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Holiday Stains

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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Holiday time is here. A time for decorating and entertaining. During the busy hustle and bustle of the season there are always accidents and stains. Taking care of spills and stains immediately is important in order to have success at removing the problem. Even if stains go unnoticed until later – all is not lost. It may take more time and energy to clean it up or get a stain out. In order to remove stains follow these suggestions.

Check the care label for information. If it says dry-clean, take the item to the dry cleaners and let them know what the stain is. It is always easier to remove a stain if it can be identified. For washable items, test for colorfastness before attempting to remove any stain. Apply a small amount of stain remover to an inconspicuous part of the item. If the color is damaged, use a different treatment.

Popular holiday stains and the suggested removal tips for washable fabrics:

Always use an up and down motion rather than rubbing to protect fabric fibers. It is also suggested to work from the back side of the fabric to prevent the substance from penetrating and spreading.

Cranberry sauce:

Wash in cool, sudsy water using appropriate bleach. If stain remains, soak 30 minutes in an enzyme pre-soak and re-launder. Use an oxygen bleach on colored items, chlorine bleach can be used only on whites, if safe for the fabric.

Candle wax:

Scrape excess from fabric with a dull knife. Spray or sponge with cleaning solvent, then rub with heavy-duty liquid detergent before washing. Pressing the wax between paper may set the candle dye more permanently by making it harder for the solvent to penetrate the wax. Launder using hot water and chlorine bleach, if safe for fabric.

Beverages including alcohol, soft drinks, wine, coffee, tea:

Sponge with cool water. Soak for 15 minutes in 1 quart of lukewarm water, ½ teaspoon liquid dish detergent and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Launder. If stain remains, soak in an enzyme pre-soak for 30 minutes.


Soak in cold water. Pre-treat remaining stain with a prewash stain remover. Launder using the hottest water safe for the fabric. Use appropriate bleach safe for the fabric.

Gravy, grease and meat juice:

Scrape off, as much as possible, with a dull knife. Soak in cold water. Pre-treat and launder in hottest water safe for the fabric. Use appropriate bleach.

Carpet Stains:

Carpet stains can be a challenge but can be removed if the proper steps are taken. It is best to work from the outside edge toward the center of the stained area. Always use a blotting technique (an up and down motion), do not rub. Test the stain removal product and solvent in inconspicuous areas, in closets, behind curtain, etc. to make sure it does not harm the carpet. Vacuum up solid materials before doing other techniques for cleaning. Blot liquid stains. The following solvents/solutions work well on carpet stains. Use a small amount of product in the order listed. Be careful not to over-wet the area as this can lead to other problems such as mold and mildew if the carpet and pad do not dry quickly.

  • S - Cleaning Solvent (Goof Off or Goo Gone)
  • D - Detergent Solution (½ teaspoon non-bleach, powder detergent in 2 cups lukewarm water), liquid detergent may be used but use a less amount as it is concentrated
  • A - Ammonia Solution (l tablespoon household ammonia to 1 cup water)
  • V - Vinegar Solution (1 part white vinegar to 1 part water)
  • W - Plain Water
  • Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and chocolate: D, A, V, W
  • Coffee and tea: D, V
  • Food stains: S, D, A, V, W
  • Wine: A, V, W
  • Grease (oil): S, D, W
  • Unknown stains: S, D, A, V, W

Having a stain stick handy during the holidays and when traveling can help with stain removal on washable items that can't be done immediately. Treat with the stain stick and then it can wait until laundry time. Remember to read care labels for laundering procedures and follow the instructions. Always try to treat stains immediately to make removal easier. Check washable items before putting them in the dryer to see if the stain is removed. If the stain is still evident, treat and launder again. The heat from the dryer can set stains. Immediate action to stains will save the item, time and money.

Ask Lorene

(This resource was updated December 2012 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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