Stain Removal from Needlework Projects

Le 20 March 2017

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    Stain Removal from Needlework Projects

    One thing needle-workers have in common: stains! This post will (hopefully) help you rid your project of that pesky stain.

    There are two types of stains: water-based and oil-based. Water-based stains (including most food stains) are acidic and will require an acid mixture to remove them. Oil stains need something non-aqueous—or “dry” chemicals (i.e.: dry cleaning)—in most instances. Of course, the molecules within each stain can be varied and complex, so when you notice a spot on your project you should first try to figure out the type of stain you have and what it’s made of. This will help you decipher what exactly you need to remove each element within the stain. For example, a stain from red wine contains alcohol, sugars, and tannins in water. Glycerin should be rinsed with water, while the tannin/acid portion of the stain can be removed with an application of white vinegar and a diluted shampoo. Make sense?

    To keep in mind:

    • • The older a stain is, the harder it is to remove.
    • • Don’t iron a stain. This will really set it in, making it very difficult to remove.
    • • Stain removal is sequential and repetitive because removal involves taking off a percentage of the stain with each application. Flush the stain area, but limit touching the clean areas. We’ve found that five to seven applications of the same sequence might be needed because the chemical reactions to the stain in the fiber can be complex and time dependent.

    Guide to Removing Specific Stains

    Water-Based Stains—Coffee, Tea, Fruit Juices, Fruit:

    These liquids contain tannins and other acids. We suggest you alternate blotting the stain with a small amount of dishwashing liquid or diluted shampoo (make sure there is no conditioner or perfume in the shampoo), and white vinegar (which is a mild acid). The detergent gets rid of foodstuff, while the vinegar dissolves the acid stain. Rinse with distilled water.

    Cola, Wine, Beer, Liquors:

    Stains from these products contain alcohol, sugars, and tannins in water. The glycerin should be rinsed with water and the tannin/acid portion of the stain should be removed with an application of white vinegar and diluted shampoo.

    Eggs, Ice Cream, Milk, Vomit:

    These stains contain proteins and complex chemical compounds. Allow these stains to dry, and then gently brush as much of the solids off as you can. Depending on the fabric that the needlework is on, you can use a diluted shampoo followed by diluted ammonia. Remember that silk and wool can be damaged by ammonia.

    Salad Dressing, Gravy, Grease:

    Dissolve the oily parts of these stains with a dry cleaning solvent (perchloroethylene or trichloroethane). After these solvents have evaporated, the residue can be removed with a mild shampoo, followed, if necessary, by a diluted shampoo with diluted ammonia. Alternatively, the oil can be removed by washing it with soda and warm water. This turns the oil into a soluble soap, which can be rinsed off. Note: if the oily stain has oxidized (turned yellow), this method won’t work.


    Ink stains are best treated first with solvents and then with water-based reagents. Solvents that can be effective are acetone, ethanol, or dry cleaning spotting agents. Apply these reagents separately and sequentially (meaning each reagent should have evaporated off the fabric before the next reagent is employed). Water based treatment can follow—using a mild shampoo and white vinegar lubricated with a little glycerin.

    Remember: if you’re not sure how to treat a stain, consult with a dry cleaner. They should be able to offer advice!

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