Ah, how to remove blood stains. We’ve all been there; some of us have been there more than others, especially if those “some of us” happen to own a child. It’s like, no matter how hard we try to keep our children safe, a blood stained clothes or blood stained carpets are inevitable. I can’t tell you how many pairs of pants I soaked with blood learning how to ride my bike, or playing basketball on our gravel driveway. I didn’t get into a lot of fights (thank god), but those of us who happen to attend a lot of punk rock shows know how hard it is to get out of the pit without getting a little blood on our shirts. Warped Tour bands and their army of helmeted, “skater punk” 12-year-olds are, for the most part, exempt from this statement; their mommies make them put on knee and elbow pads for a reason.
Today, getting rid of blood stains isn’t as hard as it was when I was a kid, mostly because of advancements in biochemical engineering and the affordable enzyme detergents and spot removers that have come from those advancements. If you happen to deal with a lot of blood stains, or any organic stain for that matter, do yourself a favor and go buy some enzyme-based laundry detergent right now; you’ll find a number of them listed in the sidebar to your right. Then, come back and we’ll talk a little bit more about your options for removing blood stains from clothes, carpets, and anything else you or your children bled on before wiping the tears away and finding a band-aid.
Why are blood stains so tough?
Blood stains are by definition an “organic stain,” and organic stains are caused by anything that contains proteins (feces, sweat, urine, etc). Proteins are the building blocks of life and pretty much everything else on this planet; this is what makes blood stains so difficult to remove, because proteins are chemically reactive and tend to bind to each other when they’re exposed to heat and/or certain chemicals.
- Don’t expose blood stains to heat or hot water.
- Don’t pretreat clothing that should be dry cleaned.
- Don’t use strong acids like vinegar on cotton.
- Don’t use enzymes on organic fabrics like wool and silk.
- Don’t use bleach on spandex.
Blood Stain Removal
The first step when removing a blood stain is to dab (or blot) up as much blood as possible with a cotton rag or paper towel. Cotton really is the best material to get that blood up because cotton is one of the most absorbent organic fabrics. It’s a double-edged sword, considering how popular cotton is as a clothing fabric. If you can’t find any cotton around, you should get a paper towel on that spot ASAP. There’s a technique for dabbing (or blotting, as the pros call it) a potential stain. Scrunch up that cloth (or towel) the way your mom did when she saw you had food on your face. Then, rock your index finger and the cloth from the outside edge of the blood spot, slowly working your way toward the center of the stain. This way you’ll avoid spreading the stain further outward.
Once you’ve dabbed up the extra blood, you’ll want to run that blood stain under some cold water. Cold water is essential, because hot water will simply “cook” the blood stain into your clothes. That’s bad, because cleaning a protein-based stain that’s been set with heat is like trying to kick an oak tree down. Maybe Bruce Lee could do it, but he’s dead–so that’s that. Now you have two options here. Dab the blood stain with cold water using a rag, or you can take those clothes off and run cold water over (and hopefully through) the blood spot. Running cold water over a blood stain is probably the best way to get a blood stain out before it sets.
After you’ve flushed the blood stain with cold water, you’ll want to pretreat the stain with either hydrogen peroxide or a detergent with enzymes. Stop right here. Check the tag on the fabric in question. What does it tell you to do in the event of a stain? If it needs dry cleaning, don’t bother pretreating, just get it to your dry cleaner as soon as possible. If you’re dealing with white clothing, you might want to try hydrogen peroxide–the environmentally safe bleaching agent. If you’re dealing with colors, you should try an enzymatic detergent like one of those found in the sidebar to your right. Your best bet is to mix a big bowl of cold water and one of these two solutions, letting the blood stained fabric soak a while before throwing it in the laundry.
Now that you’ve prevented the blood stain from setting, you should probably wash those clothes in cold water with a detergent that uses enzymes. Enzymes are proteins that have been engineered or isolated by biochemical engineers to specifically target and break down other proteins like blood, sweat, urine, vomit, and feces. So, maybe while you’re letting your clothes soak in the pretreatment solution, you should get your ass to the store and pick up a bottle of Seventh Generation or Nature’s Miracle laundry detergent. A lot of “natural” or “earth-friendly” detergents use enzymes because they’re biodegradeable. I wouldn’t use enzymes on wool or silk unless the detergent explicitly states that those fabrics won’t be damaged by using that detergent on them.
Clothes that have been potentially blood stained should only be air dried in a cooler, shaded environment.Whatever you do, don’t try to dry those clothes in a dryer after you’ve treated a blood stain. There is still a possibility that you haven’t cleaned the blood stain out entirely and that you could still set the stain with heat accidentally. You may have to try pretreating and laundering the article of clothing in question a few times before the blood stain is gone completely. You may even have to try bleach. Bleach should be considered a last resort because domestic and industrial use of chlorine bleach has been linked to cancer, infertility, defective fetuses, and immune system deficiencies.
Cleaning Blood Stains with Enzymes
We’ve mentioned using enzymes and enzymatic cleaners to clean blood stains several times in this article, so we thought we’d take the time here to explain why we think enzymes are such a great remedy for blood stains and other organic stains.
The science behind blood stains all boils down to the fact that our bodies are made of proteins, and when these proteins come into contact with other materials, particularly fabrics, the potential for a staining exists. Proteins are highly reactive substances. They react with chemicals, and they react, especially, to heat. The proteins in blood just happen to bind, chemically, to some fabrics when exposed to heat. Once these chemical bonds are in place, it’s very hard to get a blood stain out of clothing.
This is where enzymes come into the mix. Enzymes are proteins, too, but they are designed to react with and break down other proteins–especially those proteins that are commonly found in animal waste and other organic secretions. So, when you use an enzymatic cleaner, you are essentially using a biological weapon to attack those stains. Don’t worry: enzyme detergents don’t present any immediate danger to the environment–just the blood stain. In fact, enzyme detergents are some of the safest detergents on the market, from an ecological standpoint.
Removing Blood Stains Naturally
Saliva is a source of digestive enzymes that your body produces almost constantly. The enzymes in our saliva are designed to break down starches, sugars, fats, and other organic matter–many of which are found in blood. If you’re in a tight spot and you can’t get to a cold water faucet, try dabbing saliva on the stain until you can properly deal with it. You should probably avoid this technique if you’re bleeding from your mouth. Of course, if you’re bleeding from your mouth, a blood stain is probably the least of your worries.
Nature’s Miracle laundry detergent is one of the more well-known enzyme detergents found on the consumer market. A good pretreatment for blood stains involves blotting the stain with Nature’s Miracle, waiting five minutes, and then using a soft-bristle toothbrush to scrub the stain before flushing it with cold water and putting it through a cold cycle in your washing machine. Nature’s Miracle can be found on a number of websites that sell pet products.
Earth Friendly Products Stain & Odor Remover is, well, and earth friendly stain and odor remover. This particular product made by Earth Friendly Products is an enzymatic spot treatment. Just spray it on the blood stain and let it sit a few minutes before throwing it in a cold wash.
Seventh Generation Free and Clear Laundry Detergent is probably one of the most accessible and cheapest detergents that use enzymes to get out tough stains. You’ll find Seventh Generation products in almost every grocery store you go to these days. If your grocer isn’t selling Seventh Generation products, it might be time for you to tell them you want green alternatives to the poison they’re foisting on you and your kin.