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How to remove the most common uniform stains

Despite your best efforts, blood stains, food grease and the not-so-fun vomit tinge happen from time to time


By Sarah Calams, P1 Contributor

Let's put the debate aside of whether or not color matters in regard to first responder uniforms.

Today's fire, EMS and police uniforms all have one thing in common: they must be clean in order to maintain a professional appearance. But let's also be honest: stains happen.

Do you have a stain removal trick that we didn't mention? (Photo/Pixabay)
Do you have a stain removal trick that we didn't mention? (Photo/Pixabay)

Here's a quick guide on how to remove the most common uniform stains.

1. How to remove blood stains

Believe it or not, blood stains are probably the easiest to remove before they set. However, if you wait to remove the blood stain after 24 hours, it may be nearly impossible to get rid of the stain.

You don't need anything fancy or costly to remove blood stains. If the blood stain is fresh, rinse your uniform under cold water. It's important to not use hot water – it will cause the blood to set in the fabric. Use a cloth or sponge to blot the stain and then wash immediately.

Another trick to get rid of blood stains is by pouring white vinegar (as little or as much needed) on the stain. Let the vinegar soak on the stain for 10 minutes and then wash immediately.

An even easier trick is by using Coca-Cola to soak the stain – preferably overnight – and then wash immediately. Cold salt water can also be used to remove blood stains, but requires soaking for three to four hours. Once it has soaked in the salt water, then you must wash the uniform immediately.

2. How to remove vomit stains

For vomit stain removal, it's key to remove the stain as quickly as possible. Your first (gross) step is to remove as much vomit as possible from the stain. Once you've done that, rinse the stain with cold water. Again, you don't want to use hot water – it will make the stain set in the fabric.

If the stain is still there, try soaking the stain with this mixture:

  • 1 quart of warm water
  • ½ teaspoon of liquid detergent
  • 1 tablespoon of ammonia

You can use a brush to go over the mixture on the stain. Be sure to rinse well under water – you have to remove all traces of ammonia off the uniform. Last step: wash in warm (not hot) water with liquid detergent.

3. How to remove dirt and dust stains

A simple wash with liquid detergent should do the trick of getting rid of dirt stains. However, if the stain persists, try sponging the stain with rubbing alcohol. Once you've done that, wash it under water and then throw it in the laundry. Dust is pretty simple – brush it off and throw it in the wash.

4. How to remove food grease stains

Dish soap is actually the easiest and most effective way to get rid of food grease stains on your uniform. Apply the dish soap, such as Dawn, to the stain. Be sure to rub the detergent into the stain and then let it sit for 10 minutes. After that, throw your uniform into the wash. That's it! It's really that simple.

5. How to remove grass stains

Grass stains are tough, but they don't have to be. Like many of the stain removal tips above, it's best to remove a grass stain as quickly as possible. To remove grass stains, use this mixture:

  • 1 tablespoon of dish soap
  • 2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide

First, soak your uniform under warm water. Mix the dish soap and hydrogen peroxide and then pour it directly onto the grass stain. Let it soak for 10 to 15 minutes and then rinse again under warm water to get rid of the mixture. After that, throw it immediately into the wash

6. How to remove sweat stains

If the sweat stains sit for too long, the stains can turn yellow and ruin your uniform. To get rid of sweat stains, use this mixture:

  • 1 cup vinegar
  •  ½ cup of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide

First wash the stain with vinegar and water and then mix the baking soda, salt and hydrogen peroxide. After thoroughly rubbing the mixture on the stain, throw your uniform immediately into the wash.

7. How to remove carcinogens

Researchers are still looking into how to best remove carcinogen containments from first responder uniforms. According to Jeffrey and Grace Stull, there's little evidence on how clean firefighter turnout gear is after laundering. There's even less evidence on the best ways to clean it. Current laundering methods include a range of cleaning equipment, agents and processes with very little validation that the containments are fully removed.

However, what we do know is that uniforms must be washed immediately if exposed to carcinogens before continuing use. Some departments will hand wash their gear, others will hose it down before washing. Don't forget – you have to wash all of your gear if exposed (gloves, helmets, footwear, hoods, etc.). Last bit of advice: wash all of your gear separately so you don't cross-contaminate and take a shower as soon as you can.

Do you have a stain removal trick that we didn't mention? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below.


About the author
Sarah Calams is the Associate Editor of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief. In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the fire service to bring insights and lessons learned to firefighters everywhere. She can be reached at Sarah.Calams@FireRescue1.com.

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