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Expert Advice: Tips for Removing Common Stains

Stains happen, especially during the holidays. The good news: Laundry guru Patric Richardson says he's never yet had a stain he couldn't get out. Red wine, gravy, oil from frying latkes, lipstick, candle wax—he's conquered them all and more. The Minneapolis-based store owner, TV host, and author of Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore shares his tips and tricks so you can relax. "I want people to know that they've got this—just have fun and don't panic," he says. "To me, it's a sign of a great party if the napkin is just covered and everything looks used."

Create a Laundry Kit

Having the proper supplies on hand is the first step to stain-battling success, and is especially smart during the holidays. Patric likens it to cooking. "When you go to roast the turkey, you don't try to put it in a loaf pan; you put it in a roasting pan," he says. "The same goes for laundry—you need the proper equipment. Make your laundry kit, and you'll be ready to go." Patric's six stain-fighting essentials for his kit:

•Laundry soap. Patric prefers laundry soap—especially soap flakes—over the usual detergent for general laundering and stain removal.

•Oxygen bleach. This color-safe and gentler version of chlorine bleach is also called bleach alternative. Technically, oxygen bleach is sodium percarbonate. For best results, Patric prefers oxygen bleach that is 100 percent sodium percarbonate. It's often found in specialty shops or online. (Find his Laundry Evangelist Oxy Bleach here. He also likes this version by The Laundress.) Grocery store brands, such as OxiClean, aren't pure sodium percarbonate so may require using more of the product.

•Spray bottle filled with vinegar and water. Mix the two liquids in a 50:50 ratio, and be sure to use just basic white vinegar.

•Soft-bristle laundry brush. Patric prefers horsehair brushes. In a pinch, a baby toothbrush could work, he says.

•Bar of laundry soap. Fels-Naptha is a common and easy-to-find brand.

•Bar towels or absorbent white washcloths. These can be used for both dabbing stains and placing under the stain being treated. "It will hold the solution against the fabric, and minimize the work you have to do," he says.

How to Treat Specific Stains

When you're ready to deal with the aftermath of a gathering, Patric says the first step is to simply machine-wash the tablecloth, napkins, or other stained item using both laundry soap and oxygen bleach. (He washes in warm water. Cold water, he says, doesn't activate the soap or detergent). Let the item air-dry. If the stain remains, you'll need to spot-treat it. Follow his guidelines:

•Oily stains such as butter, gravy, and dressings: Generously spray with a 50:50 mix of vinegar and water. Machine-wash.

•Organic stains such as wine, cranberry sauce, blueberry/cherry pie, and blood: Stir 1 tablespoon oxygen bleach into 1 quart of warm water in a bowl. Dip the stained area in the mixture and swirl. When the stain turns colors (a red stain turns blue, for example), the chemical reaction has occurred and the item is ready to be machine-washed.

•Lipstick, coffee, and other stubborn stains: Place a bar towel or absorbent white washcloth under the stain to be treated. Wet the laundry brush in warm or hot water, run the bristles across a bar of laundry soap, and scrub the stain. The towel will absorb from the bottom while you work from the top, Patric says. Machine-wash. If needed, repeat the process.

•Combination stains: Some stains may be a combination of oily and organic—apple cider vinaigrette dressing, for example. In those cases, spray with vinegar and water to cut the oil, then scrub using the brush (or a washcloth) and bar soap, with a towel placed under the stain as you work.

•Stains on carpet, rugs, and upholstery: Treat similar to the processes above, but use a bar towel or washcloth instead of a brush. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the treated area.

•Candle wax: To remove candle wax that has dripped and hardened on a tablecloth or runner, sandwich the fabric between two brown paper grocery bags, then iron it. "All of the wax goes into the grocery bag," Patric says. Spray with a 50:50 mix of vinegar and water before washing.

When working on a stain, dab or scrub with some strength, rather than lightly blotting. And don't put the stained item in the dryer until you've completely finished working on it. "It's not impossible, but it's harder to get stains out of something that has been in the dryer," Patric says. "You've taken something that would have required 20 percent effort and made it 85 percent effort."

And Patric's Odor-Fighting Weapon...

Vodka! Pour the vodka into a spray bottle, and use it (undiluted) to mist fabrics, upholstered furniture, pillows, or garments that have stale or lingering odors. "If Aunt Lucy really loves perfume, and the dining chair smells like she's still there after the holidays, spray it with vodka," Patric says. "When it dries, it's odorless." Best of all, cheap vodka works just fine, he says.

Find out more about Patric at or stream his show, The Laundry Guy, on Discovery+ to learn more tricks.

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