You remember the time that dollop of meat sauce landed on your white shirt and you started rubbing it vigorously with seltzer to try to get the stain out? That might not have been your best move, says Tom Harari, CEO and co-founder of Cleanly, an on-demand laundry and dry-cleaning service in New York City.
In fact, your corner dry cleaner can take one look at your garment and know exactly which steps you took to get the stain out before you brought your top in to be professionally cleaned.
“Our spotters can always tell when a stain is a combination of things, which was only exacerbated by the customer trying to remove the stain on their own,” he says. “This makes it very difficult to treat effectively.” Harari explains that even the meat sauce from your pasta is complex: “Tomatoes are acidic, meat is protein, and then there’s the oil stain as well.”
Different types of stains require unique care, he explains. “From protein stains, which comprise anything from milk to blood, to tannin stains, which can be wine or grass stains—each interacts with fabric in a different way and requires different solvents,” Harari says. “These are things experts know how to identify and treat accordingly.”
Luckily, Harari is willing to share his expertise for you. Here, the six mistakes he sees his customers make all the time:
1. Waiting too long to bring your stained garment in
“The biggest mistake someone can make when they stain an item is to wait. If the stain is not addressed quickly, it will set into the clothing, be harder to remove and may be permanent. That’s why we urge people to bring a stained garment to a professional as soon as possible. We have all of the chemicals, knowledge and expertise to handle most, if not all stains, without making them worse.”
2. Rubbing the stain, at all
“You should never rub a stain. It’s clear for us to see when someone rubbed a stain as fibers in the clothing start to wear and the stain looks to be more naturally a part of the fabric.”
3. Attacking a stain from the middle
“If you’re going to try to get a stain out of fabric, work from the outside in, not from the center. When people try to remove the stain from the middle we can tell because it’s larger than it should be.”
“Never use hot water on a stain as it can bond the stain to the clothing. Instead, if you want to try to do something before you take the item to your dry cleaner, use lukewarm water.”
“When it comes to delicate fabrics, we urge people not to use bleach on a stain. Bleach is a harsh chemical that can do major damage to a garment.”
6. Dousing the stain with hack-y “fix-its”
“While some people use seltzer, hair spray, nail polish remover and lemon juice to remove certain stains, depending on the fabric these can actually exacerbate the stain.”