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Stains Be Gone!

Apr 23, 2014

Whether you're a knitter or a crocheter, one thing we all have in common is getting stains on our sweaters or other hand-crafted items. Sarah Read, project editor of Interweave Crochet, shared how she gets stains out of her young son's crocheted sweaters.

Stain Busters

I have a six-year-old son, and he absolutely loves it when I make things for him. He even tries to claim the projects that aren't for him, and it makes me so happy that he still thinks that the things I make are the best in the world. I'm enjoying it while it lasts—I know my days with this joy are numbered.

    
When I make him things, I know they are going to get dirty. Like, oatmeal and juice and mud and markers and grass and other terrifying, mysterious substances (bring me the head of the inventor of Silly Putty). So, while I only make him things out of fibers that are easily washed and cared for, sometimes I need a little extra ammunition in the cleaning department.

So how do you get stains out of handmade projects?

The first step would be to wash the item following the washing directions for the yarn you used. Always take fiber type into account when washing-what is good for some fibers is a disaster for others!

Wool Wash

There are a number of great products designed to gently wash your handmade items. Soak and Eucalan are two of my favorites, but you can find similar solutions in the laundry aisle at the store. Fill a container with lukewarm water and a dime-sized drop of wool wash. Submerge the item and let it soak overnight. Check the stain in the morning-you may need to repeat the process, or apply some of the wool wash directly to the stain and let it soak for another night. In a pinch, baby shampoo makes a great substitute for wool wash! Be sure to lay your project out flat to dry, especially if you are treating a stain. Putting it in the dryer can set the stain.

Oxygen-Based Bleach

NOT chlorine bleach. That would be the opposite of good for your project. OxiClean is one example of this type of product. Generally, a solution or paste is made and applied directly to the stained area, then allow the item to soak overnight. The process may need to be repeated for stubborn stains.

The Cleaners

Sometimes, you just need a professional. No, not that kind—although maybe, if you're looking at chocolate rubbed into the carefully crocheted cables of some fine merino. I mean the kind that are trained and prepared to care for your fabrics. They have an arsenal of tools and techniques at hand to battle the really tough stains. I find it's worth the small expense for the peace of mind.

And lastly, for Silly Putty, use rubbing alcohol and a toothbrush. Then a glass of wine—for you, not the sweater.

Happy crocheting (and washing)!

—Sarah Read, Interweave Crochet

I don't have kids, but my friends have a lot of them, and I've seen Silly Putty in places where it just shouldn't be. Check out Interweave Crochet for more great stuff like this!

Cheers,

P.S. Do you have any stain-busting ideas tips? Leave a comment and share them with us!


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Comments

Mei Li wrote
on May 2, 2014 9:35 AM

The best one for me is Dawn dish washing liquid. For wool and delicate fibers, the original blue Dawn works great. For less delicate fibers like cotton, the one with bleach alternative works great. It works best if you put it on a stain immediately, of course, but will also work on some old stains, like grease even if the item has been through the dryer. Another important factor is water quality. Soft water is much better for washing clothes in general, because hard water with laundry detergent or soap forms a mineral scale that looks like a gray, foamy scum in the washer. That settles on the inside of the washer and on the clothes, which makes them look dull and gray or yellow. Minerals that settle onto a stain can make it impossible to remove.  Anyone who notices lime scale build up on their kitchen and bath fixtures, drinking glasses, teapot, etc. needs to have a water softening system installed. It will make your laundry look brighter and cleaner and will cut down on house work.

shawlmaker wrote
on May 1, 2014 4:32 PM

Thanks for all of the great tips, everyone! I use Dawn Ultra and Zout, mostly, but have bombed with a chocolate faux pas on my white, felted Lucy Bag. The absolute best deal is to spray anything at risk with Scotchguard Fabric Protector in the first place. Now, why didn't I think that thing would get dirty and stained?

EvonneW wrote
on Apr 27, 2014 10:05 PM

Can you direct me to the pattern for the grey sweater pictured? It's simple and handsome, perfect for boys! Thanks!

AmyClaire wrote
on Apr 27, 2014 5:18 PM

I pre-soaked my washable wool / nylon socks in oxygen cleaner to try to remove the ground in dirt that inevitably accumulates on the soles. They came out very rough and scratchy! I had to treat all 50 pairs with hair conditioner. The moral is, save your swatches and experiment on them.

gfergy wrote
on Apr 24, 2014 12:21 PM

Love the grey jumper . Do you have a pattern

gfergy wrote
on Apr 24, 2014 12:20 PM

Loved the jumper in grey have you got the pattern for that?

gfergy wrote
on Apr 24, 2014 12:20 PM

Loved the jumper in grey have you got the pattern for that?

gumboots wrote
on Apr 24, 2014 12:03 AM

Water soluble Teatree Oil is da bomb! Great for anything sticky; has good stain removal qualities and is antiseptic too. Its clear in the bottle but turns white when added to water. It can be put undiluted directly onto the garment or used as a soaker. Leaves the garment smelling great too.

gumboots wrote
on Apr 24, 2014 12:00 AM

Water soluble Teatree Oil is da bomb! Great for anything sticky; has good stain removal qualities and is antiseptic too. Its clear in the bottle but turns white when added to water. It can be put undiluted directly onto the garment or used as a soaker. Leaves the garment smelling great too.

on Apr 23, 2014 5:37 PM

I use a cleaner called Tuff Stuff. It can be found in the automotive isle at Walmart or at an auto supply store. I've used it for many years. I have 4 sons and they or theirs friends were coming home with their clothes with stains on them. It will get out chocolate, ink, dried blood, tar, oil and any thing else that gets into clothes. It also gets stains out of carpet. My daughter in-law accidentally dumped a Dr Pepper into her Coach purse. It dried and stained her new purse badly. My son got out the Tuff Stuff and started cleaning the stains out of the purse. When he was finished there weren't anymore stains in the purse and it looked like a brand new purse.

