Life sure can get messy. One moment you’re enjoying a hot dog with mustard, then a splatter of the yellow stuff lands on your shirt. Or you're sipping a Merlot and a party-crashing dog bumps into you, splashing red wine on your white pants. Consumer Reports' laundry experts are here to help.

The best course of action? Remove as much of the mess as soon as possible—scrape it off, blot it off—without rubbing or spreading. If you're unsure of what to use for cleaning, try liquid dish detergent mixed with water. It's a safe choice. Use a damp white cloth with a little soapy water, and blot an inconspicuous spot first, then watch for any color change or damage. If none, clean away. 

Our videos (above and below) show you how to remove tough mustard, red wine, chewing gum, and ink stains. Some of our advice involves weird but solid science.

Yellow Mustard

Curcumin not only lends mustard it yellow color but also makes a mustard stain hard to remove from fabric. To deal with a mustard stain, scrape off the condiment without spreading. 

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Mix 1 teaspoon of liquid dish detergent in 1 cup of warm water, work into fabric, rinse well, and hang the clothing item in the sun. (Curcumin is very sensitive to sunlight—nature’s bleaching agent.)

This method works on almost anything that can be left in the sun for a few hours, including rugs and upholstery.

Red Wine

Forget that advice about using white wine or a clear sugary soda to remove red wine stains. It may work initially, but over time you wind up with a permanent brown stain, say our laundry pros.

Instead, wet and blot the fabric immediately. Hand-wash in 2 cups of warm water mixed with 2 teaspoons of liquid dish detergent. While the fabric is wet, liberally apply 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to the garment and then lay it in the sun for several hours to bleach naturally. 

Chewing Gum

You can’t wash out gum, and freezing then scraping the garment can damage the fabric. Extra-strength Bengay is what you need. This analgesic rub contains methyl salicylate, which dissolves the gum base.

Heat gum with a hair dryer, scrape off as much as possible with a plastic knife, work in a dab of Bengay, then use a zip-top bag to pick off the resulting goo that's chemically more attracted to the plastic than to a paper towel. 

Watch the videos below to see just how easy removing tough stains can be. And check our laundry detergent ratings to find the best and worst of the 50-plus tested.

And if your skin is sensitive, use the ratings filter to find a detergent that the manufacturer claims is free of fragrances and dyes.