Let’s face it: Kids like playing in the dirt. Toddlers are fascinated by making mud puddles. Preschoolers and school-age kids like to make them, then play in them. And older school-age kids take this love of mud to a new level: they play soccer, baseball, softball, or football. Which means that at some point in their parenting existence, most mamas (and some dads, too!) will need to know how to get mud out of clothes.
I used to think I was the stain guru. At the seasonal consignment sales where I hang out for several weeks a year, all the other mamas always come to ME to ask how to get this or that stain out of things. I even wrote a whole post listing my favorite stain-removal helpers.
But there was one stain-removal solution that eluded me: How to get mud out of clothes.
Fortunately (?), this past summer my girls discovered a very muddy cave to explore while we attended our first family music festival. When we got home, it was time to do a thorough test of what would get out mud and dirt the best.
How To Get Mud Out Of Clothes
While Dear Husband and I were enjoying the Sunday morning “Gospel Set” at last summer’s music fest, the girls got bored. So they asked if they could explore a cave in the nearby rock formations with a bunch of other kids.
My husband and I had been marveling all weekend at how our girls were finally old enough to go play with other kids, without us chaperoning them every second. So we said, sure, go ahead! – we’ll catch up with you when the set is over.
It hadn’t occurred to us that the “cave” in question was lined with mud. Or that our kids would spend lots of time sitting on the floor of this muddy cave. Kid heaven, for sure. Laundry heaven, not so much.
Cleaning them up with a shower that night was the easy part. But after we got home, I decided it was time to overcome the laundry mud challenge once and for all.
The three products I tested thoroughly are
- OxiClean powder, which was already in my stain-removal arsenal. Even though pictures on our packaging claim that OxiClean is the official stain-remover of Major League Baseball, I have been less-than-fully-impressed with its ability to get out dirt and mud in the past – even when soaking laundry overnight with multiple scoops of powder dissolved in the washer, as recommended on the back of the package for “tough stain removal.” OxiClean comes in large boxes (3-7 lbs), but one box lasts a long time.
- Zote bars, which I first heard about from my friend and fellow blogger Michele. She swears by them for cleaning her boys’ baseball uniforms. You MAY be able to find them in stores where you live, but for me that’s not the case; I had to buy them online. Buying a multi-bar pack of the 14-oz size is much more cost effective than buying a single bar, if you’re shopping online.
- Fels-Naptha bars, which I found in the laundry section of my local grocery store when looking for the Zote bars at Michele’s suggestion. If you can get these bars in a local store, it will probably be cheaper than buying them online; grocery stores near me all sell them for less than $1.50/bar. But if you can’t buy them locally, then buying a multipack online costs much less per bar than a single bar. (For what it’s worth, Fels-Naptha is good to keep on hand anyway, because it will remove poison ivy resin from both skin and clothing!)
- I also did limited testing with Carbona’s Stain Devils Grass-Dirt-Makeup formula. But given the small quantity per bottle versus the large quantity of mud I had to remove, my already-partially-used bottle ran out early in the process. So I just kept going with the other three. We can sometimes get bottles of these micro-targeted formulas locally, but a 1.7-ounce bottle usually costs $3-$5. Not the best option for multiple sets of muddy clothes, as I could have easily gone through a brand-new bottle and still had mud left to treat!
For the primary testing, I mostly applied the stain removers as directed on the packaging, with one notable exception. In each case, I applied the treatment directly to the fabric on the muddiest two pairs of shorts.
- For the Fels-Naptha and Zote bars, I wet the fabric first and then rubbed the bar directly on to the fabric, allowing it to sit for awhile before putting into the washer.
- For the Carbona, I squirted it directly on the fabric, as per the bottle instructions.
- For the OxiClean, I used a method that I read about somewhere once (on an old package? – I didn’t see it on my current packaging). Unlike the long presoak that my current packages recommend, I used this alternate method because it’s the only thing that’s given me some success in the past, when it comes to mud/dirt removal. I filled a laundry cap with OxiClean powder, stirred in enough water to form a paste, and then applied the paste directly to the laundry. Next I allowed the paste to dry (which usually takes 10-15 min) before adding the clothing to the washer.
For the denim shorts and a pair of khaki shorts, I applied the Oxi paste to the back right pocket, a squirt of Carbona to the center seam, the Fels-Naptha to the upper left side, and the Zote to the lower left side.
