Design Holidays & Celebrations

Holiday Stain Removal Guide: How to Rub Out Coffee, Gravy, Wax, and More

When the turkey grease splatters or a glass of red wine spills, spring into action with these couch-, clothes-, and carpet-saving stain-removal tips.

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Don’t Cry Over Spilled Gravy

For many of us, the holidays mean parties— and parties mean spills, splotches, and spots. It takes only an instant to drop a fork or knock over a drink, but the resulting stain can be permanent unless you take quick action and you know the best way to erase every trace of a substance. Don’t cry over spilled gravy! With this handy guide, you don’t have to lose your cool over drips and spills.

If you’ve broken out the heirloom lace tablecloth or donned your best cashmere sweater for the occasion, it’s especially important to brush up on your stain-removal know-how as you head into the holiday season. Here are some of the most common stains that hosts-with-the-most may encounter and how to get them out in a snap.

Red Wine on the Couch

Oh, no! Your guest accidentally spilled a splash of red wine. Fortunately, if you did the cooking, you definitely have the remedy on hand. Salt will help absorb a red wine stain while it’s wet: Lightly blot the spot with a soft towel, then cover the stain immediately with a layer of salt. Return 15 minutes later to vacuum up the salt. Spot wash any remaining wine with warm water mixed with mild dish detergent.

Grease Stains on Your Apron

Grease stains are a natural byproduct of cooking a big meal, but it’s not hard to figure out how to remove a grease stain from clothes. You can save your apron, oven mitts, tea towels, and any linens that take a hit with this single remedy. First, soak the stained area immediately with a laundry stain pretreatment product such as Oxi Clean Max Force Foam. After a few minutes, vigorously rub in a heavy-duty laundry detergent, and throw the item into the wash immediately. Before the item goes into the dryer, check that the stain is completely gone. If you still see it, lay the article face down on an absorbent towel, pour dry-cleaning solvent through the back of the stain, and launder once more.

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Chocolate on the Chairs

If a piece of chocolate cream pie or a stream of chocolate syrup finds its way onto a dining room chair, remove the excess carefully—you won’t want to grind the stain further into the fibers of your fabric. Then, using a clean cloth, apply a dry cleaning solvent such as Folex Instant Carpet Spot Remover to the stain. (Great for carpets and fine upholstery, dry-cleaning solvent is a professionally approved tool that you should stash in your laundry cabinet.) Just blot up the solvent, and repeat the application until the stain is gone.

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Cranberry Sauce on the Napkins

Prepare yourself: Your cloth napkins will take quite a beating during a formal holiday meal, and some of the most stain-prone smears may be caused by that vibrant, tangy culprit: cranberry sauce. Flush this stain with cool water as soon as dinner is over and your guests have gone. Then, mix a little laundry detergent and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar into a quart of cool water, and soak the stain in the solution for 15 to 30 minutes. Rinse it off to see your results. If the stain remains, gently sponge rubbing alcohol over the stain and rinse again thoroughly.

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Gravy on the Tablecloth

When you clear the dishes from the Thanksgiving spread, don’t be surprised to find a brown-tinged ring wherever the gravy boat sat. If you can catch the spillage in action, use a cloth to remove as much of the excess gravy as you can, without rubbing it in. Later, soak the stain with laundry stain pretreatment, and wash with the hottest water the fabric will bear. If the stain remains, soak it in oxygen bleach—Biokleen Oxygen bleach is a good option—and launder again.

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Butter on the Table Runner

Undoing a buttery mess begins simply with a (clean) butter knife: Scrape the excess off, and apply a grease-cutting liquid dish detergent directly to the stain. Rinse the detergent out just before laundering your cloth, at which point you’ll also want to pretreat the item with stain remover, and set the machine to the hottest water the fabric will tolerate. If the stain remains, try removing it with dry-cleaning solvent.

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Coffee on the Carpet

When the coffee you serve with dessert refuses to stay confined to its mug, immediately blot up as much of the spill as possible. When your guests have gone, you can combine 1 tablespoon of dish soap and 1 tablespoon of vinegar in a few cups of warm water. Using a sponge, alternately soak the stain with the mixture and blot it up with an absorbent towel until the brown blotch is all gone.

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Wax Drippings on the Tablecloth

After the candlesticks that brighten your Thanksgiving centerpiece have mostly melted away, you may find that wax drippings have pooled and cooled on your tablecloth. To clean them up, first scrape the chunks away with a butter knife. Address the soaked-in leftovers by placing a plain paper bag over the spot and running an iron set on high heat over the paper to pull out the oils. Throw the tablecloth in the wash, and make sure that no wax stains remain before tossing it into the dryer.

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Food Coloring on the Butcher Block

You’re up to your elbows in royal icing, piping exquisite details on cut-out snowmen and Santas for your Christmas cookie exchange, when you notice a bright-green splatter of food dye on your beautiful butcher block. Will this colorful stain be a ghost of cookies past? Not if you treat it properly. Cover the color with salt, then scrub with the cut side of a halved lemon. If that’s not sufficient, dab the spot with a cloth dipped in hydrogen peroxide.

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Soot Stains on Glass Candle Jars

Fragrant, flickering scented candles add ambiance to any holiday activity, but after a while, the inside of candle jars can become discolored with soot. Luckily, tackling these dark smudges is one of the easiest and most satisfying cleaning jobs around. Simply dampen a paper towel with rubbing alcohol and wipe the glass. One pass is all it takes to get the candle shining bright once again.

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Blood on Your Ugly Holiday Sweater

Sliced your finger dicing celery or dealing with a broken ornament? It’s hard to pull off a campy pullover if said hideous sweater looks like it’s been through a brawl. Turn to your spice cabinet for an unusual but effective blood stain treatment: meat tenderizer. (After all, this ingredient’s purpose is breaking down animal protein.) Mix with enough water to make a thick paste and apply liberally to the blood. After 30 minutes, rinse with cold water and wash as usual. 

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