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Laundry Disasters and Stain Removal

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As promised in our previous article in September, this month, we are focusing on undoing some of those laundry horrors that many of you have had to deal with.

Always remember with any stain treatment, it is always best to test your solution in an inconspicuous area of the garment/upholstery first. Rather be safe than sorry, if you feel that the fabric is too delicate for any “home remedies”, take them to a professional dry cleaner.


Here are some wonderful tips for undoing those “oops it came out pink” moments and other common laundry disasters:

Dingy whites
Over time, white fabrics can become yellowed or grey, especially if you’re not washing at the right temperature, so check the fabric care label. Napisan ™ is a fantastic product for this problem. Napisan works best if you soak items overnight.

Mysteriously pink whites
A red sock or pair of pants accidentally mixed in with your whites can turn your whole wash pink. Ariel with Actilift™ Colour helps lock in colours and prevent colour running from darker garments onto lighter ones.

Shrunken tops and jumpers

If your favourite jumper is only fit for a small child now, then it’s either been washed on the wrong cycle, with the wrong type of detergent or in water that’s too hot or should have been hand washed. Before you throw it away, there are a couple of things you can try to salvage it. While the item is damp, gently pull on the top, arms and bottom to re-shape it. Some materials, such as viscose, crinkle in the wash and may actually stretch out a little when dry, reverting to their former size. All may not be lost!

Wrinkled clothes
If you have left your clothes in the dryer for too long, they may have dried-in wrinkles. To smooth them out, put the load back in the dryer with a damp towel (for a medium sized load) or a damp, colour-fast (or white) sock if it is a small load. You can also run the dryer for a short time – this begins to generate some steam which can help remove wrinkles.

How do I get that off?

Dried-in stains
Ariel with Actilift™ is formulated specially for dried-in stains. If you have tried treating a stain and it still won’t disappear, try repeating the steps with Ariel Actilift™. On white clothes, you can also try using lemon juice or Napisan and placing the item in the sun for a natural bleaching effect.

Mildew smells or stains
If you left clothes in the washing machine for too long, they will probably smell musty and may even show pinpoint dots of mildew.  If it is a white load, then re-wash with Napisan or a mixture of lemon juice, vinegar and baking soda to remove the stains (half a cup each).


The exploding pen
A stray pen can wreak havoc in a load of clothes. It doesn’t matter whether you spot the damage before or after the clothes have been dried, as the steps are the same: spray stains with hair spray (like Elnette) soak overnight in cold water containing Ariel Excel Gel, then wash according to the fabric care label.

For older stains, dab with nail varnish remover (not suitable for synthetics) then wash as normal. Always test your method in an inconspicuous area first, as some stain treatments could damage the colour or fabric.

I didn’t mean to wash that!

Tissues in the wash
If you’re faced with shreds of tissue all over your clothing, pick out the biggest clumps you can see before putting the garments in the dryer – a lint roller can also be a great help.

The smaller clumps will get caught in the lint filter where you can remove them after the drying cycle. Always have a lint roller or 10 in the laundry room for removing pieces of lint and hair and fluff.

Stickers and gum in the wash
Chewing gum and stickers become congealed and difficult to remove after washing and drying. An ice cube pressed against the area freezes it so you can try to scrape away as much as possible (do not stick the item of clothes in the crew mess freezer!). Apply baby oil or GooGone ™ to the area and try to scrape away more as it loosens. Rinse thoroughly and then re-wash.

The stray mobile/money
From a ruined mobile phone to soggy five dollar notes, there’s not much we can do to help with this one! That’s why the biggest rule is: checking ALL pockets before each wash, especially on thicker garments like jeans, where it’s harder to immediately see what is inside.

wet money


Stain Treatment - More General Solutions:

To prepare a natural stain remover: (for light stains, such as coffee on a shirt, soil on white pants, etc.)

1 part water
1 part rubbing alcohol
Put on stain and wash as per laundry care label.  Not suitable for delicate fabrics.

