Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. Her flagship column, "Ask a Clean Person", debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we've launched a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings.
@joliekerr did you know breast milk stains? ???? Any suggestions?
— Claire Nichols (@FridayImInLovex) May 21, 2018
Breast milk can cause staining, it's true! While they aren't the worst stains in the world (that honour goes to turmeric), dairy stains can be frustrating to remove, unless you know these tricks, which will make dealing with them a breeze. Or, at least, not a total nightmare.
Rinse It Out
As with most stains, the longer that breast milk stays on a garment, the more difficult it will be to get out. If it's possible, rinsing the stained garment with cool running water will go a long, long way in keeping items such as nursing bras and shirts from becoming permanently stained by milk.
The easiest way to do this is simply to hold the garment taut under the kitchen or bathroom sink tap, do a quick flush, wring the item out, and then launder it when you can. If flushing alone doesn't do the trick, try applying a small amount of dishwashing detergent, which can help to break down the proteins in the milk and eliminate stains.
One thing not to do, which is a common trick for regular bra care but shouldn't be applied to nursing bras that have gotten milk-stained, is taking the garment into the shower with you for its rinse unless you're taking a cold shower. The reason is that warm or hot water will, essentially, cook the proteins in breast milk, making them worse.
Try an Enzymatic Stain Remover
But let's say you can't flush a milk-stained garment with water as immediately as you'd like. It happens! Especially when caring for a small child! Not to worry, there are plenty of good laundry pre-treatment options that can help to eliminate milk stains.
Because breast milk is a protein stain, an enzymatic stain remover is going to be the ticket here. A good one to try is Puracy Stain Remover. Apply the product to the stain, allow it to work for 10-15 minutes to penetrate and break down the proteins, then launder the garment as usual.
There are also laundry detergents that have enzyme-based formulas. If you're finding that breast milk stains are frequently occurring, you may want to switch to one of those brands to cut down on the amount of time you're spending treating those common stains.
Quick sidebar on enzymes: They're not created equally! Some, like amylase enzymes, are better on starches, while protease enzymes are the ones you want for protein stains such as dairy. When looking for a stain treatment or detergent formula that will work on milk and other protein stains, check the ingredient list - if you see the word "protease" on there, you're good to go.
Soak It in Oxygen Bleach Solution
Oxygen bleaches are also excellent at removing milk stains - especially set-in ones. For fresher stains, using an oxygen bleach as a booster in the wash alongside your regular detergent can help eliminate stains, but when the stains linger, you'll want to soak the garments in an oxygen bleach solution for an hour up to overnight prior to laundering.
Oxygen bleach should be dissolved in hot water to activate it, but you don't need to soak the items in hot water if the garment may be prone to shrinking, contains elastic that shouldn't be exposed to hot water, or if the stain, like milk, doesn't respond well to hot water.
Instead, put a scoop the powder in enough hot liquid to dissolve it and add it to a larger body of cool soaking water. The sink, tub or a washing bucket can be used for soaking, which can take an hour up to overnight, depending on how set-in the stains are. After soaking, gently wring the garments out and launder them as usual.
Do you have a favourite trick or product for tackling breast milk stains on clothes? Let us know in the comments please!