The Nasty Chinese Stain

It was an ordinary Monday afternoon. I was eating lunch with my friends in Pollock Dining Commons as we discussed what our weeks looked like when I get a text from my roommate that reads, “You’re gonna hate me.” I immediately panicked and racked my brain trying to think of what might have happened. I quickly responded inquiring about what had occurred. She replied with a series of texts reading “Chinese spilled. Everywhere.”


I hurried back to my room to see the damage. She had accidentally dropped some of her general tsos chicken on our rug which then splattered on my bed and backpack. She of course did not intend for this to happen and felt horrible. The comforter was easy to spot treat and throw in the wash and the backpack was easy to wipe up, it was the rug that stumped us! Neither of us had any rug cleaner so we had to improvise with what we had. After doing some research we saw that shaving cream would apparently lift the stain. My roommate quickly started covering all the spots with shaving cream in hopes that it would work. After lots of shaving cream, water and scrubbing the stains were gone! We were both elated!

This had me wondering why of all things does shaving cream remove stains? So I did some digging and this is what I came up with. Stains can apparently be broken down into three different groups or types: organic, inorganic and pigment or dye stains. Organic stains are made up of organic compounds which contain hydrogen and carbon but not metal. Organic stains can be both polar and non-polar and can be very long chains of molecules that need to be made shorter before the stain may be completely lifted. Inorganic stains are comprised of man made materials and can normally be removed through inorganic solvents. This is done through a redox reaction where oxygen is applied to the stain. Finally, pigment or dye stains, such as a wine or grass stain, are made up of molecules that have a double bond and produce certain wave-lengths that show the color of the stain. These specific molecules are called chromophores.

Now that we know the different kind of stains, we can start to look at how to remove them. When removing a stain, beware there is chemistry involved, you have to keep in mind the substances’ polarity, solubility and molecular size. There are several ways to remove stains and they will all work differently on different substances depending on its’ molecular makeup. I will just touch on a few that I found relevant to my dilemma. Water is always a great thing to try first. Water is a bent polar molecule and therefore is great at removing stains consisting of polar molecules or ionic compounds. Water doesn’t contain carbon so it is an inorganic substance and is great at helping to remove other inorganic substances. The other one I wanted to touch on was using bases as stain removers. Bases are also polar and dissolve in water so they also work at removing tough stains.

I couldn’t find a straight answer as to why shaving cream in particular works as a stain remover but I will attempt to piece together the mystery myself. I looked at the ingredients in shaving cream and noticed two things that stuck out to me: water and saponification, in other words soap. Soap and water are great at removing stains, so maybe that is why they worked on my inorganic stain of Chinese food. Why we couldn’t have just used soap and water then, I’m not sure. Maybe we could have, it may have worked just as well! All I know for certain is, if you’re ever stuck with Chinese food on your rug, definitely run for the shaving cream because it works!

2 thoughts on “The Nasty Chinese Stain

  1. Margaret Eppinger

    I enjoyed the humor in this post, and I also found it really informative. I never knew shaving cream was such a good stain remover! I’ll have to try it next time I spill something. I think it’s interesting that shaving cream is water and soap, yet plain old water and soap didn’t work for you. Perhaps there’s something in the consistency of the shaving cream or another ingredient that makes it more effective at getting rid of stains. I think this would make an interesting study if scientists could isolate an ingredient or compare stain removers to shaving cream.

  2. Delaney Ann Flynn

    This post was very funny but also informative. I always wondered what ingredient was in stain removers that caused them to remove an embedded stain that plain water could not handle. And it’s ironic that the answer is actually water and saponification that can be found in shaving cream. Here is an article that explains the different methods of stain removal.

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