Out damn spot! How to rescue clothing from stubborn stains

clear wine glass with red liquid

Many stains can be removed quickly if you act quickly. For those stains that are stubborn, you might try a creative approach.

One time I wore all white to a dinner party. When I was introduced to someone new (remember strangers?) I was complimented for not having spilled anything on me, which was a first time encounter. I was overjoyed to receive the compliment and immediately poured red wine into my lap. Everyone was captivated by the situation and offered their advice.

“Soda water, salt!”

“White wine!”


Because of previous spills, I knew that my dry cleaner would prefer it if the stain was not touched. So I did nothing. We continued to talk and my pants survived.

My clothes weren’t all so lucky, but I hope this expert advice gives some hope for those wardrobe items that have been stained by stubborn spills.

clear wine glass with red liquid

Cool soak followed by a hot wash

Steve Anderton, a laundry expert at LTC Worldwide, suggests that oily stains such as those from fish or meat should be removed by soaking or pre-washing in cold water. Then, run the hot wash through to soften them. Anderton recommends using a premium detergent that contains a biological enzyme as well as an emulsifying agents.

Red and brown sauce stains can be treated in the same way, as they contain vegetable oils and proteins that react in a similar manner. You can remove any remaining vegetable dyes if they have been freshly applied. However, if you find that marks remain, you may want to use a general stain removal product. Wine is subject to the same guidelines.

If the main fabric is polyester or nylon, oils penetrate it better than natural fabrics, so you necesserily need to use an emulsifying agent on the stained garment. It might need to be washed at 60C but not higher as thermoplastic polyester can be damaged by excessive heat.

Anderton recommends that you move quickly if you have to deal with blood stains. Fresh blood can often be removed with cold water, and can even be made virtually invisible by a quick cool wash. Follow the above instructions for oily protein stain removal if the blood has dried.

Natural dyes are the best option for stain resistance

A dye job can be used to hide stains on light-coloured garments. Studio Tinta’s founder, Kate Wilkins, specializes in dyeing textiles with plant materials like onion skins and avocado stones, black tea, and eucalyptus leaf.

Natural dyes are safer than synthetic ones, and can be used safely at home. The key to achieving good colourfastness on protein and plant fibres, such as silk, cotton, and wool, is plant matter high in tannins. Synthetics aren’t able to take dyes.

Be aware of the source of the stain before you use dyes to cover it. You risk accentuating the stain if you dye the entire garment. She also says that protein stains can pick up natural dyes. She suggests that you use dye techniques to create patterns. For example, bundle-dyeing involves placing the plant material directly onto the fabric and then imprinting the patterns with steam or tie-dyeing.

While the process may vary depending on your materials, you can generally natural dye with items already in your home. Avocado seeds can be used to dye silk fabrics.

Although natural dying can be difficult, there are many DIY instructions available online and in print. Wilkins has created a downloadable ebook of dye recipes. It is email-gated. There are also hundreds of YouTube videos on the subject.

yellow purple and blue textile

Or, you can cut and cover

Chloe Turner is the designer for streetwear brand Homie’s collection of upcycled garments called Reborn. This line takes surplus and faulty stock from the main range (and brands like Champion and Nobody Denim), and repurposes them into unique pieces. This saves valuable resources and diverts materials from the landfill.

Turner offers several options depending on the location of the stain when dealing with stained clothing. If it is at the bottom, make sure it is a cropped jumper. You could make a patch or a pocket with a piece of fabric from another garment if it is on the chest.

She said they become more technical in the studio. “If the garment has a large stain, we remove it and alter the style by inserting panelling made from scrap fabrics that were cut from other garments.”

Turner says that you don’t need to be a skilled sewer to upcycle clothes. You just need a little creativity. That’s what I believe is the beauty of upcycling.

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