A person trying to remove stains from a shirt.

Busy kids mean inevitable messes. To help you remove the grass stains, chocolate, gum, crayon, and Play-Doh that end up on your kids’ clothing again and again, Consumer Reports’ laundry experts share their best stain-fighting methods. We also include advice from Crayola and Play-Doh for getting their products out of clothing. 

One trick you can try on most stains: Act fast and use just water. 

MORE ON LAUNDRY

“If the grass or chocolate stain is still fresh, hot water alone may remove it,” says Rico de Paz, a CR chemist who tests laundry detergents and stain removers. "Just place the stained area of the fabric under the faucet and flush thoroughly." Many stains dissolve better when rinsed with hot water, but for blood or other protein-based stains, such as eggs, flush with cold water because hot water will set them.

Read on for more advice on how to get tough laundry stains out. To see the best stain-fighting detergents and stain removers, see our ratings for laundry detergents and laundry stain removers.

Grass Stains

Grass stains on blue jeans

Chlorophyll gives grass its green color, and on fabrics it acts as a dye. Only a handful of liquid laundry detergents we tested do an impressive job removing grass stains, including Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release and Persil ProClean Stain Fighter. In fact, these two detergents came close enough to the cleaning power of our top-rated stain remover, OxiClean MaxForce, that you can use them to pretreat stains and wash your laundry. No matter which detergent you use, follow these steps for best results:

1. Apply a dab of detergent to the stain. Rub it into the fabric with your finger or even a toothbrush, and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Do not rinse.

2. Toss it into the washer. Use the warmest wash temperature the fabric allows (warm water helps lift the stain). You can wash the stained items with other clothes—none of the detergents in our ratings redeposited soils on other fabrics in our tests. Select the normal wash/heavy-soil setting because its longer wash time will allow the detergent to really do its job.

3. Check for stains before you throw it in the dryer. The dryer’s heat will set any remaining stains, making them harder, if not impossible, to remove. If stains remain after washing, repeat the steps above, but allow the pretreat detergent or stain remover to soak in longer, even overnight. Or soak the stained item in a mix of water and oxygenated bleach, like OxiClean, Clorox 2, or Borax, which is chlorine free and can be used with whites and colors; then launder.  

Gum Goo

Blue jeans with chewing gum goo on the back packet

Chewing gum that's stuck to your child’s pants needs some coaxing. It won’t come off with just washing, and freezing and scraping the fabric can damage it. Try this instead:

1. Heat the gum with a hair dryer. Then scrape off as much as possible with a plastic knife.

2. Work in a dab of extra-strength Bengay. It dissolves the gum base. Use a zip-lock bag to pick off the resulting goo (it sticks more easily to plastic, than, say, a paper towel).

3. Launder it. Use the warmest water setting that’s safe for the fabric. Do not put the garment in the dryer until the gum is gone.

Chocolate Stains

A young girl smiles and has chocolate stains on her shirt.

Chocolate is tougher to get rid of than you may think. Only four of the 52 liquid detergents in our ratings aced pretreating and removing chocolate stains, and they’re all from Tide and Persil. Here’s what to do:

1. Gently scrape or blot the chocolate. Remove as much of it as possible without rubbing or spreading it.

2. Treat it with a dab of detergent. Let sit for at least 5 minutes. Do not rinse. 

3. Wash it. Use your washer’s warmest water temperature setting that’s safe for the fabric, and the normal wash/heavy-soil setting.

4. Inspect it. Before transferring the clothing to your dryer, look for any chocolate spots. Repeat the steps above if necessary, or rewash the garment using an oxygenated bleach. 

Crayon Marks

Many Crayola crayons shown in different colors

When crayon marks wind up on clothes and other fabrics, try this advice from Crayola for removing fresh, heat-set, or melted crayon messes:

1. Scrape it. Gently remove as much crayon as possible. 

2. Apply liquid dish soap. Crayola recommends using Dawn or Joy dish soap, and working it into the stain. Let it sit for a few minutes, then rub the fabric under warm water.

3. Machine wash. Use the normal wash/heavy-soil setting and the hottest water the fabric allows. You can use your regular laundry detergent, and add an oxygenated bleach. If crayon stains remain, repeat these steps. Air dry.

Play-Doh

Containers of different colors of Play-Doh

When you find a piece of Play-Doh stuck to clothes, do not use hot water or cleaning solutions in an attempt to remove it, according to Hasbro, the maker of Play-Doh. Instead, try this:

1. Allow the Play-Doh to dry. Then use a stiff brush and loosen the Play-Doh from the fabric. 

2. Vacuum. If the Play-Doh remains stuck, gently vacuum it away using an attachment, or you can wash the  garment by hand with a dab of laundry detergent  and cold water. Repeat until it’s gone.