Whenever you notice a stain on your clothing, conventional wisdom says to wash the item as soon as possible. The longer the stain sits there, the more permanent it will become. Unfortunately, you can’t always run to the nearest washing machine. When you’re one a multi-day hiking trip, it’s going to be a few days before your clothes can be cleaned. Does this mean you’re doomed to keep that trail dust as a permanent souvenir? Fear not, even the most stubborn camping stains can be defeated with a few easy steps.
Please note that the following advice refers to clothes that are safe to place in a home washing machine. If you are dealing with any fabric that requires dry cleaning (many wool clothes cannot be machine washed) then it’s best to let the professionals deal with the stain before you do irreversible damage to your clothing.
1. Let it Dry
Unlike most stains, which you should try to blot out before they set, mud should be allowed to dry before you treat it. Trying to remove mud or even damp soil will most likely just smear the stain around, making it bigger. Allow the dirt to dry before brushing off as much as possible. Be gentle while brushing. You want to get off as much dirt as you can, but you don’t want to grind it deeper into the fabric of your clothes.
*Trail Tip: Take muddy clothes off as soon as possible. Not only is wearing them uncomfortable, but it will also grind the mud into your clothes and make the stain worse. If you’re hiking, hang the stained clothing on the outside of your pack to help it dry. In your campsite, look for a sunny spot to spread it out. Once it’s dry you can brush out as much as you can.
2. Let it Soak
Yes, you have to let your stained clothes dry before you can soak them. It might sound odd, but it’s true. Once you’ve gotten as much of the dirt off as possible with gentle brushing, it’s time to soak the stain. You can let it soak anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight before throwing it in the washing machine. Putting a drop or two of detergent in the water can make soaking more effective.
*Trail Tip: If you have access to plenty of water at your campsite, soaking your muddy clothes can help prevent the stain from setting before you make it back to a washing machine. This works best if you have a base camp you return to every night, as jamming wet clothes into your back when you break camp in the morning will be counterproductive.
3. Do Not Place Clothes in Dryer
Putting stained clothes in the dryer often makes the stain even more permanent by baking it in. Examine the article of clothing carefully to make sure the stain is gone before running it through a drying cycle. Even if the stain looks to be gone, it’s often best to let the material air dry after the first time you wash it. Stains sometimes become invisible on wet clothing, only to reappear as the fabric dries.
4. Use Liquid Dish Soap
If the stain doesn’t come out on a regular wash cycle, rub two or three drops of liquid dish soap into the stain before trying again. If you have a top loading washing machine, you can add a teaspoon of dish soap to your load of laundry instead of detergent. Just be careful not to use too much. A teaspoon is not a lot of soap, so it’s best to measure instead of guessing.
*Trail Tip: Hand sanitizer also works to spot treat stains. Even if you don’t have dish soap along with you on your trip, many hikers do carry a small container of hand sanitizer with them. Putting a few drops of this on the stain will make it much easier to wash the dirt out once you return home.
5. Spot Cleaning
If the stain still hasn’t come out after using dish soap, you can use an old toothbrush to spot clean the stain. Once again put a drop or two of liquid dish soap on the stain. Add a few drops of water as well and start brushing. A circular motion works best. Make sure you scrub both sides of the clothing, as the dirt has most likely fully permeated the fabric at this point.
*Trail Tip: If you’re out camping you probably don’t have a spare toothbrush with you, but a little bit of scrubbing might get the stain out even before you get a chance to wash the entire article of clothing. Rubbing the material between your thumb and forefinger is one way to tackle the stain. Another effective option is to double the material over so that you are rubbing fabric on fabric. This is best for large stains, however, as using a clean spot risks transferring the stain to another area.
6. Rinse and Repeat
Depending on how stubborn the stain is, it might take a few tries to get it out, even with spot cleaning. Scrub at the stain until it looks like you’re smearing the dirt around. Rinse the material, check to see if the stain is still visible, and then repeat the process as many times as necessary.
Once the stain has been removed through spot cleaning, run the clothing through a wash cycle one more time. If you are certain that the stain has been removed, it can then be thrown in the dryer and packed away for another camping adventure. To be on the safe side, it can be air dried until you are absolutely certain that the stain is gone.
A little bit of dirt is inevitable on a camping trip, but it doesn’t have to ruin your hiking wardrobe. The more you can do on the trial, the easier it will be to remove the stains. Even without any prior treatment, however, dirt stains can be removed from your camp clothes with a touch of dish soap and the right amount of persistence.