Q: My mother-in-law gave me her set of Evesham and a set of white table napkins. Unfortunately, they all came with lipstick stains on them. I've tried washing the cups by hand, and machine-washing the napkins -- to no avail. Do you have any advice for eradicating these stains?
-- Riva Portman, Columbus, Ohio
Because porcelain is a nonporous substance, stains will only persist if the surface has been abraded. Take care not to use an abrasive detergent when washing porcelain. In general, a dishwashing soap such as Dawn is best. To rid your cups of their stains, apply a solution of equal parts white vinegar and warm water with a nylon scouring pad. If the stain remains, pour the vinegar-water solution into a saucer, place the cup upside down into the saucer, and let it soak overnight.
The old lipstick stains on the napkins have been left by the dyes in the lipstick. Since these are old stains, try using liquid glycerin (a water-soluble lubricant, available at drugstores, that works wonders on old stains) to loosen them. Work the glycerin into the stain, and let the napkin sit for 30 minutes. Then, wash the napkin as you normally would. If there is any color remaining, try removing it with white vinegar, then rinse thoroughly to remove the vinegar. If that doesn't work, first try diluted oxygen bleach, and if that doesn't work, try chlorine bleach. Always start with the weakest bleach first, since bleaches weaken fabric. Since heat sets stains, let the napkins dry naturally, then repeat steps, if necessary.
If you're dealing with a fresh lipstick stain, treat it with liquid dishwashing soap to remove grease, then launder as usual. The quicker you treat any stain, the better. Try to tend to it within a day or so. Martha soaks her linens in a solution of dishwashing liquid and water immediately after a dinner party.
Refer to our downloadable stain chart, from the Martha Stewart Living special clothes-keeping issue, for help with other persistent stains.
Stain chart (PDF)