I also tested a bunch of socks with OxiClean, Zote, and Fels-Naptha. All the socks were muddy from the camping trip, but also had accumulated dirt discoloration on the soles from previous use. After washing, I line-dried everything in case all the stains had not come out the first time around, since I didn’t want the dryer heat to “set” any remaining stains.
The first round of stain treatment on the shorts showed much improvement, but there were still traces of mud visible. All four products yielded similar results to one another, on both the denim and the khaki shorts.
It was only AFTER I had done the first round of treatment that I asked Michele if she usually worked the Zote into the fabric with a scrub brush between treating and washing, even though the packaging did not mention this step. When she said yes, I re-treated the denim shorts and the khaki shorts by applying Zote (scrubbed in) to the back right side, and Fels-Naptha (scrubbed in) to the back left side. This time I worked both treatments in with a scrub brush before tossing them into the washer. I also treated a green print pair of shorts with just these two bars (again, scrubbing in the soap after rubbing the bar onto the wet fabric) before washing them.
Results were similar between the two bar products, but working the bar soaps into the wet fabric with a scrub brush definitely did a better job of cleaning the green shorts on the first try. The two pairs I re-treated also came out cleaner after I had scrubbed the soap in.
The socks fared better than any of the shorts in the first round. The dirt stains and mud residue were gone from every treated sock after just one treatment, even though I did not use a scrub brush after applying the bar soaps to some of the socks.
The bottom line:
Any one of these products, when used as described above, does a reasonable job at getting mud and dirt out of clothing.
However, I noticed definite pros and cons to using each product, which are also worth considering before you buy any one of them:
- The Carbona was easiest to use (just squirt on!), but also the most expensive per use. And it’s also somewhat harder to find in local stores (where it’s cheaper, for me at least, than buying online); the store where I shop the most often does not carry it. So this is my last choice.
- The OxiClean is by far the most cost-effective AND easy to find, but also the hardest to use. I usually buy the large boxes of OxiClean powder at Costco, but it’s also available online (where it costs around $2/lb or less) and in grocery and department stores. This test confirmed what I had already discovered previously: Mixing Oxi into a paste, applying it directly to the dirt, letting the paste dry, and THEN machine-washing will remove (most) mud/dirt. But it’s messy and time-consuming, and (except for the socks) the results were not as good as scrubbing in the two bar soaps. (OxiClean’s packaging encourages overnight soaking in a concentrated OxiClean solution to remove dirt, but I’ve had better luck with the paste than with long soaking.)
- Fels-Naptha and Zote both removed mud/dirt the best (when scrubbed in), are budget-friendly, and are relatively easy to use. If you’re going to try either of these and cannot find them in stores near you, I strongly recommend ordering several bars at once online, because this is much more cost-effective than ordering a single bar.
The overall winner:
However, Zote was the overall winner because it has one crucial advantage over Fels-Naptha. See if you can figure out what it is from these photos:
The eco-friendly Fels-Naptha paper wrapper initially impressed me, compared to the hard-to-open plastic wrapper on the Zote. But as I’ve used the bars (keeping them in their wrappers so they don’t get all over my wet hands and slip out), I’ve found that rubbing the Zote bar into fabric is easier than the Fels-Naptha for this very reason. The plastic wrapper on the Zote makes a sturdier holder than the paper Fels wrapper, which has just disintegrated over time – good for the planet, perhaps, but not so much for quick low-mess stain treatments.
It’s because of this ease-of-use that I’ve tested Zote on other cleaning challenges since the mud-removal challenge. The most stunning results have come from cleaning several sets of dirty shoes, in preparation for the fall children’s resale event season. Zote did wonders with pretreating dirt stains on fabric shoes before throwing them in the washer. But what shocked me most was how well they performed on cleaning white soles.
Ordinarily I’d try to clean shoe soles with magic erasers, which usually gets them somewhat cleaner – but not always, and not always completely. (Besides, rubbing melamine sponges over rough surfaces tears up your sponge pretty quickly.) So on a whim, I wet the white sole of a shoe, rubbed the Zote bar over it, scrubbed a little, and rinsed. As you can see, the Zote shoe (right) looks clean as new, compared to the left shoe AFTER I’d used a melamine sponge on it!
So there you have it!
If you want to know how to get mud out of clothes, you have several options, but there are pros and cons to each. Have you tried any of these products? How do YOU get mud and dirt stains out of clothing? Let us know in the comments!
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