What Can I Do About This Ring Around The Collar?Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

We're required to wear white shirts to work. Unfortunately, after a while they all end up with grey staining around the neck. I can't afford to keep replacing them, and vinegar/oxiclean added to the wash don't seem to help. Any thoughts?

Oh I have thoughts. Yes siree, Bob, I have thoughts.

The first thought is that—and I'm pretty sure we've talked about this phenomenon before—all of a sudden, I was buried under an avalanche of ring around the collar questions. Just email after email after tweet after pitiful Facebook message from high school friends I've not spoken to since the '90s. And when that happens, it means it's time to clear room in the Squalor lineup.

The second thought is that I have to break some unwelcome news to you: You can't just go sprinkling Oxi in your washing machine and expect miracles. OxiClean (and Borax, and Amaze, and Arm & Hammer Washing Soda) are laundry boosters, which means that they'll help to brighten up dingy launderables. The boosters can also be used as stain removers, but they have to be applied directly to the stain and allowed some time to work their magic. (This is true of all stains, not just ring around the collar.) Hopefully some of you are old enough to remember those Wisk commercials in which an ungodly amount of their liquid detergent is poured directly on a stained collar before the shirt goes in the wash? Right, the folks at Wisk have got the general idea.

The third thought is that we should talk briefly about what causes ring around the collar. Most people attribute collar staining to sweat, which is right, but only partially so. Ring around the collar is caused by a combination of sweat, dead skin, and product buildup. Sweat can't be helped, but if the dreaded ring is a persistent problem for you, try to pay a little extra attention to your neck right at the end of your shower. Doing so will help to remove dead skin, as well as any residue your shampoo, conditioner and/or soap have left behind. If you use a lot of hair products, you may also want to give your neck a quick wiping off after you've done your hair but before you put on your shirt.

The fourth and final thought is that it's probably time for me to give you some actual answers, so here goes: Pretreat the ring around the collar using your preferred product, but be ready for the possibility that it might not work as well as you want. DO NOT DESPAIR if that happens. It does not mean the shirt is a goner. It just means you need to try a different product. This is sort of a frustrating thing to have to say, but unfortunately the truth is what works on one person's stained shirt may not work on another person's stained shirt. I learned this recently when I told someone on twitter that I'd saved one of my husband's old white shirts from the rag pile by spraying an absurd amount of OxiClean's spray stain treatment on the collar and then chh-chh-chh-ing the collar against itself before washing. I was so pleased with myself! And so excited to tell this reader about my victory … that is, until he tried the same and pfft. Nothing. But he kept at it and used a different kind of stain treatment product he had, and lo and behold that worked.

With that said, I'm going to give you some product suggestions along with the recommendation that you first try whatever it is you already have on hand.

Sprays: Spray stain treatments are probably the easiest of the bunch to apply. Just spritz spritz spritz, and then work the product into the stained area by rubbing the shirt's material against itself. You can also use an old toothbrush or a laundry brush to help work the product in. In the spray category, some brands to look out for are:

  • OxiClean
  • Zout
  • Shout
  • Resolve*
  • Charlie's Soap

*Resolve used to be sold under the name Spray 'n Wash

Bars: Using a laundry bar will take a bit more effort than a spray—though really only a bit more. The upside is that the force of rubbing the bar into your stained collar will obviate the need to rub the shirt's fabric against itself. In the laundry bar category, some brands to look out for are:

  • Fels Naptha
  • Zote
  • Dr. Bronner's

Smears: This is a name I just made up for products that you need to sort of smear onto a stain using your hands. This is the way to go for those of you who really miss playing with oobleck. (I really miss playing with oobleck, you guys.) In the smear category, some brands and products to look out for are:

  • Goop
  • Mom's Goop
  • Liquid laundry detergent (remember that Wisk ad?)
  • Dish soap

Do you have any general guidelines for what to do with a stain when you don't know what it is or where it came from?

