How to Clean Blood Stains | Reviews by Wirecutter – The New York Times

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In early December 2022, the Laundress voluntarily recalled eight million of their products sold between January 2021 and September 2022 because they possibly contained infectious bacteria. We've updated this guide with details about this recall.
Blood often leaves the body in unexpected ways, like when you accidentally grate your knuckles instead of a carrot. Hopefully the injury is minor, and the worst outcome is a blood stain. You can find plenty of advice online about how to remove blood from various types of fabric, but we decided to perform some actual tests. Taking a cue from Carrie, we got our hands on a couple of tubs of pig blood—a close approximation to human blood in terms of coagulation and red-blood-cell size—and applied drops to swatches of common fabrics used in clothing and bedding. We learned that most fresh blood stains vanish with cold water and inexpensive household cleaning products, and that acting fast is a crucial part of the process.
After scouring materials websites, cleaning blogs, and Reddit to see how other folks deal with blood stains, I interviewed Samantha Kennedy, the family and consumer sciences extension agent for the University of Florida in Wakulla County. Her instructions for blood stain removal proved effective (aside from one stubborn fabric), and the items she suggested are considerably less expensive than most specialty stain removers and detergents.
This guide isn’t meant to be a one-stop instructional for all fabrics. We used white materials for easy visibility, and every type of fabric is constructed differently, down to the chemicals it might have been treated with during production, which could either hinder or help stain removal. We also did not perform our tests with menstrual blood in mind, since the discharge is made up of more than just blood, but we do have a great guide to period underwear.
Consider the steps outlined below as a starting point. With any type of fabric cleaning, first try a spot test on an inconspicuous area of the fabric, and be sure to check the wash and care label for any special instructions.
Have your own tips or tricks for dealing with blood stains? Let us know.
Your time investment depends entirely on what type of fabric you’re cleaning and how fresh or old the blood stain is. Our fastest results took around 10 minutes, and the longest successful test on an old stain took a few days.
Acting fast gets results when it comes to blood stain removal, but make sure to clean and treat a wound before doing anything else. If the sight of blood makes you woozy, ask someone for help. No outfit is worth an infection or bump on the head caused by fainting. If you’re cleaning someone else’s blood, wear rubber or nitrile gloves while you work, especially if you have any cuts of your own.
Blood is full of proteins, and when exposed to hot temperatures, a protein will vibrate until it breaks the bonds that hold it together, causing the protein to clump. At that point, water loses the ability to wash them out, which is why you should always use cold water when cleaning blood from cloth.
To simulate drops from a cut or nosebleed, we added four 0.5 mL drops of pig blood procured from a butcher to swatches we sourced from fabric bolts, pillowcases, T-shirts, and jeans, representing a range of materials including cotton denim and flannel, spandex blends, linen, Mulberry silk, and wool. Several weeks earlier we’d also added the same amount of blood to swatches cut from the same fabrics so we could test cleaning older stains.
After letting the blood drops permeate the fabric, we flushed each swatch in cold water. We then soaked each of them (except for the wool) in more cold water for five minutes, followed by another rinse with cold water. This simple process worked flawlessly for two of the fabrics: the polyester and spandex blend and Mulberry silk.
We had a teaspoon of salt at the ready since Kennedy recommended also trying a salt water soak for the silk if we had any difficulty with that particular material, but both the new and old blood stains came right out. If you find yourself having trouble with blood on your silk, give the salt water soak a go.
The cotton flannel, denim, and T-shirt, along with the linen, all retained a reddish tint after the rinsing and soaking. Per Kennedy’s instructions, we added a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to the stains and rubbed the fabric—first gently, then more forcefully if the stain was stubborn. The hydrogen peroxide foamed as it reacted with proteins in the blood, weakening the blood’s ties to the fabric and making it easier to wash out on our second try. This extra step got the blood out of nearly all of the fabrics. Some of the thicker fabrics required another round of hydrogen peroxide to get completely clean.
Wool was the only fabric that we struggled to get fresh stains out of. Kennedy recommended adding vinegar after the cold water rinse, and while this strategy was effective at getting rid of the actual stains, it left an orange tint everywhere on our swatch except for the places where the stains had been directly treated, which seemed to have been bleached whiter than the rest of the fabric.
We tried adding a smaller amount of vinegar rather than soaking and rubbing the whole fabric swatch, which just made a slightly larger stain. I’d read about many people having success with The Laundress Stain Solution, so I tried adding a dime’s worth onto a second swatch with a fresh blood stain. Combined with a thin, precise stream of cold water aimed straight through the fabric, the detergent was effective at getting rid of the blood without affecting the rest of the swatch. But wetting our wool swatch even a bit made it look dingier (even after it dried), which we confirmed by lightly spraying a clean, bloodless piece of the same fabric. We recommend moving as quickly as possible to get fresh blood out of your wool using The Laundress Stain Solution and the smallest amount of water possible.
In early December 2022, the Laundress voluntarily recalled eight million of their products sold between January 2021 and September 2022 because they possibly contained infectious bacteria. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) wrote: “The recalled products can contain bacteria, including Burkholderia cepacia complex, Klebsiella aerogenes and multiple different species of Pseudomonas, many of which are environmental organisms found widely in soil and water, and some may also be found in humans. People with weakened immune systems, external medical devices, and underlying lung conditions who are exposed to the bacteria face a risk of serious infection that may require medical treatment. The bacteria can enter the body if inhaled, or through the eyes or a break in the skin. People with healthy immune systems are usually not affected by the bacteria.” We reached out to the company for a statement, and they said they were working with their suppliers to “ensure production processes meet our safety and quality standards.”
If a blood stain has been left alone for some time or exposed to high temperatures, cleaning it becomes more difficult. We repeated our cold-water soak and rinse method on the old blood stain swatches, but we let each stain soak for an hour. The stains lightened but did not disappear, except on the silk—the blood came right out. We scrubbed the remaining swatches with hydrogen peroxide, to little effect.
We left the swatches to soak overnight with what we had on hand in the office: our runner-up laundry-detergent pick, the Persil ProClean Stain Fighter, which contains enzymes that help break down stains. We rinsed the swatches off again the next day, and found that the polyester and spandex material released the stain completely. The stains had lightened significantly on the cotton fabrics and the linen, but they were definitely still visible.
Our ultimate takeaway? Adrenaline that the sight of blood often spikes is a useful cleaning tool, because in order to save your clothing, you need to move quickly. As Kennedy warned us from the outset, “The best results are going to come when you’re trying to immediately get the stains out after they’ve happened.”
This article was edited by Joshua Lyon, Brittney Ho, and Sofia Sokolove.
Ellen Airhart
Ellen Airhart is an associate writer at Wirecutter, where she covers cleaning and emergency preparedness. Please email her with your biggest messes and most anxious thoughts.
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