Your SOS guide to getting out every kind of holiday stain


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The holidays are rife with delicious foods and beverages; unfortunately, many of those happen to cause stains should you accidentally get them anywhere besides your stomach. Gravy, chocolate, red wine, coffee, and cranberry sauce are some of the worst offenders you will encounter. But since accidents are bound to happen, we went to the experts to get their best DIY stain removal tips.

“Fresh stains are much easier to remove than those over 24 hours old.”

First off, there are three basic things to know about getting out any kind of stain, says Kelly Love, co-founder of Branch Basics (a line of non-toxic, plant-based cleaning products): Act fast, pretreat, and agitate. “Fresh stains are much easier to remove than those over 24 hours old,” she explains. If you can’t deal with your stain right away, it might require an overnight soak. Lastly, you need to agitate the stain (no, we’re not referring to the way your siblings make you feel when they gang up on you even though you’re all adults).

“Agitation is the process of rubbing the stained fiber to loosen the soil, grime or dirt from the material, and bring into more direct contact with the cleaning solution so that the stain is lifted and removed,” Love says. How vigorously you can agitate the fabric depends on how durable it is—something silk will require a much gentler touch than jeans. (Pro tip: Love says toothbrushes work great for the agitation portion of stain removal.)

Now that you’re armed with the basics, here are DIY stain removal tips to deal with the most common holiday stains.

Red wine

Okay, so you accidentally slosh red wine down your dress whilst dodging a conversation about what your “internet job” actually is (a totally non-specific instance). All hope is not lost. First, blot up the excess liquid. “Soak the stain in cool water until no more color is coming out,” suggests Derek Christian, co-owner of the cleaning company Castle Keepers. “Pretreat with prewash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent, or a paste of powder detergent and water, and wash.”

If that doesn’t work, he recommends washing your clothing again. This time use a non-toxic bleach alternative. And whatever you do, do not let the fabric dry between pretreating and washing, warns Christine Dimmick, author of Detox Your Home and CEO/founder of natural cleaning line The Good Home Co. “Keep cleaning and machine washing until the stain is gone. Once dry it will be much more difficult to remove the stain,” she says. (This goes for all stains, not just red wine-related ones.)

Gravy

Gravy is delicious, but it’s also made from oily meat juices that can permanently stain your clothing. Should you happen to be overzealous with your ladeling and get some on your outfit, don’t panic. First up, you want to blot up the excess oil/gravy with a paper towel, Love says. Then cover the stain with a thick coat of baking soda, and let it sit until the oil is absorbed. Scrub the baking soda into the stain with a toothbrush, pour fragrance-free dish soap over it and agitate the stain, then wash in the washing machine, Love says.

Cranberry sauce

The best part of Thanksgiving dinner is the homemade cranberry sauce (don’t @ me, this is a hill I will die on), but sometimes the things you love can do you so wrong. Like if you’re consuming said cranberry sauce with such gusto that you happen to get it on your grandmother’s tablecloth and then also on your sleeve. To remove this sort of stain, Jack White, vice president of technical services at Rainbow International, says to blot the stain with a white cotton towel, and then flush it with warm water. Mix together a tablespoon of dish soap with a cup of warm water, and use that to keep blotting the stain until it goes away.

Coffee

You wake up slightly hungover from the one-too-many glasses of wine you consumed at Thanksgiving dinner, make your way to the kitchen for much-needed coffee, and promptly spill on yourself. Been there. “My go-to for removings stains is white vinegar,” Dimmick says. “If you spill coffee or tea on anything, immediately neutralize it with white vinegar. Then rinse and spot scrub with soap and wash immediately.”

Love also recommends spraying the stain with Branch Basics All-Purpose (it contains a combo of stain-grabbing surfactants) and rubbing the fabric to agitate the stain.

Waiting in line is another inevitable part of the holiday season—here’s how to do it without turning into a shell of a human. Then learn how to calm holiday stress in less than a minute.

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