In this report
July 2011 Ratings

Which stain treatments do your dirty work?

Last reviewed: July 2011
Stain treatment tests
Coming clean
A technician applies Resolve Laundry liquid to stained swatches. That product was top-rated, but Resolve foam did much worse.

You're crossing the lawn while carrying a cup of coffee, a mug of cocoa, a glass of wine, and a bottle of motor oil, and you tumble, scraping your knee—and creating a train wreck of stains. Will any of the products you use before laundering your clothes work on all of the stains?

How we tested

We took swatches of stained polyester/cotton fabric, applied the same amount of each stain cleaner, let the swatches sit for 5 minutes, then washed them in a mediocre detergent. For comparison, we also washed them in a highly rated detergent (Tide 2X with Bleach Alternative), using no laundry pretreatment. For Fels Naptha, an old stain remedy, we made a paste of one part Fels to four parts water and applied it to dampened, stained material.

What we found

No product was excellent at removing cocoa, but Resolve Laundry was effective on all of the stains in the Ratings, and two other products removed all stains except wine. Most laundry pretreatments do help somewhat: The top 11 products, including Fels Naptha, worked better than Tide detergent alone.

Scrubbing will probably improve stain removal (Ecover comes with a bristled application cap) but may also damage fabrics.

The makers of Nature's Source and Green Works call them "natural," but that word has no standard meaning in cleaning products. Ecover, the priciest choice, claims "plant based ingredients."

Bottom line

Resolve Laundry did best and is a CR Best Buy at 10 cents per ounce. Shout Advanced Action was almost as good and can be applied up to a week before laundering. Other stain treatments direct you to apply them right before washing.