Dr. Bronner's

Pretreating Laundry Stains

Pretreating Laundry Stains

Mothering for me has been a crash course in stain management.

I definitely underappreciated the relative stainlessness of my earlier adulthood. I expected certain obvious stain culprits – ketchup, blueberries, bodily fluids. But others took be by surprise: bananas, watermelon, smashed peas. And then there was that time a green crayon found its way into the dryer…

All that to say, I’ve spent a lot of time on this. And the best way I’ve found to eliminate stains is with pure Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds directly on the stain.

The earlier you can get it on, and the longer you can let it sit, the better the results. But this has even worked on set-in stains that I’ve been slow to discover.

Check it out in this video.

The spray bottle method for pretreating laundry stains

Stains can also be pre-treated with a concentrated dilution of half Sal Suds and half water in a spray bottle. The spray bottle method is especially handy when kids help with laundry or do their own. Spray the stain thoroughly, as soon as you notice it. If the stain is very fresh, spray it and give it a quick hand scrub and rinse it before it has a chance to set. Then spray again and launder soon.

If it’s already dried, spray it thoroughly and let that soak in for 10-20 minutes before washing. For super set, dark stains, spray and then soak in water for 30-60 minutes before adding it to the wash cycle. Check the stain before putting the garment in the dryer, which would set residual stains. If the stain remains, re-apply the stain treatment, soak, and wash again.

Because early action is best, I keep Sal Suds in my closet, so that I can treat a stain as soon as I see it, which is often as I’m changing out of my clothes. My emphasis with my kids on quick stain treatment also explains why it’s common in my house to find half-dressed kids emerging from my laundry room: “Mom said spray that stain right away, so that’s what I did!” You couldn’t have changed in your room first??

To see how I do laundry, see my post, “Green Laundry Care with Dr. Bronner’s.”

Further reading

Sal Suds cleaner shows >60% biodegradation after 28 days per ISO 14593.

This tip and many more are in my book, Soap & Soul: A Practical Guide to Minding Your Home, Your Body, and Your Spirit with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, available now in hardback on or at your favorite bookseller, and as an eBook and audiobook (read by me!) from wherever you download or listen.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Lisa- The Sal Suds is very lightly scented with pure essential oils – spruce and fir. The scent rinses fully out of the fabrics and is not detectable once dry. However, if you would like to avoid scent altogether, a great option is the Unscented Castile Soap, which also does very well on fabrics – you can apply it undiluted to stains or spray it on as I describe above.

A Simple + Non-toxic Laundry Routine says:

[…] recipe comes from Lisa Bronner herself! I wanted to include it here since life gets messy, and stain remover is a […]

JP says:

Hi, can you spray this on clothes/something when you notice the stain and leave it on for a day or two before doing the laundry? Looking for something easy and effective to pretreat stains on baby clothes/diaper changing liners without having to wash immediately. Thanks!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi JP – Yes! I do this even with my own clothes. I keep a spray bottle in my closet for just that purpose.

A Simple + Non-toxic Laundry Routine - Cultivating Nurse says:

[…] recipe comes from Lisa Bronner herself! I wanted to include it here since life gets messy, and stain remover is a […]

Melissa says:

Can the 50/50 mix you dilute for all purpose cleaning with Sal suds also be used for the laundry stain spray? And how do I remove old and new blood stains with Sal suds,I’ve tried almost everything..

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Melissa – I use the 50/50 dilution for laundry stains, but for all purpose cleaning, this is too high a dilution. It leaves too many bubbles. All you need is 1 Tbsp. of Sal Suds in 1 qt. of water. For blood stains, rinse them in clear cold water as soon as you can. Then apply undiluted Sal Suds to the stain. Let this sit for around 20 minutes. Then by hand, rub the fabric against itself to loosen the stain. Rinse in clear cold water. If it is an old stain, wet it and see if any can ge be rinsed out. Then proceed with the undiluted Sal Suds. The key with blood stains is that heat sets them, so always use cold water.

