What’s scarier than Halloween ghouls and goblins? The hideous messes they can leave behind.

Even the most well-behaved trick-or-treaters might come home covered with chocolate, makeup, gum, and other sticky stuff. Below, a collection of expert tips for handling post-Halloween laundry, as well as two homegrown stain-removal recipes from Consumer Reports.

Our laundry pros advise using your machine’s soak cycle and one of our higher-rated laundry detergents for high efficiency and conventional machines. Then wash on a cold cycle. For chocolate stains—and, ultimately, any stains—never put the item into the dryer until you’re satisfied with the stain removal. “The heat in the dryer may set the stain,” says Emilio Gonzalez, who has spent many hours testing in CR's laundry appliance labs. “And that makes it much harder to remove.”

You can’t wash gum out, and freezing then scraping the garment can damage the fabric. Extra-strength Bengay is what you need. That 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 plastic bag to pick off the remaining goo, which is chemically more attracted to the plastic than a paper towel.

Brush off any excess grass from the garment. Then pour liquid detergent directly on the stain and let it sit for 20 minutes. Without rinsing off the detergent, place the garment into the washer and wash on the usual cycle, on the hottest wash temperature indicated.

CR’s engineers run a test that’s specific to grass removal, a common—and tough—stain for kids’ clothes. “We found that what detergent you use matters,” says Enrique de Paz, who oversees the laundry detergent lab. Of the models in our laundry detergent ratings, the scores for the grass-stain removal test vary from Excellent to Fair.

Carefully pour boiling water through the washable fabric from a height of 12 inches. (The height increases the velocity of the water, which helps separate the wax from the fibers.) If the fabric can’t be laundered, sandwich it between paper towels and apply a warm (not hot) iron. Keep changing the paper towels as needed until no more stain transfers. Finally, pretreat, then wash in warm water with your usual detergent. “Generally, when you pretreat, make sure to rub the solution or detergent into the stain for maximum effectiveness,” Gonzalez says.

Fake Blood (aka Ketchup)
Blot with a detergent solution (see recipe below). If the stain remains, try our vinegar solution (also below). A solution of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide may help remove the last traces of the stain.

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Real Blood
Hopefully, it won’t come to this. But in case of a skinned knee, quickly rinse the affected area of clothing with cold water and apply detergent right on the stain, de Paz says.

“Rub the detergent into the stain with your fingers or a soft toothbrush, then let it sit for 10 minutes before washing the garment on a cold cycle,” he explains. Washing in hot water can set in some stains, including blood. “And again, don’t make matters worse by putting the garment in the dryer before the stain is removed.”

Blot with the detergent solution (below). Rinse with cold water. An enzyme detergent may help remove the stain. Don’t use warm or hot solutions, because they can actually cook the egg.

Blot with water. If the glue remains, try the detergent solution (below). Soaking washables in warm water until the glue softens may also help.

Lipstick on Fabric
Blot with acetone-based nail-polish remover. Then try a store-bought cleaning solvent, such as Afta or Goo Gone. If that doesn’t work, try the detergent solution, then rinse, our experts say.

Crayola suggests scraping off as much as possible, then working liquid dish soap into the stain. Wait several minutes, then rub the fabric under warm water to remove the stain. Machine-wash using the heavy-soil setting, with the hottest water the care label recommends, and OxiClean. Air-dry the item and repeat if necessary.

Recipes for Successful Stain Removal

Detergent solution. Mix 1 teaspoon of a mild clear or white dishwashing liquid—no bleach—in 1 cup of warm water.

Vinegar solution. Mix 1⁄3 cup of white vinegar with 2⁄3 cup of water.