We’ve all been there: you’re at a restaurant or café and part of the meal ends up on your clothes. If you don’t have a stain-removing pen on hand, what should you do?
First of all, don’t panic. There are actually a few on-the-go tricks to prevent that accidental spill from ruining your outfit for good.
Here’s what you can do to lift or treat a stain when you’re out of the house and don’t have a stain remover handy.
Your biggest priority is to prevent the stain from “setting.”
The reason that you should treat a stain as soon as it happens is that you don’t want it to “set.”
As The Art of Manliness explained, “setting” is a term for when a staining substance forms a chemical bond with a fabric. When that happens, the stain is basically permanent and no amount of washing or treating will remove it.
Clearly, you want to prevent that process from ever occurring. Two ways to stave off setting are to keep the stain away from direct heat (like lamps or hot water) and avoid applying pressure to the stain by scrubbing it vigorously or trying to absorb the offending substance by pressing the stain too hard with a napkin or towel.
Whatever you do, don’t rub that stain.
No matter how tempting it is to try and rub that ketchup stain out of your sweater, resist the urge.
Lemon Tree Cleaners cautioned that “rubbing can fray the fibres of the fabric, allowing the stain to penetrate more deeply, making it that much more difficult to remove.”
If you need to remove excess food or liquid from a stained spot, blot gently with a clean napkin or cloth. Take care not to grind the substance into the fabric by repeated wiping, as that will only make removing the stain more difficult.
Grab a first aid kit to save your clothes from pen stains.
You’re probably not equipped with rubbing alcohol at all times, so locating a first aid kit is your best bet in this situation. If you’re in a public place like a restaurant, bar, school, or shopping mall, there’s definitely one nearby.
Apply isopropyl alcohol to the stain and blot with a clean napkin or cloth, according to Good Housekeeping. You might want to place a paper towel under the fabric to prevent the alcohol from soaking through. You should see the stain start to dissolve almost immediately.
Once you’re back home, treat the spot with some pre-wash stain remover and make sure it’s completely gone before throwing the item in the dryer in order to prevent setting the stain.
Use cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb oil stains.
When pizza grease drips onto your lap, talcum powder and cornstarch are your best friends.
Admittedly, the chances that you walk around with baggies of these items are pretty slim. However, but you might be able to grab some cornstarch from the kitchen of a restaurant or use baby powder if you’re a parent on the go.
Cleanipedia advised that you should dab the powder onto the stain. Be liberal with your application. Wait 30 minutes (or as long as you can) before shaking the powder off the garment. When you get home, apply an oil-busting commercial spot treatment and launder according to the garment instructions.
Nosebleed or other bloody mess? Treat it with cold water.
Nosebleeds can strike at the worst times. So can periods. Before you panic over your bloody shirt or pants, do what Real Simple recommended and treat the stain with cold water.
You’ll want to avoid using hot or warm water on a blood stain because the heat might cause the blood to set. Applying water to the stain as soon as possible is also key to preventing permanent discoloration.
Obviously, if there are large quantities of blood on your clothing, your first concern should probably be getting medical attention rather than treating your stained blouse.
Attack wine stains with table salt.
Every outfit’s worst nightmare is a stray splash of red wine. If you do end up with a wine stain on your clothing, don’t freak out. Instead, reach for the salt shaker.
According to Real Simple, one of the best ways to treat wine accidents as soon as they happen is to apply salt liberally to the stain. More specifically, you should dab at the stain with a clean cotton cloth or napkin to remove excess wine. Then, coat the fabric with an ample amount of salt and let it sit for at least five minutes.
If you can, finish up your spot treating by pouring boiling water over the stain from a height of at least eight inches in order to flush out the stain. Otherwise, simply scoop up the salt and get the item to a dry cleaner as soon as possible.
Wine stains can also be removed with a bit of club soda.
According to Apartment Therapy, another great trick for treating red wine stains on the fly is to douse the spot in club soda or soda water.
This trick can be combined with the salt treatment above by soaking up the excess wine with a cloth or napkin, pouring club soda over the stain first, and then generously spreading salt over the mark. Add the boiling water and you should see a definite improvement in the stain.
Scrape thick stains before treating them.
If you have a giant glob of ketchup or BBQ sauce on your pants, you shouldn’t jump straight to treating the stain.
Grab a dinner knife or spoon and scrape from the outside of the stain inwards, recommended WikiHow. Your aim is to get as much of the substance off your clothing as possible (without rubbing) so that blotting the mark with a damp cloth or napkin won’t just spread the stain around.
Water is better than nothing.
If all you have on hand to treat your stain is a water bottle or a public restroom sink, go for it. As The Art of Manliness pointed out, treating any stain immediately with water is always better than nothing. Use what you have, even if that’s only a splash of water and a speedy drive to the laundromat.
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