Clothing Care Question from a Mom in Need

My son had an ink pen in his jeans and it leaked.  Is there hope?  You are so kind to offer help and I thank you.

From the Clothing Doctor:

The type of ink can vary. It could be ballpoint or water based. The first responds mostly to ink removers with solvent or an oily base and, the second respond only to water-based stain removers. I have a few questions to ask so I can guide you properly:

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Stains on Tablecloths

Most of the tablecloths that we use at home are made from linen, while many banquet cloths are made from synthetic blends. But it is the linen tablecloths that I wish to address – both new and heirloom.

Most stains come out of linen tablecloths when they are washed at home. If the cloth looks clean, after washing, then the cloth is clean.

As you know, there are water-based stains and oil-based stains. Water-based stains such as coffee and red wine may come out during washing (with the help of special stain removers) and, in simple terms, it’s “easy to see” if the red and tan stains came out.

But, oily stains from salad dressing, gravy and butter can “appear” to be removed upon examination, when in fact they haven’t been completely removed!

How is This Possible?
Oily stains “seem” to improve during washing, but fats and oils usually remain in the tablecloth because they are not totally dissolved in water and there’s the conundrum. Because the remaining oil stain is clear” in color after washing, it’s often “invisible” in the dull light of most laundry rooms. These are the same stains that turn yellow over time – and these are the yellow stains that ruin the appearance of a beautiful cloth and weaken the fabric.


Most oily stains come out in dry-cleaning, so that may be a solution! In Europe, washing machines have heating elements in them, and this ultra-hot water helps to breakdown oil stains. In the United States, this technology is just starting to take hold.

Even in hot water, the right chemicals must be used. You could try applying a home remedy of one part liquid Glycerin (available at drug stores), one part clear liquid dish-washing detergent, and eight parts water. Apply this mixture to the oily stain prior to washing the tablecloth.

Remember, once a stain turns yellow it is often a sign of permanence – especially if the yellow is the result of an oily stain: Most water-based stains have an outline, like a road map. Most oily stains have a blurred appearance around their perimeter.

  • Scrape off all the food you can with a dull utensil, before washing.
  • Candle wax needs to be scraped off, and then dissolved with a product like “Un-Du,” before washing (available in hardware stores and on the net).
  • Consider using Zout or something that can “lubricate” out the stain.
  • Bleach only helps to remove the last remnant of a stain, after the original staining matter has been removed.
  • Two things; do not pour bleach directly on a stain, and chlorine bleach should be diluted: One ounce of bleach per one gallon of water.
  • If you wash and bleach your tablecloth, be sure to do the napkins along with the tablecloth to retain color consistency.

The older a cloth gets, the weaker it gets. If you hope to keep an heirloom tablecloth in good shape to pass on through generations, then you should either hand wash the tablecloth and the napkins, or ask your dry-cleaner to do them by hand. Do not let them send a cloth like this to a wholesale operation, or allow it to be washed in an industrial-type machine.




Salvation: What You Can Do

As I said before, when you get home, inspect your clothing under bright light and, if the clothing is washable, then you have choices. Zout, Spray & Wash and Oxi Clean and other products like these do have their place. Read the fine print, test an area, and go for it. Zout and Spray & Wash are particularly affective on lipstick and excellent for coffee, soda and other drink spills.

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Practical Steps to Surviving a Stain Emergency

What can you do if you have a spill or a stain in a social situation or on your way to a business meeting or an interview? What can be done, safely, without harming your clothing?

You’re in the car, at lunch, or at an “attitude adjustment” gathering before a meeting, standing in a group having a drink and eating finger foods, and suddenly part of an appetizer or a drink spills on your clothing. Typically, you would look around to see if anyone saw your faux pas. After you regroup, you may put the rest of the tasty tidbit in your mouth to free up a hand, look for some water in which to dip your napkin, and then rub the stain until it comes out. Sound familiar? Men do this with their silk ties and don’t give it a second thought.

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What, My Garment is Ruined?

“I put water on a napkin and rubbed the stain.”  When you do that, you rough up the fabric, dull the dye, and break hundreds of fibers.

“But I spilled pizza sauce on my blouse during lunch and I had to go back to work.”  Just blot it with a dry white napkin and live with it. If the blouse is washable and you can’t resist, then use a little water to dilute the stain, but then stop! If the blouse can only be dry-cleaned, then blot it with a dry napkin and then try to leave it alone.

Stains 101 – What Makes Up a Stain

Good Question! Most stains come in two major varieties: “Water-Based and Oil-Based.”

Water-based stains are drink spills of all kinds, sugar sprays from fruits and goodies, and anything else that is made of mostly water.

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Understanding the Challenges

Fine fabrics present the greatest challenge. Each stain needs to be treated and removed from the cuffs, linings, and outer shells of our clothing, one spot at a time. Large splashes can be difficult, but splatters require even more skill and attention.

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My Stain Philosophy

If you get a stain on your clothing, you can apply a myriad of “miracle” removers that are available on late-night TV, in grocery stores, and hawked in magazines. Everyone has their own special remedy, some of which have been handed down from generation to generation. And I’m ok with many of these, but with some I am not.

My concern about many of these products and remedies stems from their lack of information and the proliferation of misinformation. Everyone wants a quick fix, but for many fragile and delicate garments there are no quick fixes. If you spend a lot of money on a favorite piece of clothing, then you want it to last. Even if the blouse was a steal at $25 from H&M, you’d still want it to last 6 weeks – am I right?

“A stain is like an insect, and people won’t rest until they get it off – even if it means ruining the garment.”

“A little knowledge can take you a long way.” When it comes to food, drink, lipstick and ink stains, a truer line has never been spoken. I spend a few minutes during every episode of The Clothing Doctor radio show to promote preventive care and preach the value of patience — counting to ten before doing something you’ll regret — to give your clothing a fighting chance against deadly stains and deadly stain removers!