How To Take Care Of Every Delicate Fabric And Stain This Holiday
Illustrated by Jihyang Lim
There's no way around it: Holidays can get messy—and we mean that quite literally. Whether you're attending tightly packed parties where people drink a few too many and full-on bump into you with their drinks, or you've loaded too much on your spoon only to end up with mashed potatoes on your lap at Christmas dinner, spills happen. Instead of instantly throwing our clothing into an ever-growing "to take to the dry cleaners" pile or resort to donating our shoes because of that stubborn stain we didn't attend to until a month post-fact, we thought it was time to crack down on our 2016 resolution—you know, the one that we made immediately following that last NYE party—to learn how to salvage our favorite pieces at home.
With that in mind, we caught up with Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd—founders of The Laundress, an eco-friendly line of detergent, fabric care, and home cleaning products with a flagship in Manhattan's SoHo—and David Mesquita—owner of Leather Spa, the premiere accessory repair and care shops with several Manhattan locations—to get their tips on how to take care of spills that threaten to ruin the trickiest of holiday fabrics (think: faux fur, leather, velvet) this season sans, most times, a trip to the cleaners. Ahead, their advice.
Read the labels:
Make sure to read your clothing's labels before attempting to spot treat or wash any of your clothing. Most delicate fabrics that aren't machine-friendly can be hand-washed at home—that is unless they explicitly read "dry clean only." "We don’t typically encourage dry cleaning. However, there are a handful of fabrics with which dry cleaning is the safest option. Trust us—we’ve experimented!" say Whiting and Boyd. According to them, some of these include viscose, polyamide, items with manufactured pleating, structured items, suede, and leather labeled “not washable.”
To determine if you can spot treat an item, they advise the following:
- Wet a corner of the Wash & Stain Bar (for oil-based blemishes) and use it to clean a small area of the item, or, dab a small, inconspicuous area with a lint-free cloth and a small amount of Stain Solution (for wine or juice) onto the mark.
- Do not use paper towels and certain types of sponges because they may leave lint or residue behind. Instead, they suggest using their Lint-Free Cleaning Cloth or similar fabric cloth.
- Do not continue cleaning if you observe any discoloration, marks, or if fabric begins to ripple and take to professionals.
How to hand-wash:
Once you've treated a stain, it's time to wash the item. Throw the entire piece in the machine if the label allows it, or prepare to hand-wash the item at home. If you are unsure of how to properly attend to the item by hand, the folks behind The Laundress suggest the following steps for best results:
- Turn the item inside out.
- Fill a wash basin or sink with water (water temperature will vary depending on the fabrication of the item you are washing). Whiting and Boyd recommend tepid water for silk, cool water for wool.
- Add detergent and mix to prepare a bath.
- Submerge the item and use your hands to agitate the water and detergent.
- Soak delicate items for up to 30 minutes.
- Rinse well.
- Do not wring the item; instead, press the water out of the item against the sink or basin.
Once the item has been laundered, Whiting and Boyd recommend laying it flat to dry on a drying rack. "This will preserve the item’s original shape."
Clothing spills and stains:
Should that Christmas roast or New Year's Eve hors d'oeuvres make their way onto your holiday dress, don't despair and run out of the party. If you aren't home, use salt, cornstarch, or baby powder (at least one of which any host or restaurant is bound to have) to cover the stain and then apply a stain solution back at home.
For wine, Champagne, liquor, and beer stains, Whiting and Boyd recommend leaving them until the following day. “We prefer to party on,” they say. “Generally, a mid-party spot treating session makes a bigger and more noticeable mess. Have another drink instead and take care of the stain the next day… sober!”
To handle the cocktail calamity the following morning, they recommend the following:
- Apply a stain solution directly to the stained area(s).
- Work the solution into the fabric with a stain brush.
- Pour hot water from a height and allow the items to soak.
- If the stain is not completely gone, repeat the process until satisfied. Then, launder as normal.
Did you also find makeup on your own or your SO's collar the next day? Turns out, that's easily fixable, too. Apply a stain bar to the spot and work the stain out with a little water.
