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Cleaning Glossary

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Glossary of Chemical Solvents and Supplies for Stain Solutions  bucket and supplies

Supplies for stain removal can usually be found in grocery, drug, general merchandise, or paint stores.
Many commercially available products have proprietary formulas that are protected by patent rights and not available to the public.  Ingredients listed on labels for safety purposes can help you decide if the product will be useful for the stain removal task you have to do.  There is no miracle product that will remove all stains.


Any dry powder that will soak up excess liquid associated with the stain.  Absorbents allow removal of the staining liquid without rubbing or other action that might spread the stain.  Cornstarch, baking soda or talcum powder can be used to absorb many staining liquids.  Use only enough absorbent to soak up the liquid.  Available in most variety stores and supermarkets.

Absorbent materials

  • Clean white cloths
  • Paper towels (white)
  • Sponges - white or neutral in colour

Caution: Coloured sponges or paper towels can bleed dyes onto fabrics, making dye stains that may be difficult to remove.

Acetone - Nail Polish Remover

Nail Polish Remover without lanolin can be substituted.  DO NOT use acetone on acetate or acrylic fibres.


Also known as Rubbing Alcohol and Isopropyl Alcohol.  Use only pure denatured alcohol, applying with an eyedropper to the stain while holding an absorbent pad under the stained area.  Denatured alcohol is available at many hardware and paint stores.

Caution:  Denatured alcohol is both flammable and poisonous.  Use in a ventilated area, away from heat or flame, and store carefully.


Can be used as a mild bleach for some stains; its chemistry allows it to work where other bleaches may be ineffective.  Apply sparingly using an eyedropper.  Any household ammonia will work.  The usual procedure is to dilute one part ammonia to five parts water, and apply only in a well-ventilated area. 

Caution:  NEVER mix ammonia with either chlorine bleach (or any products containing chlorine bleach) or vinegar.


Bleaches are not stain removers.  They are colour removers - the idea (once you've removed the bulk of the staining substance) is to select a bleach that will remove the colour in the stain and not the dyes in the fabric.

Start with a weak agent, such as lemon juice or white vinegar diluted 1:1 with water.  If you need more cleaning action, try a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide.  If that fails, use a non-chlorine bleach.  Use chlorine bleach (diluted with water - see instructions on the bottle) only as a last resort.  Chlorine bleach can destroy silk and wool and, most likely, will remove some of the colour from the fabric.  All of the above are available in supermarkets or drugstores.

Bleaches should be applied very sparingly and only to the stained area.  Use an eyedropper to control the amount of bleach applied to the spot. 

Caution: NEVER mix chlorine bleach (or products containing it) with ammonia or vinegar.

Liquid chlorine bleaches have a limited shelf life.  If your bleach is more than six months old and has no effect on stains, it may need to be replaced with fresh bleach.

To test for colourfastness to liquid chlorine bleaches, mix 1 tablespoon of bleach with 1/4 cup of water.  Use an eyedropper or cotton-tipped swab to put a drop of this solution on a hidden seam or pocket edge inside the garment.  Let it stand for two minutes, then blot dry.  If there is no colour change, it is safe to use the product.  Powdered bleach packages have directions for doing colourfastness tests.

Citrus based products

Usually refers to products like De-Solv-It® or Orange-Sol®, which are available in most supermarkets and discount stores.

Combination Solvents (also known as laundry boosters)

A commercial product that is sprayed on or rubbed into the affected area.  They usually contain solvents for both oil- and water-based stains.  Most supermarkets stock a few brands along with other cleaning materials.

Soon after treatment, the fabric should be either laundered or rinsed.  Use only enough of the product to remove the stain.  Treat the stain, check, and re-treat if necessary.


Any mild liquid detergent, such as the type used to hand-wash dishes, will do.  Choose detergents without lanolin, optical brighteners or other additives.  The most common solution is 1 teaspoon of mild liquid detergent to 1 litre of warm water.  Examples of safe detergents are Dawn® and Joy®, Ivory® and several others.  The detergent should be worked into the stain and allowed to rest for a few minutes before rinsing.

Digestant (also called Enzyme presoaks)

Enzymes are a type of protein found in living matter.  Used in laundry products, they have the ability to breakdown protein type stains, such as blood, meat juice, dairy products, baby formula, and vegetable proteins. Enzymes contain amylase (for starch), protease (for protein), and lipase (for fats).  Be sure to check detergent ingredients, because some do contain enzymes.

If the enzyme-containing product is dry, mix with water to form a paste (1 tbsp powder to 1 tbsp water) and apply to the stain.  If in liquid or paste form, apply directly.  Keep the treated area moist and allow at least 30 minutes before laundering or rinsing.

Caution:  Do not use on wool or silk.

Dry Cleaning Solvents (also called Oil Solvents)

Liquid products described as "dry cleaning" solvents contain volatile organic compounds and require careful attention to the manufacturer's instructions for safe use.  Apply as directed, and allow the area to dry thoroughly before any additional treatment.  These products are available in most hardware stores.

Use of any volatile solution requires caution:  Apply only in a well-ventilated space or, if possible, outdoors.  Be sure to avoid products containing perchlorethylene, which is quite hazardous.  Follow manufacturer's instructions carefully.


A heavy alcohol that has the ability to mix with some stains without spreading them, it is especially useful in treating some ink stains.  Carefully work undiluted glycerine into the stain and then continue treatment as directed in the stain removal charts shown here.  Glycerine is found in most drugstores.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Usually comes in 3% strength and is a mild bleach.

Liquid carpet shampoo

The most common procedure is to mix 1 part liquid carpet shampoo to 4 parts water and apply with a brush or towel.  Products like Bissell™, Blue Lustre™ are commonly used.

Petroleum jelly

Useful for assisting with the removal of bacon grease, motor oil, suntan lotion, and some other oil-based stains.


Refers to a commercial pre-wash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent or paste made of granular detergent and water.  Products commonly used are Shout, Spray 'n' Wash, Tide, Cheer, All and others.

Tools that help

  • Used toothbrush or soft brush
  • Blunt kitchen knife
  • Spoon


Information on this website is provided courtesy of Reliable Carpet & Upholstery Care Inc.  It is intended to assist the home or business owner to address minor stains and accidents as quickly as possible after they occur.  They will not replace the service provided by a reputable carpet, rug and upholstery cleaning service.

For thorough, professional cleaning of your furniture, carpet and area rugs, call today:

Reliable Carpet & Upholstery Care  -  416-461-4006