.
I have even found that babies can make a mess in places you don't normally even look. For example, once I didn't notice my child's sock had a big splotch of, I think, strained carrots on it, and put it through the washer and dryer without pre-treating.
It was basically ruined because I had set the stain in the dryer, but who would have ever thought to look on a sock for a food splatter? Not me, the new mom, but now I know better!
I'd love to hear even more tips from you, sharing your tips for removing baby stains of all varieties. You can share your tip here.
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