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Can the stain take the strain?

Which substance makes the best stain remover? Look for laundry lifesavers among some ordinary household products.
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Pens or pencils
  • A4 paper
  • Four items of old, unwanted clothing, or large scraps of fabric
  • Potential stains
  • Potential stain removers
  • Potential stain-removing equipment
  • Small containers (for equipment and potential stain removers)
  • Rubber gloves, if needed
  • Buckets of water, one per group

Stains, removers and equipment

  • Potential stains: chocolate, coffee, berries, butter, tomato sauce, oven grease, blackcurrant, grass and ink.
  • Potential stain removers: detergent, lemon juice, washing-up liquid, bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar, corn starch, hot and cold water and cola.
  • Potential stain-removing equipment: old toothbrushes, kitchen towel, scrubbing brushes, brillo pads and sponges.

It’s time to experiment and discover how easy it is to remove stains from fabric. In four small groups, work together to mix and create stain removers using a variety of different materials and compare with the other teams at the end to see what worked best.

Create your stains

  • Get hold of four items of clothing or fabric that can be stained. These should be items that are unwanted, as the stains may not be removed.
  • Stain the four items of clothing with six different stains. Each garment should have the same stains in the same quantities. Make a note of each stain and give it a number.
  • Get together your potential stains, stain-removers and stain-removing equipment. You could use those listed above or find your own, so long as they’re suitable and safe for young people to work with. Bring some gloves if working with substances with high acidity (such as vinegar).
  • Set up tables and chairs for four groups and one for equipment. Put stain-removers and stain-removing equipment in the small containers where they can be easily reached by everyone. Put pens or pencils and some paper on each group’s table.

Remove the stains

  1. Everyone should get into four groups and get around one of the group tables. Give each group a stained item of clothing and let them examine the stains for a moment.
  2. Explain that their task is to remove one stain at a time from the fabric, starting from stain number one and using equipment and stain-removers from the equipment table. Allow groups to discuss what they should use to tackle it and write down what they think the stain is and what they’re going to do to it. Make clear that groups may only use a maximum of two equipment items per stain.
  1. One person from each group should come up to the equipment table, pick up the agreed-upon item(s) of equipment and stain-remover(s) to bring back to their table. They should now try to remove the stain. Give everyone a few minutes.
  1. When everyone’s had a go at the first stain, continue in this way for the remaining five stains. Groups should take turns to collect equipment and remove stains. For each stain, groups should write down what method they tried beside the number of that stain, so that everyone’s results can be compared.
  2. When all the stains have been attempted, everyone should come together to compare their items of clothing to see whose stain-removal methods were the most effective. Everyone should discuss what equipment and stain-removers worked well for them and which didn’t. Share and discuss with everyone the information below on removing stains at home, to take away with them.


Talk through the stain removal hacks with everyone and discuss how they compare to what was tried. Did anyone instinctively know which stain-remover or piece of equipment to apply to which stain? Why is it useful to know which products work best or fastest, instead of just putting the stained clothes in the washing machine?

Groups shared tasks as they tried to get rid of the stains. Did you rotate responsibilities, or have your super scrubbers and stain scientists stick to their tasks?


All activities must be safely managed. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.


Supervise young people, and only do science activities that are advised and age appropriate for your section. Test activities first, to make sure you’re confident you can lead them safely. Use protective clothing where necessary.

Water games and activities

Be careful when doing activities with, in, or near water. Check surfaces and reduce the risk of slipping where possible. Make sure you have appropriate supervision for this activity.


This task involves the use of potentially harmful fluids or chemicals. Make sure you follow all relevant safety guidance. Make sure you dispose of them appropriately too, in line with safety guidance.


Check for allergies before you begin and read the guidance on food safety. Make sure you have suitable areas for storing and preparing food and avoid cross contamination of different foods.