The holidays are a great time of year for my line of work, which is actually sort of sad because it means that while I'm delighting in all the horror stories gracing my inbox, you all are staring forlornly at a giant mess. I'm sorry for your mess!
OK, fine: I'm not really that sorry for your mess. But only because your mess keeps me in work.
Speaking of your messes … in past years, I've taken on what I like to refer to as Holiday Disasters; this was the 2011 version, and here comes the one from 2012. This year, I've decided to take a preemptive approach and write up a primer of sorts on the most common stains that mar the fabric of our otherwise perfect holiday seasons. With that said, the holiday season is only just beginning so do feel free to thrill me over the next few weeks with the tales of all the things you've dirtied up.
Before we get into it, though, allow me to say a quick word of thanks: I just adore this job, and I wouldn't be able to say that if it weren't for all of you wonderful people who read and comment and email me with your wild and weird cleaning conundrums. It's touching, in a way that's hard to articulate without sounding ham-handed, to be trusted with the questions you ask of me and I am so grateful for that. Thank you all from the bottom of both my heart and my supply bucket!
We all dream about stabbing one of our relatives, so just in case one of you actually does (um, don't?) here's everything you need to know about cleaning up blood stains. Even if you don't plan on stabbing a relative, these are handy instructions to have close by, what with all the drinking and carving and such that goes on at Thanksgiving.
Cranberries stain like the dickens, so please don't drop cranberry sauce on yourself, the good tablecloth, the upholstered chairs, Aunt Ethel, etc. etc. etc.
If you do drop cranberry sauce on yourself or on any of those other things I mentioned, get to it immediately. If possible, flush the stain with water, then treat it with a bit of laundry detergent (or dish soap, since the dish soap is usually closer at hand on Thanksgiving) before laundering as usual.
If the stain is on something you can't flush with water, like an upholstered chair or Aunt Ethel, wipe as as much as you can with a damp cloth or sponge, and then treat the stain by sponging at it with a small amount of detergent.
Isopropyl alcohol can also be used to treat a cranberry-sauce stain; put a small amount on a clean cloth or paper towel and dab dab dab at the stain. This is a good trick to know about if wood countertops or cutting boards get stained. The same thing applies to pomegranates, but seriously, good luck with that. Pomegranate stains are even trickier to remove than cranberry stains.
Dairy stains aren't so bad actually—just pretreat with a stain-removal product or a small bit of liquid laundry detergent prior to washing. Really bad stains might require you to call in the Carbona Stain Devils (#4 is the one you want for dairy stains) for added muscle.
Dish soap is the first thing you should reach for when you splatter your nice shirt with butter, turkey grease, gravy, etc. If you get a little soap on it straightaway, you'll be far less likely to end up with a permanently stained shirt.
If you missed the stain when it happened, or if grease happens on something non-launderable, there are a few other options. The first is to treat the stain with Pine Sol or Lestoil before laundering as usual. Dab a bit of whichever one you've got onto a cloth or paper towel, and then apply it to the stained area.
You can also use cornstarch to pull up greasy stains, which is a great trick when dealing with splatters on tablecloths, upholstery or carpets. Just pile the cornstarch up on the stained area and let it sit there while you nap in front of a football game. Then sweep or vacuum it up.
Just in case Aunt Ethel gets your shirt collar with that coral lipstick she's been wearing since the Nixon administration, dab at the stain with a cotton ball dipped in a bit of isopropyl alcohol.
Got a baby around? Grab one of the wipes out of the diaper bag that comes with them and blot at those inevitable necktie stains—they're low-moisture and use a mild soap, which means they're safe to use when treating stains on delicate silk ties.
The table-salt trick is my go-to for red wine stains (it's the trick in which you pour table salt all over the fresh stain and let that table salt drink itself stupid).
Other treatments for red wine stains are club soda; white wine; dish or laundry soap; Wine Away. (That Wine Away stuff is amazing, btw. If you're bringing a bottle of red wine as a gift, it's a charming and practical little add-on.)
If you've spilled on your clothing and are in a place where you can take your shirt off, try flushing it with cold water. That'll go much further than you think it will in pushing out a fresh red-wine stain.
Sweet potatoes create the kind of stains that benefit mostly from a good rinse—first, scrape off as much as you can using a spoon or butter knife, then rinse the stained fabric under cold running water. Then hit it with a bit of dish soap (SORRY, I KNOW I KEEP REPEATING MYSELF. BUT IT'S RIGHT THERE, OK?) or laundry detergent and chh-ch-ch the fabric against itself, which will help to convince the soap to get sudsy and coax the staining out.
Tea and coffee fall into the tannin-stain category, which means that much like red wine, simply flushing a stained garment with cold running water is the first thing you should do. Then apply some dish or laundry soap if needed.
We covered wax removal/wax-stain removal in greater detail, but the quick version for candle wax that's dripped onto tablecloths goes like this: Put your iron on the lowest setting, cover the wax with a piece of brown paper, put the iron on top of the paper—the heat will melt the wax, which will then be absorbed by the paper. Residual staining can be addressed with a stain treatment product like Zout, Resolve, OxiClean, etc. etc. etc.
The Squalor Archive: Armpit Stain Eradication | Blood Stain Removal | Booze Stench Elimination | Brightening White Towels & Sheets | Cleaning Car Consoles | Caring for Athletic Clothing | Cat Pee | Dirty Ball Caps | Dog Mess on Carpet | Filthy Couches | Football Glove Care | Gasoline on Clothing | Grain Moth Infestations | Grease/Rubber Stain Treatments | Gross Computers | Guests & Bedbugs | Halloween Cleanup | Karategi Cleaning | Ketchup Stains | Ladies Underpants | Laundering Bathmats | Lube Stains | Makeup Debris in Bathrooms | Makeup Stains On Upholstery | Marijuana Stench | Mayo Stains | Melted Microfiber on Enameled Cast Iron | Menstrual Cup Care | Mildewed Towels | Moldy Trousers | Mustard Stains | Nail Polish Stains|Odor Removal for Non-Launderable Items | Oven Cleaning | Pee-Smelling Bathrooms | Rank Roller Derby Pads | Rust Stains on Clothing | Scorched Pots | Scummy Glass Shower Doors | Semen Stains | Sheet Changing Cycles | Sheet Changing Etiquette & Tricks | Skidmarks | Stained Tennis Whites | Stinking Sinks | Stinky Feet | Stinky Slippers | Sunscreen Stains | That Orange Stuff In The Shower | The Great Bra Washing Extravaganza | Toilet Mold | Towel Laundering Cycles | Treating Testicular Odor | Washing & De-Pilling Sweaters | Wax Removal Techniques | When Butter Attacks | Yellowed Fingernails | Yellowed Sheets | Yellowed Swimsuits
Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr. Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.