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You know what they say: The unsoiled life is not worth living. Fine, we made that up, but we can all agree that life is more fun when we aren’t panicking over lipstick smears and condiments gone rogue. A stain can be a bummer, but don’t let it ruin your day -- or your top. Get our fixes for ketchup splatters, wine dribbles, pen marks, and more.
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Most materials used in our treatment guide are self-explanatory (white vinegar, isopropyl alcohol), but a few might need clarification. You can purchase these items at your local drugstore.
Dry solvent: Mineral spirits or acetone. Always use in a well-ventilated room.
Dish-soap solution: Diluted liquid dishwashing detergent. Make your own by combining equal parts detergent and water.
Enzyme detergent: Enzymes are simply proteins that speed up chemical reactions. Read the label to see if yours fits the bill.
Powdered nonchlorinated color-safe bleach: Sounds like a mouthful, but it’s not hard to find. We recommend sodium percarbonate.
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A hot stove is a hotbed for cooking-related stains. If grease is the culprit -- think butter, oil, or mayonnaise -- first, treat the area with a dry solvent. Using an eyedropper, rinse with isopropyl alcohol; dry well. Spray a dish-soap solution on any remaining residue and soak the item in an enzyme detergent before washing.
Proteins such as blood and egg require a different fix. Should a runaway yolk or a chopping mishap leave you with damages, spray a dish-soap solution on the stain and let it sit before rinsing in tepid water. If a stain remains, treat the area with an enzyme detergent and wash according to label instructions.
Our number-one tip for avoiding stains in the kitchen? Wear an apron.
Photography: Amy Neunsinger4 of 11
Punch of Flavor
Condiments: friend to flavor, enemy of clothing. To lift splatters from acidic sauces like tomato, ketchup, and barbecue sauce, gently scrape and spray the stain with a dish-soap solution before soaking in tepid water. If any color remains, apply white vinegar with an eyedropper, then treat with an enzyme detergent and wash. If color still persists, apply several drops of hydrogen peroxide and let sit; rinse, treat again with enzyme detergent and wash. Mustard stains are usually less stubborn—simply flush with vinegar using an eyedropper and wash with dish-soap solution.
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Table of Elements
Don't panic if your dumplings take an unexpected dip. For soy-sauce-related incidents, spray with a dish-soap solution, then tamp with a soft-bristled brush. Flush with water, apply white vinegar, and tamp; apply a drop or two of ammonia to the wet area and flush with water. Treat with an enzyme detergent and wash. If a stain remains, apply powdered nonchlorinated color-safe bleach and wash again.
Treat vinaigrettes as grease stains (see Slide 3 for instruction), then flush with white vinegar. Follow up with an enzyme detergent to remove residue before washing. You can use a similar process on fruit- or vegetable-based juices and jams -- skip the grease treatment and spray dish-soap solution on the stain to remove sugars. Flush first with vinegar, then hydrogen peroxide, and follow with enzyme detergent before washing.
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Photography: Krause, Johansen6 of 11
We're on to your emergency chocolate stash. To destroy the evidence of any related stains, gently scrape off any excess chocolate, then spray the area with a dish-soap solution. Follow up with an enzyme detergent to remove residue, and wash.
If gum (or wax) ends up on your clothing, resist the urge to pick or rub, which can lead to permanent damage. Instead, use ice to freeze the offending cling-on (or place the entire item in the freezer), scrape or crack off as much as you can, then remove residue with an oil solvent or mineral spirits. Rinse with isopropyl alcohol, let dry, and treat with an enzyme detergent before washing.
Photography: Jonathan Lovekin7 of 11
Coffee or tea may be your saving grace in early meetings, but it can prove a hazard for clothing. If you dribble on your blouse, use an eyedropper to flush the area with lemon juice or white vinegar; then treat with stronger bleach if necessary. To help remove sugar or milk, spray the area with dish-soap solution, then with an enzyme detergent.
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After hours, wine drinkers face the greatest risk of getting, well, sloppy. To take the flush out of red wine, spray dish-soap solution on the stain, then tamp with a soft-bristled brush. Flush with water, apply white vinegar, and tamp; let stand several minutes and flush again. If the stain remains, apply hydrogen peroxide and let stand. If the stain persists, apply a drop or two of ammonia to wet area. Flush with water, treat with an enzyme detergent, and wash. If the stain is still there, apply a powdered nonchlorinated color-safe bleach and wash again. No need to tamp a white wine stain; just flush with cold water, spray with a diluted dishwashing-soap solution, treat with an enzyme detergent, and wash.
Photography: Annie Schlechter9 of 11
If you talk with your hands (while holding a pen), you’ve likely fallen victim to errant ink stains. To lift them, build a “dam” around the stain with mineral oil or petroleum jelly. Always work within the confines of the dam. Treat the area with isopropyl alcohol using an eyedropper. Remove any remaining pigment with a dry solvent in a well-ventilated room, and let dry. Rinse with dish-soap solution, then wash with an enzyme detergent in warm water.
For felt-tip ink, first determine whether you’re dealing with oil-based or water-based ink. Build a “dam” as instructed above, and test with two cotton swabs -- one saturated with water and one with isopropyl alcohol. If the alcohol pulls more pigment out of the stain, follow the steps for ballpoint ink stains above. If water is more effective, spray with a diluted dishwashing-soap solution, then flush with cold water. Alternatively, to remove permanent marker, apply an ink and stain remover and gently rub with a brush, then rinse or launder.
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Always remember the golden rule of getting ready: Clothes first, then lipstick. If a painted pout ends up on your collar, use a dull-edged knife to remove excess lipstick. Using an eyedropper, apply a dry solvent and tamp with a soft-bristled brush. Flush area with isopropyl alcohol, and tamp. Repeat until stain is removed and let dry. Spray with dish-soap solution, treat with an enzyme detergent, and wash. (You’ll probably need to pull a quick change.)
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Soak up the sun, not an unwanted smudge. Treat a grass stain with a dry solvent. Press with cheesecloth, and tamp with a soft-bristled brush. Repeat to remove as much pigment as possible. Flush area with isopropyl alcohol, tamp, and let dry. Follow up with an enzyme detergent to remove residue before washing.
If you're doing some serious digging, your stain may be a combination of mud and grass. Treat the grass stain first (see above); shake or scrape off residue, pretreat the stain with a diluted dishwashing-soap solution, and soak. Then treat with an enzyme detergent and wash.