Few things are more discouraging than a stubborn stain, especially on a beloved article of clothing or expensive table linen. Holiday parties happen to be hotbeds for accidental stains—clothing or otherwise—so we asked Taylor Van Valkenburg for advice. Taylor is the Vice President of Operations at U.S. Cleaners, a family-owned dry cleaning business in Amarillo and Canyon.
While her company’s stain-removal approach relies on specific, commercial chemicals—which most consumers won’t have available—she says a lot of stains can be handled at home.
One important note, though: “Always pay attention to the care instructions on your clothing,” Taylor says. “Any article of clothing labeled ‘dry clean only’ can be damaged by water.” For dry-clean only fabrics, don’t attempt the advice below.
Cloth napkins are particularly vulnerable to makeup stains during holiday meals. Long-lasting lipsticks can be a big challenge. Taylor suggests putting a paper towel below the napkin, then dabbing the stained area with rubbing alcohol. “The alcohol breaks down waxy or oily stains,” she says.
Another simple tool? The handy makeup wipe. They don’t just remove makeup from faces—they can also erase it from fabric. Ice and cold water can also work. “Take an ice cube and rub it on the stained area,” she says.
First, most importantly, never waste chocolate by spilling it on your clothing. If you can’t follow this critical step, then scrape off any extra chocolate. For a soft or melted chocolate like Nutella or a hot cocoa drink, let the item of clothing dry first, or put it in the freezer until it hardens. “After scraping, rinse it under cold water and try to get as much of the chocolate out as possible,” Taylor says.
Soak it with a stain remover product then wash it in the hottest water allowed by the fabric. (See care instructions.) “If you still can’t get it all out, rewash it using a bleach that’s safe for that kind of fabric,” she says.
Oil, Salad Dressing or Food Grease
Maybe it was a juicy hamburger. Maybe you forgot to wear your apron during Thanksgiving prep. Either way, you’ve discovered an annoying grease stain on your favorite pants—or the nice tablecloth or cloth napkins. The longer you wait to address it, the worse it can get. “These stains can darken fabric over time, and once it dries, the stain will be a lot harder to remove,” Taylor says.
Start by blotting at the stain with a paper towel or napkin so you can absorb as much of the oil as possible. Then spray it with an enzymatic pretreat. As with coffee or wine, use your fingertips to rub in a dab of laundry detergent. A drop or two of dish soap may also help to loosen the oils. “Then launder it in cold water, and if you need to, repeat those steps before you dry it.”
Whether you knocked a pumpkin-spice candle off the counter or were overzealous at the Christmas Eve service, wax stains can certainly diminish holiday cheer. Address it by letting the wax harden, then use a dull knife to scrape off any extra surface wax. “Then take clean paper towels and put the stained fabric between them,” Taylor says. “Press it with a warm iron on low and non-steam. As the wax melts, the paper towels absorb it. When they do, replace them so you don’t end up transferring the stain somewhere else.”
After this step, put the stain facedown on another set of clean paper towels. “Sponge it with a prewash stain removal product and then blot it with paper towels,” she says. Let it fully air dry before running it through a usual wash cycle. Check that the wax stain is gone before drying.
Coffee, Tea or Wine
These plant-based stains are some of the most common. For washable fabrics, Taylor says to start by flushing the back of the fabric with cold water. These are water-based stains, so added water will help dilute it. Blot with a clean cloth or paper towel, then add water again. After the blotting process, apply a laundry enzyme presoak or pretreat, like the popular products made by Biz or OxiClean.
“After that, we recommend you actually use your fingers to rub laundry detergent into the stain,” she says. “Launder it with warm water—the warmest the label allows.” Repeat this process until the stain is gone.
We’re not going to ask how you got blood on your clothing, nor are we making assumptions. But to remove it, act fast before the blood dries. Start with a familiar process from this feature: Flush with cold water to get as much of the blood out as possible. Then spray with an enzymatic pretreat, and massage some laundry detergent onto the stain.
Repeat this as necessary. “The important thing is not to put any blood-stained article of clothing into the dryer unless you’re sure you’ve gotten the stain out,” Taylor says.
Communicate with Your Cleaner
When dropping off clothing with a dry cleaner or professional laundry service, be sure to let them know about certain stains. “Oil and grease stains are very difficult to get out with water-based solvents, so it’s always better to not pretreat those,” Taylor says. “Make sure to let the front counter staff know what the stain is so that we can treat it correctly the first time.”
Some stains are invisible, and don’t appear to the naked eye until after the professional cleaning process. These include juice, which may be mostly clear until the heat of cleaning makes the sugars or tannins oxidize faster. The same applies to beer and wine, as well as soft drinks. In these cases, seemingly “unstained” fabrics can come back looking much worse. “Definitely let the front counter staff know of those stains before cleaning and exposure to heat,” she says.