Spilled oil-based paint on your favorite T-shirt? Dripped red wine on white carpeting (who has white carpeting, anyway?). For almost everything that you stain, gunk up or break, there's usually a pretty simple way to fix it. Even everyday cleaning doesn't necessarily require a special product for every job.
Pre-Treating Stains, Generally
In most cases, the absolute worst and least-effective way to pre-treat a stain is to wet the fabric first. If you wet it, all you're doing is diluting the pre-treater. If you notice a stain after laundering, for the love of Pete, don't throw it in the dryer. Let it air dry, then pre-treat it and launder again. The one main exception is blood stains. Dampening the fabric with COLD water first can sometimes help.
Do - Enzyme-Based Cleaner or Spot Shot
Don't - Regular Laundry Detergent or cleaners
Whatever you do, don't wash the item with soap or regular laundry detergent. Just don't. If you do, the stain (and the odor) may become permanent. Pet stains have proteins that can bond with fibers if you wash with most laundry detergents or cleaners. You need enzymes.
Enzymes break down those proteins, allowing them to be washed away. You can find enzymes in certain very specific laundry products. Gain, Shout pre-treater and Wisk are my go-to brands. Ya gotta read the label. It doesn't matter if that product label says that it's heavy-duty or if you've been using it for years. If you wash the blanket that Fido peed on using a product that doesn't have enzymes, every time you pull that blanket out of the dryer you'll smell that odor anew. That's the exact opposite of awesome. There's another product that I have recently discovered, and I love it. It's faster than laundering with enzymes, and it works great if the item can't be laundered (like carpets). Spot Shot works like magic. Spray it on and dab it off, and you're good to go. Regular Spot Shot works fine, and there's another one called Spot Shot Pet that smells nice and fresh, not really perfumey.
Wine, Juice, Coffee and Tea
Do - Enzymes or Dry Oxygen Granules
Don't - Pre-Mixed Oxygen Cleaners
Enzymes also work well for these types of stains, but there's a better way. Oxygen cleaners are faster and more thorough. First things first. You don't want any oxygen-based product that's already in liquid form unless you're using hydrogen peroxide. Spray-on oxy cleaners seem convenient, but they work about half as well as their dry counterparts. Basically, they're expensive junk. Oxy Clean and an equally effective cheaper brand, Sun Oxygen Cleaner, come in a tub of white granules. Fill a small bucket with the hottest water that the fabric can stand and add one or more scoops of granules, then soak the stain or the whole item. In most cases, the stain disappears before your eyes. If the stain is on carpeting, mix the granules in hot water, soak a rag in the cleaner and dab the stain until it disappears.
Do - COLD Water and Hydrogen Peroxide
Don't - Hot or Warm Water, Chlorine Bleach
Good gravy, don't ever use hot or even warm water on a blood stain. Likewise, never, ever, ever (ever!) use chlorine bleach on blood. Well, unless you want the stain to turn brown or black and stick around for-evah.
If possible, rinse out as much of the blood as you can while the stain is still wet using the coldest water that you have. If the stain has dried, it's not necessarily a loss. First, rinse out as much as you can with cold water, then switch to plain old hydrogen peroxide. If the fabric is tough like jeans, scrubbing the stain with a fingernail brush helps the water soak into the blood. Many times, setting the item in the sink and dousing the stain with peroxide is all that you need to do, but peroxide can lighten some colors. If the fabric is dark or you think peroxide might lighten it, rubbing the stain with bar soap and scrubbing it under cold water may save it. Instead of using straight peroxide, try a weak, cooled solution of oxygen cleaner.
Do - Whink Rust Remover
Don't - Bleach
Whink is a specialty product, and I have never found anything that works as well. It smells funky and you need to wear rubber gloves while handling it, but it dissolves rust stains on clothing right before your eyes. It also removes rust stains just about anywhere else that you have them such as concrete driveways and inside porcelain / cast iron bathtubs and sinks. Don't waste your time or lungs using bleach. Bleach won't remove rust.
Mineral Deposits on Sink and Shower Fixtures
Do - CLR or Other Mineral Deposit Removing Chemical
Don't - Comet, Ajax or Other Scouring Cleansers
Mineral deposits can collect around the base of faucet handles, shower heads and any other metal items where water is often present. Generally, you can't scrub them off. They're hard as rock, and chipping them off can damage the fixtures. CLR is a very strong chemical that dissolves calcium, lime scale and rust without a lot of scrubbing. The easiest way that I have found to use CLR is with an old, cheap paintbrush. Dip the brush into the liquid and brush it onto the deposits. If your shower head is gunked up, twist it off and soak it in a small container of CLR. Don't get this stuff on your hands, and open a window. It smells bad, and can burn your skin.
