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Fourteen seconds—that’s roughly (and very unscientifically) how long a human being can spend staring at an aisle full of stain removers before their eyes glaze over. With so many products all touting wonder ingredients that sound like the names of superheroes in a straight-to-Crackle movie, it’s hard to know which ones truly are the best stain removers for clothes. (And which ones are simply sleek marketing and excessive use of the prefix “oxi.”)

That’s why we gathered a team of editors and had them test out the top stain-fighters on the market, sharing before and after photos of the very best ones so you can choose the brand that’s right for you.

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How We Tested Stain Removers

Our whole goal was to replicate real life—what actually happens when you accidentally drip ketchup down your shirt or spill coffee as you’re racing out the door. So, to be perfectly honest, our test isn’t the most white-lab-coat scientific, but it is true to the human experience. Our editors all took a white cotton T-shirt and applied what’s known in the industry as the “drop and smear method” to it. Basically, we dripped ketchup, coffee and foundation onto the shirt, then smudged it. As a bonus, we swiped ballpoint pen, mimicking stray pen marks.

If we were testing an on-the-go stain remover, we used it within five minutes of the stain occurring, much like if you spilled coffee and reached into your bag for a stain pen or wipe. If it was a pre-treat solution or detergent, we let the stain dry for over an hour before applying the stain remover, following each package’s instructions for care.

By sharing our before/after treatment photos with you, you can see just how heavy certain stains were (we all followed the same rules, but some of us were admittedly heavier-handed than others!). Armed with that and our review, you can judge for yourself which product is right for you.

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The Winners at a Glance

Method Stain Remover

Easiest to Use

  • Value: 18/20
  • Ease of Use: 18/20
  • Scent: 18/20
  • Gentleness: 19/20
  • Overall Stain-Fighting Ability: 17/20

TOTAL: 90/100

If you’re more likely to donate a shirt than deal with its first stain, this is the stain remover for you. Method scored rave reviews for its scrub-brush applicator, which lets you tackle tough stains without having to get your fingers dirty. It worked wonders on pen marks—removing it entirely, before the shirt even hit the wash—as well as ketchup. It left some traces of coffee, but it was no match for removing foundation stains.

Pros:

  • Built-in brush
  • Biodegradable bottle
  • Great for food stains
  • Not tested on animals

Cons:

  • No match for foundation stains

$4 AT AMAZON

OxiClean On-the-Go Stain Remover Pen

Best On-the-Go Pen

  • Value: 18/20
  • Ease of Use: 18/20
  • Scent: 18/20
  • Gentleness: 19/20
  • Overall Stain-Fighting Ability: 16/20

TOTAL: 89/100

We’ll be honest: We’ve been burned by stain remover pens before. They often dry up before we can ever use them and seem to smear the stain more than actually remove it. OxiClean changed our minds. While it—like most stain-fighters—struggled to remove the foundation, the little pen did a decent job removing the other stains. Even with some pretty intensive scrubbing, our tester found that it didn’t damage the fibers in the shirt at all.

Pros:

  • Contained double the amount of stain-fighting solution as other pens
  • Portable
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Not so effective if you can’t treat stains immediately

$9 AT AMAZON (FOR 3 PENS)

Biz Stain & Odor Eliminator

Best Value

  • Value: 19/20
  • Ease of Use: 18/20
  • Scent: 17/20
  • Gentleness: 20/20
  • Overall Stain-Fighting Ability: 17/20

TOTAL: 91/100

At roughly $5 for a 50-ounce bottle, it’s hard to beat this stain remover. It’s designed to be used as a pre-treating solution or alongside your detergent as you wash your clothes. (For really tough stains, Biz actually recommends replacing your detergent altogether.) As a pre-treating solution, our tester was shocked to see that it outperformed Oxi-Clean in removing foundation stains (!) and liked that it had a subtly floral scent.

Pros:

  • Great value
  • Easy to use
  • Effective on makeup stains

Cons:

  • Not great at removing pen marks

BUY IT ($5)

The Laundress Stain Solution

Best for Removing Makeup Stains

  • Value: 16/20
  • Ease of Use: 18/20
  • Scent: 20/20
  • Gentleness: 19/20
  • Overall Stain-Fighting Ability: 18/20

TOTAL: 91/100

At $18 per 16-ounce bottle, this was one of the pricier options we tried, but given that it only takes a few drops to remove a stain, it’s safe to say that single bottle will last you a while (even if you’re a human Tasmanian devil). It was one of the most effective stain removers for getting out stubborn pen marks and foundation, though the coffee stain seemed to spread just as well as it lifted. Overall, it was pretty effective, and our tester liked that it was unscented, so it wouldn’t compete with the laundry detergent. (Psst: It’s also a must-have for removing red wine and grease stains.)

