How to set up a stain station – laundry experts rely on these 7 staples

Laundry experts have these seven things on hand at all times – here’s why

A bottle of plain yellow laundry detergent next to a wicker laundry hamper, a cloth, and a small vase of large dasies
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Stain removal is one of the toughest parts of laundry day, but setting up a ‘stain station’ can make it ten times easier.

Stain stations are a laundry expert's best cleaning tip for ensuring that their laundry comes out like new time and time again, with products ready to go to help with tasks such as getting stains out of a white shirt where time is of the essence.  

These are the seven things cleaning experts have in their stain removal stations, and why each of them is vital for doing laundry

How to set up a stain station

Whether you use commercial laundry products or opt for natural stain removal techniques, setting up a stain station is a great way to ensure that stains are treated as soon as a spill occurs, not hours after. 

This is what to include when setting one up in your laundry room.  

Laundry rack

(Image credit: Benchmarx Kitchens)

1. Stain removal pens or detergent sticks

For really rapid stain removal, a detergent pen or stain removal pen is the first thing you will want in a stain removal station, begins Elizabeth Shields, cleaning expert and operations manager at Super Cleaning Service. They are incredibly convenient both for treating stains before they set both around the home (such as on surfaces you can't take to the laundry room like cleaning upholstery) and on the go, she explains, making them very versatile. 

‘I recommend the Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover, available at Target,’ Elizabeth shares. 

2. A regular detergent

A great alternative to a stain removal pen is simply regular laundry detergent, continues Dawnn Hilton-Lito, general manager at One Less Thing:

‘A basic laundry detergent is crucial for a lot of pre-treatments and washing processes. Make sure you’ve got a detergent that can accommodate all fabrics. 

‘I’d also have some oxygen bleach too, as this is a color-safe product that can be quite effective at cleaning stubborn stains (while not being as abrasive as other products like chlorine-based bleach).’

If you find yourself short on detergent and need it for your laundry load, you can consider making your own laundry detergent, or using dish soap to wash clothes by hand and remove stains – but this should only be done in a pinch and not relied on for frequent stain treatment.  

OxiClean MaxForce Laundry Stain Remover | View at Target

OxiClean MaxForce Laundry Stain Remover | View at Target
This stain removal detergent spray is perfect for quickly treating stains around your home without having to lug around a big bottle of your regular detergent. 

3. White vinegar and baking soda

More often than not, natural cleaning ingredients such as white vinegar and baking soda are all you need for effective stain treatments in a stain station, adds Amelia Thompson, independent cleaning expert. 

Using vinegar in laundry and cleaning with baking soda is key,’ she says. ‘These two not only tackle stains but also serve as natural deodorizers. Having them handy will assist you in getting rid of stubborn stains from red wine to underarm stains.’   

Amelia Thompson
Amelia Thompson

Amelia Thompson is an expert in home cleaning and laundry practices with over twelve years of experience in the field. 

4. A laundry brush

An uncommon find for a laundry stain station is a good laundry brush, cleaning expert Amelia Thompson continues. 

‘You likely don't have one of these to hand already unless you frequently wash clothes by hand, but they help in applying the stain removers precisely and work the stain remover into the fabric effectively,’ she explains. 

‘Good choices include the OXO Good Grips All Purpose Scrub Brush, available at Amazon, and the Redecker Natural Pig Bristle Laundry Brush, also at Amazon.’ 

5. Cornstarch or talcum powder

‘While this might sound a little obscure to some, talcum powder and cornstarch are especially effective at absorbing fat-based, or hydrophobic, stains,’ reveals Dawnn Hilton-Lito, cleaning expert. This makes them a must-have in her stain station, she says.

‘Sometimes detergents and bleaches won’t be able to penetrate deep into these stains because of their fat-based composition – talcum powder or cornstarch are effective at absorbing into these stains when water cannot. Rubbing alcohol can also help remove ink stains and sometimes fat-based stains as well.’

Johnson's Naturally Derived Cornstarch Baby Powder | View at Target

Johnson's Naturally Derived Cornstarch Baby Powder | View at Target
Cornstarch talcum power is perfect for absorbing oily liquids from fibers before they set in as a permanent stain. Simply apply over the affected area, let it sit for a few minutes, and rinse away before treating it with a stain-removing detergent.

6. A stain removal reference guide

Even if you are a seasoned pro at laundry and household cleaning, it doesn't hurt to have a reference guide on hand to flick through in case a stain is stumping you, suggests Amelia Thompson, cleaning expert.

‘I like the free Stain Removal Chart from Martha Stewart, which guides you on how best to treat different stains,’ she says. 

7. A carpet stain remover

Treating stains on carpet quickly is essential if you want your floors to stay looking their best. Therefore, planning ahead and adding a specialized carpet stain removal product to your stain station is a must – especially if you clean carpets without a machine.

As someone with a large white area rug in her living room, I love the Dr. Beckmann Carpet Stain Remover, available at Amazon. Not only does it remove stains easily, but it has a built-in brush to help scrub the stain out quickly without me having to fumble for clothes and brushes while a stain sets in.

FAQs

Does drying set a stain?

Leaving a stain to dry will set it into the fibers and can make it permanent. For this reason, it is best to treat a stain immediately when a spill occurs, setting up a permanent stain station to help tackle them immediately. For dry-clean only clothes, blot as much of the stain out as possible, and take it for specialist cleaning as soon as possible.

You should also be vigilant and check that a stain has been fully washed out before putting laundry in the tumble dryer to prevent setting in any remnants for good. 

Are older stains harder to remove?

Generally speaking, the older a stain is, the harder it will be to remove. This is because the color will hold fast to the clothing fibers, eventually recoloring them for good. As a result, it is important to treat stains as soon as you encounter them, keeping the area damp and treating them with detergent before washing them as normal.


When you are dealing with a stain, it is important to avoid some common stain removal mistakes such as rubbing or scrubbing the stain which can spread it and set it in. Instead, blot the stain and use dabbing motions to help lift it away before scrubbing products in to clean the fabric.

Chiana Dickson
Writer

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.