While the previous tips apply to most fabrics, there are some things that one must keep in mind when dealing with more tricky pieces that we tend to wear around the holidays.
Have you always turned to dry cleaners to get your leather goods freshened up? Us too. Turns out, it's not that hard to clean your favorite leather jacket or skirt yourself should you spill something on them.
According to Whiting and Boyd, faux leather is often hand-washable, which means you can ease out most tough stains in your bathtub. Note: Always, always patch test an item before you wash it. If there is any discoloration once the area dried, it might be best to leave it to professionals. "If it's not hand-washable, use Surface Cleaner, if the faux leather has a vinyl finish, or damp the Lint-Free Cleaning Cloth with Scented Vinegar and wipe down the surface. Spot treat with the Wash & Stain Bar," Whiting and Boyd say. "Freshen in between wearing and washing with Fabric Fresh Classic… often!" If the item in question is made from real leather, proceed similarly. Whether real or faux, Whiting and Boyd emphasize following the item's label: "If a leather item is labeled 'Not Washable' or 'Dry Clean Only,' don’t wash it. Trust us. Take the item to a leather cleaning expert."
Seemingly one of the trickiest fabrics to take care of, silk can actually be easily washed at home. "We recommend testing the item for color stability before laundering," Whiting and Boyd say. "Always test for color bleeding by dipping an inconspicuous area on the item in warm water." This way, you can tell if your item will bleed when being washed. (Don't worry: Just because an item bleeds color, it doesn't mean that it will lose any in the process.) If the item is solid, wash it alone; if the article of clothing features several colors and bleeds into the water, consider taking it to professionals just to be safe. Treat stains with a stain solution or bar by applying to blemishes and hand-wash afterward. Whiting and Boyd leave one important piece of advice: "Never allow silk to soak for longer than 30 minutes."
Always check your clothing's label to see the manufacture's suggestion for cleaning and the material composition. "Look first to see what the velvet is made of, whether it's cotton, rayon, silk," say Whiting and Boyd. "Most velvets can be hand-washed with our Delicate Wash and line-dried." Keep in mind that velvet should never be ironed afterward; instead, use a steamer.
Cashmere and wool:
When it comes to cashmere and wool, they are not much different than silk when it comes to at-home care. "You can absolutely wash wool and cashmere, but NEVER machine dry," say Whiting and Boyd. If wine or oil got on your favorite sweater, treat the spot with a stain solution or bar. Next, hand-wash the item with a delicate detergent or even a fabric shampoo. "Use our Wool & Cashmere Shampoo, a pH neutral formula, to clean and preserve your knits and sweaters," suggest Whiting and Boyd.
Did something land on your fabulous faux fur vest or your beanie's furry pom-pom? That's okay. "You can clean faux fur, as most faux furs are constructed with acrylic, modacrylic, nylon, rayon, and polyester, all of which are washable fabrics," say Whiting and Boyd. Treat the affected area with a stain bar or hand wash. When it comes time to dry the item, resist the temptation to throw it, in all its furry glory, in the dryer as it will ruin the piece.
When it comes to your shoes and handbags, prevention is key. Before you even step out of the house for that party, protect your shoes and bag. Mesquita suggests treating all leather accessories with Leather Spa's water and stain protector the morning of the party. "It's basically creating a shield, and if you were to spill anything or drop anything on, you could wipe it off before it starts to penetrate into the leather or into the suede," he says. "It also works well with various fabrics."
According to Mesquita, oil-based foods and red wine are the hardest stains to take out of shoes and bags. "Wine, anything oil-based, or deep coloring are the hardest stains to treat and sometimes they don't even come out 100 percent." If the worst has happened and you spilled some of that truffle oil on your booties, immediately get your hands on baby powder, baking powder, or baking soda to absorb the oil. Next, wipe the residue off and reapply more powder or soda as needed. "With wine, unfortunately, it's not the same process," he says. "If you spill anything on leather fabrics or even velvet, your goal immediately is to absorb that moisture. The best thing you can do is grab a napkin or paper towel and try to take some of that moisture from the shoe or the bag." Mesquita says to not be afraid to use a little water when dabbing the stain, especially if it's a leather piece. "The water will help break up the wine and the viscosity, making the stain more watery and easier for you to pat dry and pull up the moisture. If you do use water, though, use it very lightly."