My particular case is with a years-old black nylon casual jacket that I rather like but don't wear that much (I have too many jackets). It went with the nice-ish outfit I was wearing one day last week, but I (again) noticed this stain. I had seen it before, sort of noting it vaguely every year, but since I was wearing nicer clothes than usual with the jacket, it was more annoying than before.

It's a small white stain on the arm, dry and sort of chalky looking. It does not come off by just rubbing or with water, and I'm reluctant to start trying chemicals. Any suggestions? I feel like George Costanza with the cashmere sweater with the red dot.

Since we just went through a motherload of stain treatment options, I'm going to keep this one pretty short. It's a great question, and I don't want you to think I'm giving you the short shrift, but truly the answer is a pretty easy one: When in doubt, reach for the dish soap.

Other kinds of soap will work too—liquid laundry detergent, hand soap, bar soap—but dish soap is one of those things that's almost always on hand and is also my go-to whenever anything gets spilled in my house. Splashed some coffee on the duvet? Dish soap. Dropped a piece of dressed lettuce on your pants? Dish soap. Have a mystery stain? Dish soap.

The thing is about dish soap is that it's mild, so the worst thing that will happen is that it doesn't work. I bet with a small amount of dish soap and a sponge, that stain will come right up.

If the worst happens and the dish soap doesn't remove the stain, head for one of your stain pretreatment products. Again, the use of a stain treatment isn't going to hurt the situation, though of course it may not help.

Since your jacket is made of nylon, it can be machine washed using either cold or warm—but not hot—water. It's best to air dry nylon, though it can be dried in the machine using a no-heat cycle. Unfortunately, most nylon items cannot be dry cleaned because the solvents will essentially melt the fabric, but in the case of mystery stains on clothes that can be dry cleaned, sometimes the best course of action is just to throw a few bucks at the problem and let the professionals figure it out.

The Squalor Archive: Armpit Stain Eradication | Blood Stain Removal | Booze Stench Elimination | Brightening White Towels & Sheets | Car Odor Elimination | Cleaning Car Consoles | Caring for Athletic Clothing | Cat Pee | Dirty Ball Caps | Dog Mess on Carpet | Filthy Couches | Football Glove Care | Gasoline on Clothing | Grain Moth Infestations | Grease/Rubber Stain Treatments |Gross Computers | Guests & Bedbugs | Gym Bags | Halloween Cleanup | Humidifiers | Jeans |Karategi Cleaning | Ketchup Stains | Ladies Underpants | Laundering Bathmats | Lube Stains |Makeup Debris in Bathrooms | Makeup Stains On Upholstery | Marijuana Stench | Mayo Stains| Melted Microfiber on Enameled Cast Iron | Menstrual Cup Care | Mildewed Towels | Moldy Trousers | Mustard Stains | Nail Polish Stains | Odor Removal for Non-Launderable Items |Oven Cleaning | Pine Needles & Sap | Pee-Smelling Bathrooms | Rank Roller Derby Pads | Rust Stains on Clothing | Salt-Stained Winter Shoes | Scorched Pots | Scummy Glass Shower Doors |Semen Stains | Sheet Changing Cycles | Sheet Changing Etiquette & Tricks | Skidmarks |Stained Tennis Whites | Stinking Sinks | Stinky Feet | Stinky Slippers | Suede Care | Sunscreen Stains | Tea Kettles |Thanksgiving Stain Primer | That Orange Stuff In The Shower | The Great Bra Washing Extravaganza | Toilet Mold | Towel Laundering Cycles | Treating Testicular Odor| Washing & De-Pilling Sweaters | Wax Removal Techniques | WD-40 Stain Removal | When Butter Attacks | Yellowed Fingernails | Yellowed Sheets | Yellowed Swimsuits | Yoga Mats | A Bookmark-able Squalor Archive

Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr. Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.

Art by Sam Woolley