Out, damn’d [ink] spot!

“Out, damn’d spot! Out, I say!”  Macbeth 5.1.36

Okay, so spots on your clothes are a quandary less serious than Mrs. Macbeth’s guilt, but they can be equally unwashable.  Using a shirt as the test case, here are some general tips, plus guidelines for some specific spots:


  • The sooner you can get to removing the stain, the better.
  • Check the labels on the shirt for washing instructions.  That said, these rules can usually be bent, though not always broken.
  • If you can, avoid putting the shirt in the dryer after washing.  This is especially true for antiperspirant stains: it’s the heat that tends to turn these stains yellow, if I may be so indelicate as to allude to areas of the body that are better left unmentioned.  If the antiperspirant stain is on silk, hand wash if at all possible.  Dry cleaning sets these stains (and some others) permanently and has the same effect on alcohol stains that you may not see.  Post-party mystery stains that seem to have been created by the dry cleaner, anyone?
  • Hot water tends to be better for removing stains from fruit or vegetable juices/foods — I think it has to do with the sugar content.  Emphasis on “think.”  Further emphasis on this tip being a general guideline, not a certainty.
  • Try to keep cursing to a minimum.  “Physician, heal thyself” springs to mind here.

Coffee:  Use a white terry or similar cloth to blot the stain and remove any coffee that can be removed; apply a mild dish detergent to the stain and rub with your fingers; rinse thoroughly with cold water. Pre-treat the stain for the laundry asap.  Wash the shirt as usual, but allow to air dry.

Blood and other proteins:  Oxygenated spot removers & cold water.  Pre-treat with a heavy dose of the remover; squeeze out the liquid, but don’t let the stain come in contact with other areas of the shirt.  Repeat as necessary, then wash in cold water.  Take care of it asap since once protein stains dry, they’re notoriously intractable.  Too bad they didn’t have OxiClean in medieval Scotland.

Ink:  Not hairspray, as you may have heard; it’s actually the alcohol in hairspray that does the trick.  Put a paper towel or  clean, color-safe cloth underneath the stain; using a Qtip or cotton ball (depending on size & saturation of stain), dab ink spot with rubbing alcohol, then press spot with a 2nd paper towel or cloth — don’t soak the stain w/ alcohol and don’t apply any water to it before you use the alcohol.  Use several fresh Qtips/cotton balls and paper towels (under & over stain) to avoid re-applying or spreading the ink.  Dab, press, repeat, then wash.  This may not remove the stain entirely, but it should fade it quite a bit.

Red wine:  “Wine Away” is a stellar product, but it may not be lounging around when your Merlot decides to take a field trip.  Use HOT water, not cold.  First, make sure the shirt and its dye can withstand very hot water.  Boil lots of water, preferably in a tea pot.  Lay out the shirt above a sink so that the outside of the shirt & stain are facing down into the sink with the inside facing you.  Create space b/t the shirt and the sink’s bottom by weighing the shirt down at the four corners of the sink’s edge — use heavier objects than you might think.  Pour the boiling water through the stain, preferably from a height. (Water pressure helps. Really.)  Keep pouring the water through; the stain will start to fade.  It may take a few pots of water to remove it entirely.  Need I mention that caution is required when pouring boiling water from a height?  Apologies to my buddies Harry and Seward — and to Sen-Dog’s tuxedo shirt — for this presumption:  they can testify to the efficacy of this method, learned after a frantic call to Kiki immediately prior to the Reptilian Cotillion, circa 1988.

Washing away guilt à la Lady Macbeth — a topic best left for another post, perhaps?  Happy spot hunting!

One is always wearing white when marinara sauce goes flying.  Discuss.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Betsy on September 22, 2011 at 11:47 am

    What about getting the “pink” out of nice expensive new white jeans that were put in washer with something red?????????????????


  2. Posted by Salllie on September 22, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    My grqndmother’s advice for any berry stains: Boiling water from the height of a foot. Same as your red wine. Works every time.


    • Yes! I’ve used the same method on grape and cranberry juice — wish I’d thought to mention that in the blog! Gotta love those grandmother hints:). Thanks!


  3. Posted by Betsy on September 23, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    I will try the method on the jeans and let you know if it works!!! THanks!


  4. Posted by betsy gibson on September 23, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Oh, Kate, this is one that I’m going to have to print out and post in the kitchen and in the laundry room. A mini copy is going into my wallet. Excellent work–love it!! (Thanks, Kiki!!)


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