Do - Mildew Remover
Don't - Bleach
I know, I know. We've all spent our whole lives believing that bleach kills mildew. It doesn't. Well, it kinda does, but it will come back. Bleach seems more effective than it really is because it lightens the black stains. To kill the mildew, you need a special product that says right on the label that it kills mildew. Otherwise, you're just lightening the stain and leaving a bunch of the mildew in place and ready to start growing again the next time that you shower. Most showers have caulk around the seams. If the caulk is stained, I'm sorry but you have to peel it out and replace it with new caulk. It's probably stained because water has snuck in behind it. I used silicone caulk in my shower because it is much more resistant to water than acrylic caulk.
Mirrors and Windows
Do - Plain Water, Dish Soap or Invisible Glass
Don't - Windex
What? Dont' use Windex? Mom used Windex and I use Windex and everybody uses Windex? Yeah, just don't. Windex is a complete waste of money because it doesn't do anything special. Even a bathroom mirror that's got toothpaste flecks on it doesn't need anything more than warm water and a bit of polishing. I don't use newspaper, even though a lot of cleaning experts say that's the best way. I tried. I wound up with printer's ink all over my hands. Ick. Just dampen a plain cotton rag with water, wipe down the mirror and wipe it again with a dry cotton rag. If there's hairspray on the mirror, mix a drop (one drop) of dishwashing liquid in a bucket of warm water and wipe down the mirror with that. A drop of dishwashing liquid in a bucket of water is also the best cleaner for windows. If you have a lot of windows, use a rubber squeegee to clean them faster. If you absolutely must use some chemical cleaner on glass, try Invisible Glass. Mr. Vagabond bought a spray can to use on the glass in our vehicles, and it's fantastic. It never leaves a single trace of residue, which is pretty important on windshields.
Paint, Wood Stain and Urethane
Do - Soap and Water, Paint Thinner or Mineral Oil, GoJo Hand Cleaner, Depending on the Stain
Don't - Depends on the Stain
Paint, wood stain and urethane are tricky beasts on clothing and other fibers like rugs. Once it's dry, you're essentially screwed, regardless of whether it's oil- or water-based. This is also true for cleaning used paintbrushes. Once the material is dry on the bristles, the brush is toast. Sorry.
On Hard Surfaces
Dried paint, stain or urethane on a hard object, such as a vinyl or wood floor, metal or plastic can usually be scraped off. There's no need to use paint remover. If the material is water based, soaking it in warm water loosens it, and you can just wipe it off. If it's oil-based, warm water may help make it rubbery, enabling you to peel it off.
If the paint, stain or urethane is still wet, the approach depends on whether it's oil- or water-based.
Wet water-based materials dissolve in plain water. You can add detergent or soap if you like. If any of the stain remains, don't let it dry in the fibers. If you absolutely can't keep working at it, rub a bar of soap into the fibers using a lot of pressure to help keep it from setting until you can go back to cleaning it.
Wet oil-based materials don't need paint thinner, although thinner will work. Paint thinner can destroy some synthetic fibers, though, so try much gentler mineral oil, baby oil or GoJo Mechanic's Hand Cleaner instead. Even oily makeup remover will work.
Do not soak or even dampen oil-based materials with water before treating the stain, and don't try to get out the stain with detergent or soap first. If you do, you may never get it out.
Soak the stain with oil (even cooking oil in a pinch) or GoJo and rub, rub, rub. You can see when the stain thins and breaks up because it begins to spread. This is the point where you can add detergent directly on the oil. Don't add water yet. Rub, rub, rub the stain with detergent until you no longer feel any oil on your skin. Test this by rinsing your hands in water. If oil remains on your skin, you need more detergent on the stain. You may need a lot of detergent to break up the oil.
The next part is critical. You don't want to exchange a paint stain for an oil stain. Rinse out the detergent using warm water and let the fabric air dry. Don't launder it in the washing machine, and don't throw it in the dryer. Just let it air dry. When the fabric dries, you may see a dark spot. Don't panic, because this is just residual oil. Don't add water yet. Pre-treat the oil stain with laundry stain remover like Shout, use more GoJo or rub Dawn dish detergent into the oily stain. Rub, rub, rub, rinse and let air dry again. Keep at this until the dry fabric no longer has any oily stain. Then you can launder it.