What To Do When Your Kid's Clothes Are Covered In Dirt And Mud Stains

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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.


Have you covered ground-in dirt stains from a baby who wore light coloured pants while crawling outside? The knees are caked with dirt. :-(

I haven’t, and I’m so glad you asked this question!

Mud is a funny animal in the stain world! It’s one of the few stains that isn’t best treated immediately, and here’s why: After mud has had a chance to dry back into dirt, much of it can be brushed away, which is the first step to treating dirt stains. So! If your kiddo has gotten into a mudpile, you can sit back, relax, and just chill about dealing with the resulting stains.

Once you’ve gotten to the dirt stage of staining, or if you, like our letter writer, began at the dirt stage of staining, take a look at what you’re dealing with. If the dirt stain is confined to a small area, such as the knees of a romper, or just a few splatters on the back of a pair of pants, pretreating the stain and laundering the garment should be all that’s needed.

When it comes to picking the right stain pretreatment product, it’s good and helpful to know that mud and dirt (and grass!) fall into the protein stain category, because they’re organic matter. The best products to use on protein stains are ones that are enzymatic-based. It may be helpful, also, to rub the fabric against itself a bit to work the product into the stain before the garment goes into the washing machine.

If it’s a larger stain, a little more work may be needed to successfully remove all the soiling. But hopefully not too much work! You’ll still want to start by brushing off as much of the dirt as you can, and then you’re going to soak the garment for an hour up to overnight prior to laundering.

Just like with spot treating, using an enzyme-based product for the soaking is the way to go, though oxygen bleaches will also do the trick in a long soak situation. When it comes to protein stain removal, soaking soiled clothes in detergent prior to laundering will go a long way in eliminating all that dirt.

Using a laundry brush, too, will help to coax the dirt out of the fibres — I use a long-handled nail brush as my “laundry brush”, and I do find that it greatly helps in getting stubborn stains out when combined with the long soaking method.

Whichever path you’ve chosen — spot treating or long soaking — at the end of the road is laundering. One quick note on washing mud- and dirt-stained clothes: Check to make sure the stains are gone before the clothes go into the dryer, as the heat from a dryer will set a stain.

And sometimes stains don’t come out after the first wash but don’t despair! Sometimes a second spin through the washer is what’s needed to fully eliminate a stain.


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