Stain Removal 101

If wearing a white top makes you a magnet for stains, Steve Boorstein has three rules to help make sure you never lose a garment to red wine again. Known as "The Clothing Doctor," Steve is a third-generation dry cleaner who has written books and created DVDs on clothing care.

Rule 1: Be patient. A spill can be fixed, but an ill-treated stain may be permanent.

Rule 2: Identify the origin of your stain. Steve says stains can be generalized into two groups: water-based (like coffee, wine, blood) and oil-based (oil splatters, french fry grease, vinaigrette dressing). A water-based stain can be treated at home; an oil-based stain should be taken to a dry cleaner.

Think about it this way: Oil repels water, so dousing water and detergent on an oily stain will only spread it. As the name implies, a dry cleaner can treat the stain without water. Steve says to try and get an oil-stained garment to a dry cleaner within 48 hours.

Rule 3: "Never rub a stain," Steve says. To treat a water-based stain, blot with a white cloth or towel—not a paper towel or tissue. "They break apart within the fibers and make the situation worse," says Joseph Hallak, vice president of Hallak Cleaners in New York.

A Tide to Go pen or other spot-stain remover can also work on water-based stains, Steve says. Just blot carefully, never rub and stick to durable fabrics.

Once you get home, immediately wash the garment and let it air-dry. "If you machine dry it and the stain hasn't come out, you'll limit the ability of the stain to come out," Steve says.

Next: Yellow underarm stains