The Best Spot Cleaning Tips

Spills happen, but they don't have to ruin your favorite hard-to-wash items.

There's nothing worse than spilling something on your clothes when you're away from home or making a mess on an impossible-to-wash seat cushion. Red wine, coffee, or even the ink from a dropped pen could all leave permanent stains on your outfit or furniture, ruining it for future use. Fortunately, in most instances, a little spot cleaning can go a long way towards restoring your soiled items. We talked to Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, the co-founders of The Laundress, to get their best tips on spot cleaning clothes and home items.

coffee cup staining white couch
Getty / Adam Gault

The Basics

Spot treating is great for removing stains when you're unable to do a thorough wash, but also for de-staining and removing odor from non-launderable items, such as structured blazers, suits, and even sofas and upholstery, says Whiting. To get rid of spots on fabric, she suggests working a fabric cleaner that is designed for this purpose into the stained area until it has lifted. For more stubborn stains, add a little elbow grease (or a stain brush). Once the spill is gone, use a cloth (not a paper towel or sponge, as they can leave behind lint or residue) and press it into the treated area to remove soap from the fabric. Finish with a new clean and dry cloth to blot the area dry, Whiting says. "This is an important step to preventing water marks, so don't skip it!"

If you're nervous about spot treating a certain type of fabric, such as silk, or are concerned about color bleeding, you can perform a water test first, which involves submerging an inconspicuous portion of the garment into warm water and then checking to see if any of the color comes off in the sink or on a clean, white piece of fabric after you've blotted it.

Difficult Stains

Of course, not every small spot will lift this easily. "Some tough stains, like yellowing at the pits, for example, may require the item to be soaked in water for up to 30 minutes after spot-treating to allow the treatment to better penetrate," explains Boyd. "For particularly difficult stains, we like to add a capful of our All-Purpose Bleach Alternative ($15, to the soak water," she says, adding that you can launder the items normally after this soak.

Tips and Tricks

For the best results, you'll want to make sure there is as little of the spill left on the fabric as possible before you spot clean it. "If the stain has any residue attached, brush it away with a stain brush or even a dull butter knife before treating," says Boyd. And when working with those aforementioned non-launderables, like blazers and suits, consider spot treating the interior lining to remove odor, as opposed to working from the outside.

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