No matter what household miracles a cleanser promises, certain stains appear destined to become permanent fixtures in our décor. These unsightly spots resist our best efforts to scrub or spray them away, whether we’re using a popular product or great-grandma’s homegrown concoction. Before throwing in the paper towel, you might do well to try these effective ways to remove seemingly immovable spots on counters, carpets, furniture, walls and appliances.*


Countertops. On porous granite or marble countertops, tough spills, such as wine and tomato-based stains, require quick action for the best results. Immediately blot up and spray water on the spot, then cover the area with a paste of baking soda and water that is the consistency of thick pancake batter. Cover this poultice with plastic wrap for 24 hours, then remove and wash with mild dish soap and water. Reapply if the stain isn’t gone.

For especially difficult stains that are resistant to the baking soda poultice, especially stains that you have not dealt with immediately, try 3% hydrogen peroxide, first testing a small, discreet area for possible discoloration of the stone. Fold a piece of cotton gauze so that it is roughly the size of the stain, and saturate it with the hydrogen peroxide. Place the pad on the stain, then cover with plastic wrap and secure the edges with painter’s tape. Leave a plate or other heavy object on top for 24 hours. Reapply if necessary. Wash off well when done.

On laminate countertops, which are especially prone to coffee, tea and wine stains, try a mixture of cream of tartar and lemon juice as thick as pancake batter. Rub gently in a circular motion, letting the mixture sit for an hour if necessary. Again, test in an inconspicuous spot first. For especially tough stains, nail polish remover or paint thinner may work, but if either one touches the counter seams, it can damage the glue. To avoid scratches, never use steel wool or abrasives on the counter.

On a wood counter, for a heat mark (a white mark where a hot object drew moisture from wood), massage petroleum jelly into the mark with your fingers, let it sit overnight and then wipe it off in the morning. If the mark is lighter but not gone, repeat the treatment. If this doesn’t work, consider the following, but use extreme care.

Lay a folded towel over the spot, and press with an iron on the medium-hot setting for about a minute. If the mark isn’t disappearing, turn to the steam setting on your iron and go over the towel again, alternating between steam and no steam. Caution: Keep the iron moving, and keep it on the towel.

Stainless steel appliances may look impressive, but they pose a huge cleaning problem—their finishes easily becoming smeared. Trying to clean them with soap and water can build up residue. After much trial and error, I found two methods that work.

CLR Stainless Steel Cleaner, a quick spray-and-wipe product, leaves a streak-free shine and removes fingerprints.

For mix-it-yourselfers, wring out a microfiber cloth in a solution of 50% warm water and 50% white vinegar. Wipe down the stainless steel surface, and quickly buff with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.


Shower. Soap scum on glass shower doors can pose a tough problem. To clean, rub on some undiluted liquid fabric softener, let it sit for about an hour, apply more softener, then rub with a gentle scrubbing sponge. Wash with liquid dish soap and water, then rinse and buff.

To remove soap scum, mold and mildew from plastic shower curtains and liners, put them in the washing machine with regular detergent and two cups of white vinegar. Add several old towels, and run them through the regular wash cycle. When the wash is done, gather the curtain in a towel to avoid dripping water and rehang in the bathroom, stretching it fully to dry.

Toilet. Waterline ring can be a stubborn, nasty eyesore. To clean, shut off the water at the toilet tank and flush. Then spray on white vinegar, and sprinkle on borax. Rub the line with a piece of very fine drywall sandpaper. Turn the water back on, and flush.

Tile and grout. Try one cup of borax, two cups of baking soda and one-to-two cups of hot water. Mix to pancake-batter consistency, then scrub on tiles and grout with a brush, and rinse well when done. Make sure that the brush is soft enough to avoid scratching the tile.


Rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting attract all manner of stains.

Pet urine is probably the number-one carpet stain problem, and I have found a particularly helpful product.

Pee Whiz, a lightly scented, natural product, digests the protein in pet and human urine, which is necessary to remove the stain. (Disclosure: I sometimes am paid to appear at events to speak about Pee Whiz, but I began using it years before I started doing the endorsements.) First, blot up as much urine as possible, then spray on a heavy dose of the Pee Whiz. Wait a few hours, blot, then lightly spray again. For old, deep urine stains, apply the product heavily. After a few hours, extract the product with a carpet-cleaning machine. Note: Pee Whiz also works on food, vomit and feces stains, and can be used on beds.

Food. For food on carpets, keep a bottle of club soda handy. When you have a liquid spill, pour on club soda and blot with a paper towel or cloth. The carbonation will lift the spill to the surface, and the salts will reduce staining. Keep applying and blotting until you see only clear water on your towel. Place a large pad of paper towels on the spot, and stand on it until the area is mostly dry, then gently brush the carpet.

Red wine. White wine not only pairs well with fish, it also works on red-wine carpet spills. Pour white wine on the spill to neutralize the red wine and blot well. Follow by pouring on club soda and, again, blotting thoroughly.

For any sort of set-in carpet stain, try one cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide and one teaspoon of ammonia. Saturate the stain, let it sit for a few hours, then blot. If the solution releases some of the stain, continue to treat until the spot is gone. Caution: Never mix ammonia and chlorine bleach.


Walls. Young children often leave their creative marks in unexpected places. For felt-tip marker on hard surfaces such as furniture and plastic, rub firmly with a clean dollar bill. This often will remove the spot entirely.

Using washable crayons can prevent problems. For regular crayon on walls, spray a paper towel with WD-40 lubricant and wipe off the marks. Wash with warm water and liquid dish soap, then rinse.

To remove kids’ stickers from walls or other hard surfaces, heat the sticker with a blow dryer, pointing it at an angle to the sticker. Use a dull edge—a credit card or putty knife—to gently peel up the sticker.

If you have soot on the wall near a fireplace, don’t touch it with water. Instead, use a dry dirt-and-soot-removal sponge to erase the soot. You can find these at most hardware stores.

Furniture. Have water rings on wood furniture? Add a little salt to a glob of regular mayonnaise, work it into the ring in a circular motion for a few minutes and leave overnight. Wipe it off in the morning. If there’s improvement, keep at it until the mark is gone.

*With any cleaning method that you are trying on a particular surface for the first time, always test an inconspicuous area to make sure there are no adverse effects that outweigh the benefits.