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The Art of Stain Removal

I have made a career out of cleaning up the blood (literally), sweat, and tears of reality TV contestants, and have, thus, become skilled at knowing more than the average punter about stain removal. Previously, it seemed easier to discard clothes and linens, but now that I’ve become conscientious of the waste—it has become more challenging to treat things as disposable. According to Mckinsey and Company, Americans buy 60 percent more clothing than they did in the year 2000, and keep it for half as long. Unfortunately, this mindset has us catapulting towards the extinction of humanity faster than a producer can make a reality “star” cry. If we want to curb the effects of climate change, we’re going to have to make the commitment to buy less, reuse more, and understand the complicated contradiction of sustainable consumerism. So what can you do today to start the fight? Start by taking care of your clothes and keep them out of the landfill for longer.

 

Here are some tips to keep your clothes out of landfills for longer and save you money.

 

The golden rules of stain removal:

 

1. Heat will set the stain. If you want to have any hope of getting the stain out, don't put it near hot water or the dryer. Cold water and line drying, is your friend.

 

2. If at first you don’t succeed try again. Stubborn stains can take more than one go to get out, just don’t use heat in the washing or drying process and it will help it come out.

 

3. Know your fabrics. Understanding what fabric you’re working with will help you treat the garment accordingly. You can read more about this here.

 

4. Hit it quickly. The faster you can work on a stain or a spill the better your chances of removing it.

 

5. Blot don’t rub. Resist the temptation to rub the spill, which will work it further in to the fibers and can make it harder to remove. Blot any excess mess off the top of the stain (or scrap/scratch it if it’s already dried) before you start getting in to the fibers. You can gently rub once you have a stain removal product on it.

 

Particular Stains

 

Blood: If it’s just a small spot of blood on your favorite white jacket, and you know who that blood came from get them to spit on it. Disgusting? Absolutely. But the enzymes in your own saliva remove your own blood from fabric. It will not remove other people’s blood as effectively. Spit on your finger, a cotton tip or a white cloth and work it into the blood spot. You should see it start to disappear/ lift reasonably quickly like magic—it’s strangely satisfying to watch.

For larger patches of blood use a paste of baking soda and cold water. Sit it on the stain for around 30 min and then wash as usual. If it’s a durable fabric like denim or cotton it’s a good idea to use a scrubbing brush on both sides of the fabric to help release the stain. Rinse with cold water, and wash as usual.

 

Grease: How many times have you dropped a croissant on your favorite silk blouse on your way to work? Leave a small container of talcum powder or a stick of white chalk in your desk drawer. Cover the stain in a layer of talc or rub chalk and let it sit for around 20 minutes. The talc draws the oil out of the fabric and you can simply brush away the talc when you’re done. This approach may require a couple of goes depending on how well set the stain is set. If it doesn’t pull the full stain out, hit it with the dishwashing liquid when you get home. Just be aware this will require laundering the entire garment as it will leave a watermark on silk.

 

Ink Stains: Pure Alcohol like isopropyl will remove ink stains. Soak some alcohol on a white cloth and blot the ink off. It’s important to use a white cloth to prevent any other color transferring on to your garment. Keep an alcohol wipe in your drawer at work for those times you accidentally draw on yourself, it works the same way.

 

Sweat Stains: Just pulled last season’s white t-shirt out of the cupboard only to discover it has discolored sweat stains under the armpits? Make a paste of baking soda and water, rub it in to the stains, and leave it to sit for a few hours. Wash as usual and leave it to dry in the sun. The sun also acts as a bleaching agent, and will bring it back to white. If it doesn’t come out the first time, do it again, and make sure you hit the stain from both sides of the garment. By drying it in the sun, you won’t have heat set the stain in the same way a dryer would and will be able to get an even better result the second time around.

 

Oil Stains: Dropped last night's deep-fried treats right down your front? Put a bit of dishwashing soap on your finger and work it into the stain, let it sit for about 20 min and then cold wash and line dry the garment. You can’t see if you’ve been successful in removing an oil stain until after the garment has dried so you definitely don't want to use a dryer in this case which can help to heat set the stain in place. If it doesn’t come out the first time, hit it again, making sure you get both sides of the fabric. Dishwashing liquid is a pretty mild form of detergent so it’s safe to use on delicate fabrics like silk.

Words: Lauren Bush

Image: Shanti Basu

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