But first, let's talk about the "right way." Martha and all the home keeping gurus before and after her say to keep certain ingredients on hand to treat stains. The list is longish. And therefore, the treating of stains by the "right" method seems too fussy to me. I'm a busy mom. I want to get stains out quickly, easily, and without having to keep a lot of stuff on hand. Also, if you prefer all natural ingredients, this post isn't for you. (Instead, check out The Humbled Homemaker's post on using natural ingredients to remove clothing stains.)
Now, here's what I do.
1. Prevent as many stains as possible, but don't make yourself crazy trying to do so. Stains will happen. If you have babies or toddlers use the largest bibs you can find; better yet, use smocks or over-sized shirts for both messy play and eating. Also, give your children play clothes so they can play freely without worrying about ruining their clothes.
2. Treat stains immediately. That means if my child get ketchup on his shirt, I have him remove it right away and I do something to clean it. (Wondering about those on-the-go stain treatment products? I've not had good luck with them. If you're out and about and can't treat a stain immediately, pat it with a damp cloth or wet wipe, but don't rub the stain further into the fabric's fibers.)
3. Learn to tell the different between "if-it-sits-it-will-stain" stain and an immediate stain. The first only becomes a stain if you ignore it. So make it a habit to remove the clothing immediately and wash it. (Example: Fresh juice from strawberries won't stain unless you let it sit; the "stain" comes out easily if you wash it right away. Ketchup and other tomato-based foods, on the other hand, usually need stain treatment, even if caught and washed right away.)
Once I know I have a real stain to deal with, I:
1. Use a stain pre-treatment - either a stain stick or Spay n Wash (which works better, in my opinion on greasy stains). Let it sit for at least 5 minutes or up to a day. Wash. Hang dry. (Some lingering stains don't show when the clothing is wet, so I hang dry to prevent setting the stain in the dryer.)
If the stain persists, I:
2. Use OxiClean. I have never had a problem with this method ruining clothes, but still - use my method at your own risk, since it's not exactly the way the manufacturer recommends using it. Fill a large bowl (or a well cleaned sink) with lukewarm water and dissolve 1/4 cup of OxiClean powder in it. Add the stained clothing and soak overnight. In the morning, place the clothing in the washer, pouring in the liquid from the bowl. Wash as usual.
Super tough stains may require two treatments of OxiClean, but I've only had that happen once (with a bad blood stain).
And that's it! Very simple. Very effective.