Ask the Past: grass and mud stains

My daughter's rugby uniform is a light colour, and I have a terrible time keeping it clean. Have you got any tips for getting rid of grass and mud stains?

Well, Napisan looks like it's been around since the 60s - I found ads for it in Trove from 1967 onwards - but if that's not working out for you, then we can reach further back in time for some more effective remedies.

Quite a long ad for Napisan, but the part you want to know about is the headline, which is "Sore Fingers, Mother? Reason Baby's Nappies. Answer: Napisan". Honestly I'm not sure what it means, but it doesn't sound good. Below that is a picture of a box of napisan, some very faded and basically illegible instructions on how to use it, and then "Saluations from your Family Friendly Chemist, Bill Burt"
From the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, August 1 1969

Aunt Daisy is always ready with a stain removal tip, and here's a surprisingly non-toxic option from Aunt Daisy's Book of Handy Hints (1939):

Mud Stains on Clothing - Sponge with water in which potatoes have been boiled. Then wash in luke warm suds.

Staying with Aunt Daisy, and also staying with stain removers you might find in the kitchen, here's two of her tips on removing grass stains:

Rub in butter and leave awhile. Then wash in warm Lux water. Rinse with weak ammonia water; then fresh clean water.

Smear on treacle, or golden syrup. Leave for some time, then wash.

If your stains are too stubborn to be shifted by potatoes and treacle, don't lose hope. Harmsworth's Household Encyclopedia (1922) has a much more effective method:

So many stains yield to an application of petrol that it is always worth while keeping a small supply of this spirit in the house. It must be used with caution, however, and kept away from naked lights, for it is highly inflammable. The metal covered brush here illustrated one of the simplest and safest ways of using petrol, and is equally serviceable for the general cleaning of clothes and the removing of stains. The petrol is poured into the metal container and the action of brushing causes it to flow evenly down the bristles and onto the garment. Benzene or any other liquid cleaning agent may be used instead, but for most purposes petrol is the most satisfactory.

A black and white picture of what looks like a shoe brush, but with a large metal reservoir on top for petrol (or benzene, if that's how you roll), and short dark bristles below.
Simple and safe

Polly Pennant's Blue Book of Household Hints (published by Shell, no year given) unsurprisingly recommends kerosene for grass stains, and also recommends kerosene for cleaning your windows, fixing squeaky hinges, and freshening up a faded linoleum floor. The Housewife's Handbook (no year given here, but the intro talks about "the aftermath of WWII") recommends methylated spirits instead. Watkins Household Hints (1941) just recommends hot water and Watkins Soap Flakes for both mud and grass stains, but they do recommend a little benzene to whiten your clothes, so that might be a nice way to finish things off once you've removed all the stains.

It seems any kind of petroleum derivative will do the job here, but if you choose to use benzene, do remember that according to a 1948 American Petroleum Institute report, "it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero".

I'm sure that will help.

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