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How to Clean Table Linens
Our resident cleaning expert explains how to reverse yellowing and remove wax and red-wine stains.
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In what has become a grand holiday tradition in my home, late on Thanksgiving evening the panicked text messages start to roll in from friends: "Jolie, help! My uncle knocked over a full glass of red wine on my mom's best tablecloth!" "Oh God, Jolie, I upended the entire turkey on my Grandmother's tablecloth. What can I do to remain in the will?" "Jolie I hope you're awake, I did something bad. How do I get wax off a tablecloth?"

The tablecloths, you see, take a terrible beating. And, as a result, I spend no small amount of time thinking about them, and how best to address all manner of dinner party-related stains that happen to and on them.

With Valentine's Day approaching, you may be reaching for your fine linens to set a lovely and romantic table for two. Or maybe you just haven't gotten around to dealing with the pile of holiday linens! It's okay, I promise I won't tell … and help is here.

What to Do About Red Wine Stains

There are many different methods one can use to address a red wine stain on fabric—if your preferred approach isn't mentioned here, please don't take it as a rebuke!—but when it comes to table linens, specifically, there are two offbeat ways to handle red wine stains that are especially effective.

Remember this first one when you dribble a bit of red wine and catch it straightaway: Table salt will act as a desiccant when poured onto a fresh red wine spill; use a liberal amount and make an anthill-style heap in the spot where the wine has spilled. As the salt sits atop the wine, it will soak it up, pulling it out of the tablecloth. (This also works quite well on carpet!) Then, brush the salt away and treat any residual staining with diluted dish soap or liquid laundry detergent, or a stain treatment product like Spray 'n Wash or Shout.

If you don't catch stains as they happen (or making a tiny mountain of salt at that moment isn't possible) you'll want to treat a food- or wine-stained tablecloth using a hands off approach, by soaking it for several hours—even overnight—in a stain-eliminating solution. For this operation, either oxygen bleach, such as OxiClean or Clorox OxiMagic, or a powdered dishwasher detergent like Cascade are aces.

Dissolve about a quarter cup of either product in enough lukewarm water to fully submerge the linens. Then, simply allow them to soak and then launder as usual; the long soak will coax out stubborn stains. If the linens are colored, or have colorful stitching or embellishments, stick with the oxygen bleach, which is safe to use on colors, to avoid any potential color loss.

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Two Ways to Remove Wax Strips From Table Linens


Before you try anything else, reach for a spoon or a butter knife and, using the edge, try to pop the wax off. Sometimes it will come right up! What could be easier? Do be sure to stick to something with a dull edge for this operation, as a sharp blade can easily nick the fabric.

In the event the wax proves stubborn in the face of your best teaspoon, there's a cool trick involving an iron and a brown paper bag; it also works on other textiles, like carpeting or bedsheets, on which you might spill wax. (Hey, what goes on in your bedroom is your business, not mine.)

The idea here is to use an iron to reheat the wax and the brown paper to absorb it as it melts. Start by laying a sheet of brown paper over the wax, and then place the iron, which should be heated to the lowest setting, on top of the paper. Check under the paper, and adjust the heat setting up as needed, as the wax begins to soften and absorb into the paper. You may find that you need to rotate the paper as it becomes saturated with wax. When the wax has been removed, launder or spot clean the stained textile if there's any lingering wax residue.

Linens Yill Yellow With Age--Here's How to Reverse That

Vintage and heirloom linens are often beset with yellowing caused by age and improper storage, and because those items can also be quite delicate, it's important to use a gentle product that won't cause further damage.

Engleside Restoration Fabric Restorer is the stuff you want for the job. It will reverse yellowing, and remove set-in stains, from vintage and delicate fabrics like lace and linen.

After they've been cleaned, linens should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place, wrapped in cotton, muslin or acid-free archival paper. Old pillowcases are perfect for storing a folded tablecloth or stack of linen napkins.

Do you have any favorite methods for protecting your vintage table linens? I'd love to hear from you!

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist at Town & Country and Esquire. She's an alumna of the least prestigious St. Grottlesex School, where she always had the cleanest dorm room. Her laundry bag is an L.L. Bean Boat and Tote.

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This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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