Non-oily stain remover: (for all bodily fluids)

1 part ammonia
1 part colourless dishwashing liquid
1 part water
Make a paste and put it on the stain. Leave on for ½ minute then scrape off.  Wash item as per laundry care label. Not suitable for delicate fabrics, but works very well on white cottons.

Oily stain remover: (for oil and grease stains)

1 part colourless dishwashing liquid
1 part glycerine
8 parts water
Make a paste then put it on the stain. Leave on for ½ minute then scrape off. Wash item as per laundry care label.

General stain removers

Rubbing alcohol:   For grass stains

Ammonia:  For perspiration stains

Baking soda:  To remove odours from fridge, closets, etc

Club soda:  Use on any fabric that can be treated with water.  Dab on stain and blot off.  Club soda keeps spills from becoming stains.  Club soda is especially efficient in treating red wine stains.

Dishwashing liquid:  Use undiluted on tough stains.

Go-Jo hand cleaner:  (Engine Room):  Removes grease and oil, including shoe polish.

Lemon juice:  Use as bleach and disinfectant.  For spots on white clothes – apply and put in sun for a while.

Salt:  Mixed with lemon juice, salt will remove mildew stains. 

Shampoo:  Treat ring-around-the-collar, mud, cosmetic stains.

Shaving cream:  Moisten spot with cream, work it in a little, and then flush with cool water. Then launder.

Stain removal

WD40:  (Engine Room):  For grease stains, oil stains, salad dressing on napkins, clothes, chef apron, lipstick, lip ice.  Spray on, wait 10 minutes, then work in undiluted dishwashing soap and launder as usual.  NOT ON SILK!!

White vinegar:  Use undiluted on suede.  To use as fabric softener, put a ¼ cup in with final rinse. (no, it does not smell!!)

Bleach:  Absolutely never allow undiluted chlorine bleach to come in contact with fabrics.  If you have a white item that needs bleach, dab a little bleach onto a wet ear bud and treat stain.  Wash immediately after treating. Never use more bleach than called for – it damages fabrics.  If you need to use bleach anywhere on board, make sure nothing drips from the container, it will leave spots on carpets, clothes, etc.

Stain Removal

Beverage, fruit and grass remover:   Special yellow small stain treatment bottles you find in Europe

Adhesive tape:  Soak adhesive tape with eucalyptus oil, baby oil or Goo Gone.  Allow to soak for 10 minutes, then work in undiluted dishwashing liquid and rinse well.  Launder as usual.

Alcoholic beverages:  These stains turn brown with age, so treat them as soon as possible.  Flush area with cold water or soda water, then sponge with damp cloth and two drops of liquid dish soap.  Rinse with cool water and then launder as usual.  If spilled on dry clean only item, clean with sponge and soda water and have dry cleaned as soon as possible. 

Antiperspirants and deodorants:  Sponge fabric with ammonia.  Rinse thoroughly and wash.  Also try applying Rubbing Alcohol to the stain and covering the area with a folded paper towel dampened with Rubbing Alcohol.  Keep it moist and let it sit for a few hours prior to washing.

Ball-point pen:  Spray with hair spray and then wash.

Berries:  Use Wine Away Red Wine Stain Remover (USA).  Spray Wine Away on the fabric and wait a while before washing. 

Blood:  Soak item in salt water and flush with soda water.  Wash in cool water and detergent afterwards.  For dry clean only items, sprinkle with salt while blood is still moist, then take to dry cleaner asap.  Human saliva also breaks down fresh blood stains…
candle wax

Candle wax:  For candle wax on clothes and table linens, place the article in a plastic bag in the freezer and let wax freeze.  Scrape off what you can with a dull edge, like a credit card.  Lay two layers of paper towel on the ironing board, place the item on top, place another layer of paper towel on top of fabric (fabric thus sandwiched in between paper towel), and press with a medium/hot iron until you see all wax blots come off on paper towel.  THIS WORKS AND YOU WILL USE IT MANY TIMES!!!

