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.