Finding the best stain remover

FRESNO, Calif.

Three common culprits for stains at a Fourth of July barbecue -- Ketchup, BBQ sauce and mustard -- on a white towel. Enough to ruin a perfectly good outfit. This is how Consumer Reports tested a dozen stain removers, to find which really is best at getting out stubborn stains.

Kathy Lynch's triplets love to play outdoors. But she's not too crazy about all the stains they get on their clothes.

"Food, dirt, grass, you name it, they're into it!"

To find out whether laundry pretreatments can make a difference, Consumer Reports tested more than a dozen, including big-name brands like Shout and Tide.

"All of them are supposed to be applied directly to the stain and left for several minutes before washing," said Mandy Walker with Consumer Reports.

Testers took swatches of fabric soaked with these tough-to-remove stains -- coffee, blood, wine, motor oil, and cocoa. They applied the same amount of each cleaner to the stain, let it sit for five minutes, then washed the swatches with detergent and a full load of towels.

"We also washed the stained fabric with detergent but without pretreating the stains, to see if the products really made a difference," said Walker.

Testers analyzed the swatches with a colorimeter to determine how much of the stain was removed. "While Resolve Foaming Aerosol says it's 'amazing,' it wasn't. In fact, it didn't do a great job on most of the stains."

And Shout Advanced Stain lifting aerosol didn't do much better. In fact, none of the stain treatments did a great job at removing cocoa.

"Still, most of the stain treatments did do better than just using detergent alone," said Walker.

In the end, it was Resolve Laundry Stain Remover in the spray bottle that removed the most stains -- and at 10-cents an ounce, it's the cheapest one tested. Good to have on hand, especially with kids who can make a mess.

The Resolve spray did a good job on our ketchup and BBQ sauce stains, but some trouble with mustard. Another second stain remover did almost as well in Consumer Reports' tests. It's the Shout Advanced Action. Unlike resolve, it can be applied up to a week before you do your laundry.

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