Mamata says:

How can I get deodorant stains off from wool? I used Castile soap to pre treat but it seemed to leave a white residue. Can I make a paste with Castile soap and baking soda?

Will long term use of dr bronners to pre treat make my clothes go stiff or affect the quality of my clothes? ( I do have hard water)

And lastly I just wanted to ask you can I use baking soda and white vinegar in every wash ?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Mamata- For stubborn stains, try the Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable cleaner, which has slightly greater stain fighting power and does not interact with hard water. Mixing a little baking soda in with the water before adding the Castile may help to buffer the minerals against depositing on the wool. For laundry in general, you want to use the least amount of products to achieve the cleaning, so try the Castile Soap with just some vinegar in the rinse. If that doesn’t work, try the Castile Soap with just some baking soda. If that doesn’t work, use all three together. Or go for the Sal Suds, which as I mentioned does not have the interaction with hard water.

Sienna says:

Can I use the rose Castile soap instead is Sal suds to pre treat stains?

And will Castile soap be ok to use on any fabric and any colour?

Also I put Castile soap directly on to garments with that are heavily stained leave for 30 mins then rinse
But for lightly stained garments like ring around the collar of shirts I use my spray ( 1/4 Castile soap to 1 litre water) I spray it on rub it gently then leave for 30 mins. Then I rinse it and let it completely air dry before putting it back in the hamper is this ok?

Thank you so much!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Sienna- Yes, any scent of Castile Soap would treat stains when applied directly. I often pretreat ahead – usually as soon as I notice a spot, which is often as I’m taking it off. If I know I won’t be doing laundry for a while, though, I’ll pretreat and then let the item dry before piling it in the hamper. I’ve never had a problem with it causing color fade even with lengthy pretreating. However, if an item is very new or otherwise prone to bleed, perhaps don’t pretreat for long.

Sienna says:

Thank you so much for getting back to me.

I also just wanted to ask you will pre treating my clothing with Castile soap cause them to become stiff over time? I do not use it to wash my clothes only pre treat. It is safe to use on all fabrics?

Also can I add vinegar and baking soda in every wash is that also safe to use on all clothing?

And lastly for really tough set in stains can I pre treat with making a paste from baking soda and Castile soap?

Thank you so much and my apologies for such a lengthy question!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Sienna- If the fabrics get wet and are they colorfast Castile Soap should be fine. If you’re unsure, test first with some soap on a q-tip on an inconspicuous spot. In hard water conditions, it’s best to use vinegar in the rinse cycle often. Castile Soap reacts with the minerals in hard water which can cause fabrics to lose absorbency over time. Vinegar mitigates this. Sal Suds doesn’t have this same reaction, and it’s also slightly better at whitening and brightening that Castile Soap. As for baking soda, I save it for particularly grubby loads. I’ve not tried a paste for stains, but rubbing baking soda onto softer fabrics could scuff them up.

Colleen says:

Can you pretreat a stain and throw it in the hamper until laundry day? How long can clothing sit with pretreater before washing? Thanks

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Colleen- Short answer: yes, you can pretreat way ahead and throw it in the hamper. Longer answer: The issue is the moisture from pretreating causing mildew in the hamper. I often pretreat as soon as I notice a spot, which is often as I’m taking it off. If I know I won’t be doing laundry for a while, though, I’ll pretreat and then let the item dry before piling it in the hamper. I’ve never had a problem with it causing color fade even with lengthy pretreating. However, if an item is very new or otherwise prone to bleed, perhaps don’t pretreat for long.

Melissa says:

What temperature did you do in the wash to rinse out the chocolate?And what temperature do you wash your laundry in?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Melissa- To lift stains, I wash as hot as the fabric can take. If the garment would otherwise be ruined by the stain anyway, I might even go a notch higher. This shirt, which was cotton, I washed on hot. For normal laundry, I wash and rinse on cold to protect the longevity of the fabrics.

Rosemary says:

Sal Suds has saved many a garment! It gets out raspberries, grass stains, blueberries and similar stains that regular washing leaves behind. Essential with young children in the house!

