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.

The problem is that stains rarely come out with this approach, but the dye and color in rubbed area does. It happens quickly and, before you know it, in less than a minute a favorite garment is ruined. In most cases, you cannot see the color loss and fabric damage right away because it’s wet, but after the fabric dries you can see the light, abraded area quite clearly. The subsequent light area where the stain was rubbed almost always results in permanent color loss.

Resist bad advice from well-meaning hosts and friends

People are very quick to offer help in these awkward situations because they feel your frustration and embarrassment. But, the fact is you are probably the most qualified person to handle this situation. Here’s how …

  • First, count to ten and relax
  • Gently blot the area with a dry, white napkin or cloth
  • If your garment is dark, you can probably leave it as is. 
  • If you’re wearing a silk garment or any piece of “dryclean only” clothing, then blotting the stain is the only safe choice. Then have the garment cleaned within 24 hours. Be sure to point out the location of the stain and be sure to tell the clerk at the cleaners what the stain is.
  • Regardless of the type of fabric, if the food that spilled is oily or has any oily ingredients, then leave it alone until it can be drycleaned. 

If the clothing is washable and the stain or spill is water-based, then you can dip a white napkin in water, squeeze half the water out and then squeeze the balance of the water on the spill to rinse it through. Then blot the area – DO NOT RUB!