Pros:

  • Nontoxic ingredients
  • Allergen-free
  • Not tested on animals

Cons:

  • Pricier option
  • Need to factor in shipping costs (unless your order totals $50 or more)

BUY IT ($18)

Tide To Go Wipes

Best for Coffee Stains

  • Value: 17/20
  • Ease of Use: 18/20
  • Scent: 20/20
  • Gentleness: 19/20
  • Overall Stain-Fighting Ability: 18/20

TOTAL: 92/100

Some wipes tend to break up a shirt’s fibers and smear stains more than remove them. Not so with Tide To Go Wipes, which proved gentle on our white tee but tough on stains—in fact, out of everything we tried, it was the most effective at removing coffee stains (making it a must-have in this cold-brew-obsessed editor’s purse). It easily lifted the ketchup stain, but it could barely lift the pen marks.

Pros:

  • Light, crisp apple scent
  • Extremely portable
  • Great for messy eaters

Cons:

  • 50 cents per use can add up fast
  • Requires a decent amount of blotting to lift stains

$15 AT AMAZON (FOR 30 WIPES)

Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover

Best for Removing Pen Marks

  • Value: 17/20
  • Ease of Use: 16/20
  • Scent: 18/20
  • Gentleness: 18/20
  • Overall Stain-Fighting Ability: 16/20

TOTAL: 85/100

This grandmom-and-pop brand has a devoted fan following online, garnering a 4.5-star rating from more than 2,200 reviews. We quickly understood the appeal: The eyedropper-like nozzle lets you apply the stain remover precisely, without a drop wasted. It removed ink and ketchup stains with ease, but the coffee and foundation stains were so pronounced that our tester said she wouldn’t wear the shirt again (unless it was for crafting or painting).

Pros:

  • Portable (2-ounce size)
  • Nontoxic ingredients
  • Precise applicator makes spot-treating simple

Cons:

  • Not effective at removing coffee and foundation stains

$12 AT AMAZON (FOR 3 BOTTLES)

Clorox 2 for Colors

Best Low-Effort Stain Remover

  • Value: 19/20
  • Ease of Use: 19/20
  • Scent: 17/20
  • Gentleness: 18/20
  • Overall Stain-Fighting Ability: 15/20

TOTAL: 88/100

If you rarely stain your clothes, this is the detergent to have on hand. Clorox 2 is specifically designed to keep clothes bright and colorful—even as it lifts smeared ketchup or ring-around-the-collar—but what really stood out to our tester was how seamless it is to weave into your usual laundry routine. It can be used alongside detergent, and pre-treating is as simple as letting Clorox 2 sit on the stain for 10 minutes before rinsing and throwing it in the washing machine. It's also unscented, which our tester appreciated, though she mentioned that after taking the shirt out of the dryer, it smelled faintly of paint, but that seemed to clear up quickly. Foundation and ketchup were trickier for Clorox 2 to remove, and admittedly, the brand has said that oily stains tend to fare better when used with a more concentrated surfactant.

Pros:

  • Unscented
  • Easy to use
  • Good for colorful/dark clothes

Cons:

  • Struggles to remove oily stains

$10 AT AMAZON

Tide Ultra Stain Release

Best Overall

  • Value: 20/20
  • Ease of Use: 17/20
  • Scent: 19/20
  • Gentleness: 20/20
  • Overall Stain-Fighting Ability: 19/20

TOTAL: 95/100

Pre-treating solution, detergent—get you a stain remover that can do both. Tide Ultra Stain Release is the ultimate two-for-one deal: It’s top-notch as a regular detergent, but it can also be used as a pre-treating solution for worn-in stains. The cap features a nubby top you can use for scrubbing away messes before you toss your clothes into the washing machine. The scent is that clean, classic smell you associate with Tide, only not quite as strong. And the price ($9 for 24 loads of laundry) is hard to beat, too. Pen marks and ketchup virtually disappeared in the wash, as did about 80 percent of the coffee and foundation stains.

Pros:

  • Great value
  • Easy to use
  • Impressive multipurpose functionality

Cons:

  • Not as effective against coffee stains

BUY IT ($9)

The PureWow100 is a scale our editors use to vet new products and services, so you know what's worth the spend—and what's total hype. Learn more about our process here.

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