Chewing gum:  Harden surface with ice.  Scrape off with a dull knife.  Spray with a pre-wash treatment.  Rinse, then wash.

Chocolate: Scrape off all you can, then soak washable fabric for 30 minutes in a prewash solution such as Shout and water.  Rub detergent into any remaining stains and work in with your fingers.  Then wash as normal – on medium hot water if possible.

Coffee and tea:  Blot up all you can and flush with cold water.  Rub detergent into the stain and work between fingers.  Launder as usual.  For whites, soak in Napisan and launder afterwards.

Cosmetics:  Wet the stain and rub with a bar of soap, working it in well.   Flush with warm water, and once stain is removed, launder as usual.

Fabric softener spots:  Dampen the spot with pure bar soap and rewash.  Also, try rubbing it with liquid dish soap and rewash.  Wet the item and rub undiluted dishwashing liquid, then rewash.  Also try wetting and rubbing the stain with shampoo.

Grease and oil:  Remove as much of the substance as possible.  Use a paper towel to blot the worst out of the fabric.  Next, apply baking soda, cornstarch or talcum powder.  Rub it in gently and let it sit for 30 minutes.  Brush the powder off and check the stain.  If not finished, repeat the process.  When grease stain is stubborn, spray WD40 onto it and let soak for 10 minutes.  Then work in undiluted dishwashing liquid and work between your thumbs.  Then launder.  For heavily soiled, greasy work clothes, pour a can of Coke with your detergent into the washing machine.  This works wonders!!!!

Lipstick:  Try GoJo Hand Cleaner from the Engineers.  WD40 will also work.  Rub on, let sit for 30 minutes.  Sponge with ammonia and launder afterwards.

borax pic

Paint:  Oil-based.  Thinners will work, also thinner for Tip-pex. Test a small area first!  Turpentine will also work. Work on the back of the item (wrong side of item).  Work turpentine into spill, and after paint is removed, rub GoJo onto the spot.  Wash off and saturate with liquid laundry detergent and work in vigorously.  Let it soak overnight.  Scrub with an old toothbrush and launder as normally.

Vomit:  (Yes this will happen!!): Scrape off all you can. Flush the fabric with cool water. Make a paste of liquid laundry detergent and Borax and vigorously scrub fabric.  Rinse with salt water, pre-treat and launder.

Improperly bleached synthetic materials:  Can be whitened by soaking them for several hours or overnight in a solution of 2 quarts water, 1/3 cup salt and ¾ cup vinegar.  Repeat if necessary.

Rust on fabric:  Lemon juice and table salt will remove iron rust from fabric. Cut a lemon in half, rub it on the fabric until good and wet, then rub in the salt and put the article in the sun to dry.  Afterwards, wash as usual. 

Mildew on shower curtain:  A cup of liquid bleach added to the warm water in your washing machine when you are washing a plastic shower curtain will remove mildew (crew shower curtains especially). Remove the curtain at the end of the wash cycle and hang in to drip dry in shower.

Butter:  Scrape off any solid concentration of butter first.  Work in undiluted dishwashing liquid, wash and dry.  If the stain is old, spray with WD 40 Lubricant to regenerate the grease, the work in undiluted dishwashing liquid (like Cascade), and wash in the hottest possible setting suitable for that fabric type. 

Mystery stains:  Blot with cold water.  Blot with a sponge dampened with water and a teaspoon of white vinegar.  Blot with a cloth dampened with water and rubbing alcohol.

*Image credits: Flickr/Wm Jas  Flickr/Max Stanworth  Flickr/Steve Johnson Flickr Flickr/Joshin Flickr/Tim Regan

About the Author:

After working in the super yacht industry as a stewardess, chief stew and purser for 10 years, Isobel Odendaal moved back to her home country, South Africa, and co-started a training school for super yacht steward/esses, Super Yachting South Africa, where she continues to learn and teach every day. 

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