Mesquita also warns against rubbing the stain too hard. "Do it very lightly, and if it's not coming out, then it's something you want to have done professionally," he says. "Sometimes when you put too much pressure, you're actually removing the color off, or on suede, you change the suede in that area. Even if we were able to clean it and take the spot out, that area of suede will be heavily brushed from whatever you had tried."
While most accessories can be cleaned with some water or powder, the more holiday friendly, and as such delicate, materials may require some additional steps.
"Anything with velvet, you want to spray right away—that's the most important thing," says Mesquita. "Then when it is sprayed, if you've spilled anything on it, you're going to be able to clean it off before it penetrates into the fabric." If you haven't protected you brand-new velvet pumps, you can use a little shampoo or fabric cleaner at home on the stain. "Dilute a mild soap with water and do a shampooing of that area to remove the spot," says Mesquita, emphasizing that, no matter the fabric, the biggest mistake that one can do is to leave the stain to dry up until the next day. "The important thing is to react right away because the longer you wait, especially if it hasn't been protected, the more it will get stuck into the yarn or the fabrics." If the stain still refuses to budge, take your shoes or bag to the professionals who will have access to more industrial cleaners.
If you bumped into someone and they spilled their drink all over your vintage snakeskin handbag, don't freak out. For cases like this, Mesquita suggests carrying a dust bag inside your exotic skin purse to use to instantly dab up the wet spot. "I wouldn't use any soap or anything like that, though. If it's been protected, and you have a little bit of a spot or something on it and you react immediately, you should be able to remove the stain or the dirt that's accumulated on it with a damp dust bag or cloth." Just make sure to rub down in the direction of the scales to prevent them from "curling up."
Other holiday mishaps:
Spills aren't the only things that can put a damper on the festivities. An important thing to remember is to never wear heels that have lost their tips (that small rubber part at the bottom of your stiletto); instead, wait until you've repaired them to wear again—yes, even if they go perfectly with your NYE jumpsuit.
If it is during the dancing portion of the night that you find your heel tip has come off (not an uncommon occurrence with a new pair), Mesquita advises finding replacement shoes as soon as possible and not damaging the heel further by standing on it. "If the shoes are expensive, I would say take them off and get a pair of flip-flops from Duane Reade." While it may seem drastic, the consequences of continuing to damage the heel more may mean a more expensive repair if the fabric further rips on the heel or you end up damaging the metal foundation. "Everything's repairable, the only thing is the end results after we repair it. If something has been badly damaged, yes, we can fix it for you to wear again, but it may not be perfect," he warns.
Also, If you're home or have replacement tips, do not use glue to temporarily solve the problem, even if that seems like a good solution at the time. Mesquita says that oftentimes customers use too much glue, which ends up spilling over the edges onto the material, making it hard to remove the glue off of the shoe. "Again, you can fix it, so it looks like nothing ever happened, but what would normally be a $15 repair then turns into a $40 repair because of the glue. Just like with health, the longer you wait to fix something, it just gets more expensive."
But let's say, at the end of the night, you stepped into a giant puddle of water or slush in your suede booties while attempting to catch that coveted cab. We've all been there. Yours truly once stepped into a pool with her suede sandal. You don't have to wave your shoes goodbye! Mesquita says it's entirely possible to salvage the pair by acting on it instantly. "You want to stuff them with tissue paper or newspaper in their natural shape. If they got really heavily wet, to the point where they are soaking, when they do dry, they may shrink a little bit and lose their natural shape if you don't," he says. "You don't want to overstuff them either though and have them bulging because then when it dries, it will have that permanent shape." Let the shoes dry naturally (no using hair dryers or heaters here), leaving them out overnight or by dabbing with a towel. If you are awake, you could change the stuffing every hour or so depending on how wet they are. "Once they are dry, you might just have to do leather polishing or conditioner depending on their state. And if it's suede, you just want to have a suede brush handy and just brush the suede to bring back its natural texture," says Mesquita.
Let the countdown to the ball drop begin.