VANCOUVER -- What do oil, coffee, mustard and grass all have in common? They're all stains that are tough to get out of clothes.

Should you spend extra money on pre-wash stain removers or just stick with laundry detergent? Consumer Reports put both to the test to see which leaves your clothing looking as good as new.

The Consumer Reports team used 14 different swatches of fabric for the test, each stained with coffee, chocolate ice cream, grass, blood, gravy, cherry juice, lipstick, baby food, used motor oil or mustard.

They then sprayed half of each piece of fabric with a stain remover - either OxiCleanor Shout or Spray 'n Wash - let it soak from five minutes to overnight, and then washed it with a normal load of laundry.

Rico de Paz, a chemist with Consumer Reports, says the lab team compared the results with detergents.

"What we did is we took some of the best detergents that we have, applied them to the swatches, rubbed them into the stain and then put them in the laundry and washed them."

The team also used a device called a Colorimeter to measure the colour of each stain before and after the swatches were treated.

"We found out that some of these detergents did better than a lot of the stain removers," he says. "Prewash stain removers are concentrated and designed to go directly on the stains. Detergents, on the other hand, mix in with lots of water to clean, and the water dilutes the stain-removing power. But if you apply a dab of detergent to the stain before washing and let it sit, the detergent alone can remove stains."

Only one, the OxiClean Max Force spray, performed better than the two leading detergents, Tide Plus Ultra and Persil Pro-Clean Stain Fight Regular. But both came pretty close to the spray's effectiveness.

The conclusion? If you want to save money, you could stick to detergent alone. But before using any stain remover, make sure to test it somewhere inconspicuous on the garment, like an interior seam.