Sal Suds Dilution Cheat Sheet | Going Green with a Bronner Mom says:

[…] Pretreating Laundry Stains with Dr. Bronner’s […]

Naomi says:

Hi, Lisa. I only do laundry once a week, but my husband’s work shirts get stained on a daily basis. Can I leave them to soak in the Sal Suds and water for a full week? Is there a point at which the Sal Suds break down and the dirt goes back into the shirt?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Naomi- My greatest concern is not Sal Suds, but the water getting musty and creating mildew. Perhaps give stains and fabrics a spray of diluted Sal Suds or apply a small amount directly. Soak only for one day before washing, and add 1/2 cup baking soda (1/4 cup for an HE machine) for extra scrubbing power.

Green Laundry Care with Dr. Bronner's says:

[…] the inevitable ketchup/grass/last night’s dinner on clothing, I pre-treat the stain by dabbing a small amount of Sal Suds directly on to it before washing. For broader stains, like […]

Julie says:

Can I hand wash a silk blend top with your Castile liquid soap? How much should I use in a small basin?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Julie- If the fabric can get wet and is colorfast, then yes. Use about a capful of Castile soap – I recommend the Unscented Castile – in a sink of water. Let the item soak for 10 minutes or so. Gently swish it around in the water and then rinse thoroughly in cool water.

Mary Ellen Quint says:

Sal Suds is amazing on stains. I spilled a sauce with both blueberry and cranberry ingredients on a towel. I thought I’d never get it out, but some straight Sal Suds and a wash….no more stains! Awesome!

King F Pedlar says:

Just a comment regarding Bronner’s Eucalyptus Liquid: for years have been battling the smell of dish cloths getting the musty smell. Over the years have soaked them over night in distilled vinegar, not really effective. Other times soaked rags in ammonia, dawn liquid and hot water. Same thing using Clorox with dawn blue liquid and hot water. But only good for a couple of days. Recently tried Bronner’s liquid eucalyptus about An ounce to 3 quarts of hot water; amazing results. Rags smell so good. Maybe the Castile ingredients really purge all the bacteria. The clean smell remains for days.

Herb says:

I have a question regarding sal suds coming in the mail.When I got it it was not liquid as I have gotten it before. It must be due to the cold?
Would putting it in a hot water bath help?

sal suds one smell is so good, any chance of that becoming a Castile soap?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi there – Yes, this time of year, the Sal Suds often turns white and solid in shipping due to the cold. Putting it in a sink full of hot water would clear it up. Even if the sal Suds is white, it will still work just the same. I’m glad you like the scent of the Suds! I’ll definitely share the idea for future development!

Lesley says:

Is the gallon sal suds available with a pump? If not, where would I find one like you are using in the video?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Lesley – No, we don’t sell the pump, but I highly recommend it. I bought mine online for not very much.

Priscilla Cardillo says:

This post came at a perfect time for me because I have a lot of clothes to wash. Sals Suds and Castile soap really does work on stains! One day, my son’s favorite white sleeved jacket was covered in mud stains and pencil and pen marks and nothing helped. That was until I pulled out the Sals Suds and gave it a try. Sals Suds came to the rescue! I rinsed out the dirt in cold water and then I poured sals suds directly on the stains, just like Lisa did. I hang dry a lot of our clothes in the sunshine and I think it helps brighten and freshen them, and they last longer and look nicer. I’ve also been putting lemon peels in my vinegar bottle that I use in my rinse cycles. I like Lisa’s big bottle of Sals Suds with the pump so I’m going to order that, along with some lavender Castile soap. Thanks for the video!

Have a nice Mothers Day and a happy Spring!

~Priscilla Cardillo

Lisa Bronner says:

Fantastic, Priscilla! Sal Suds to the rescue once again!

Donna says:

Love doing laundry w Sal’s suds. My husband treats his work & hunting stains w Sal’s suds and he was amazed how well it worked. I will remind him to pour it from the measured amount like u suggested.

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

Learn about my book, Soap & Soul!

Learn More

Print Now!

Sal Suds Cheat Sheet

Sal Suds, Sal Suds, How do I love thee?