MegC@2 wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 3:57 PM

The first step should be to put a safety pin or two to mark where the stain is.  Once the garment is wet, it's often harder to see exactly where the stain is.  I've had great luck with Eucalan, and blotting with absorbent paper towels on both side of the fabric.

caraleew wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 2:44 PM

I use a product called TOTALLY AWESOME!  It comes in a spray bottle or you can buy the half-gallon refills and make your own, mixing it 1 to 5 or 10 ration with water. I use it for virtually everything in my house, but it really works on stains without hurting any fabric so far. And here's the best part--it's dirt cheap! The refill is about $3.00 and you buy it at dollar stores and some big-box stores.

Aymless wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 2:29 PM

In the past, I have removed grease stains (like from a bicycle chain) and grass stains by soaking a wool sweater in a solution of original Pine Sol and water.  I would not recommend this for non-colorfast dyed items, but for standard commercial wool, it works quite well.  I used about 2 ounces for a bucket of water and let it soak overnight.  I have never tried this with acrylic yarns, only wool.

Makes the item smell fresh, as well!

Latelle wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 12:27 PM

I use a product called RESTORATION. It takes out stains. I also use it to freshen  yellowing fabrics, doilies, family heirloom pieces. I think it is baking soda based and very gentle to use.

Kay AS wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 12:02 PM

For stain-busting:   In addition to your good information is one I found online while looking for a way to take cooking oil stains (grease splatter from frying chicken, in my case) out of a navy blue tee shirt.  Get Dawn Ultra dishwashing liquid (for doing dishes by hand, not the dishwasher machine kind) and rub a little bit - doesn't take much! - into the stain, then wash in the hottest water the fiber will take.  I've found this to be a good treatment for all kinds of stains that don't like to come out, both on knitted items and anything that goes into the washing machine.  

on Apr 23, 2014 11:12 AM

I use Zout (not a misspelling) by The Dial Corporation. Go to the store, look for it in the laundry section with the other so-called cleaners, take it home, spray it on the stain, wait a few minutes and wash. I have yet to find a stain that Zout will not take care of and I have recommended it many of my friends and taken bottles to those friends if they can't find it in their stores. So far none of us have found a stain that Zout will not beat.

on Apr 23, 2014 10:52 AM

i had to laugh at the silly putty comment. when i was in middle school (i.e. old enough to know better), i left a ball of silly putty on the arm of the living room couch. it melted and left a dark beige stain. i learned then and with many subsequent stains that year, that my dad could do miracles with mineral spirits. by high school, i leaned to take advantage of that. i could get deep discounts on clothes with make-up stains (a Shetland wool pullover for $3 and am Oxford blouse for 50 cents...it was also missing a button) then remove the stains for pennies with mineral spirits. Don't worry about the smell...just run the clothes through the dryer on fluff or hang them in a breezeway for a day or two.

lollo62 wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 10:09 AM

I love "Grandma's Secret Spot Remover". It is environmentally safe, biodegradable, non-toxic etc. I have no clue what the ingredients are in the small 2 oz bottle.  I only know that after I put a drop or two on a stain, let it sit for a minute, add a little water and then gently work it into the fabric, almost every single stain has come out.  It is not easy to find this product in a store, but you can always get it online.  

Lady A wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 9:41 AM

I found an organic/European method cleaner who is some distance from where I live, but the results are always worth the trip. I don't know how she does what she does, but she uses no harsh chemicals or scents. She has taken out stains that I thought would have to be considered a design element. And she has rejuvenated some of my sweaters that I thought were in their last wearable season (a couple of them had been old enough to vote for at least a decade). She also blocks my finished garments. Did I mention she knits? The only problem I can see is that she charges so little for what she does that I worry that she won't be able to stay in business.

on Apr 23, 2014 9:22 AM

the best trick I know is for berry stains. Stretch the fabric over a basin and pour boiling water over it.  Must be right at the boil -put kettle back on for larger stain.  The stain needn't be fresh.  This includes red wine, red cabbage, tomato (botanically speaking, a berry)  

The other clever one is normal saline to remove blood.  The best source of this is spit.  The blood cells are lifted off the fabric without bursting and spilling their contents.  1 tsp salt to a pint of water will give normal or physiological saline.

cheerio,

Wendy Leigh-Bell

Wil4ds wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 9:19 AM

I would strongly caution against using any oxygen-based cleaner on wool or other animal fiber.  The main ingredient in these cleaners is hydrogen peroxide, which is destructive to proteins.  That's actually why they clean so well; the peroxide disintegrates the protein parts of the stain, and the rest of the detergents in the cleanser work on what's left afterwards.

If you use oxygen-based cleaners on wool, your beautiful hand knit will likely wind up stiff, scratchy, and faded.

penny.guest wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 9:08 AM

I have never found a stain that Organic Orange TKO would not get out.  I don't mean stains that have set for years, although I would try them too, but the everyday stains that happen. www.orangetko.net.  It is environmentally friendly 100% organic - made from orange peels.

ellieallen wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 8:39 AM

Hi Kathleen,

Can you tell me where I can get the sweater pattern for the ribbed grey side-buttoned turtleneck sweater pictured in the article about getting stains out?

Thank you.

Ellie Allen

ellieallen wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 8:39 AM

Hi Kathleen,

Can you tell me where I can get the sweater pattern for the ribbed grey side-buttoned turtleneck sweater pictured in the article about getting stains out?

Thank you.

Ellie Allen

ellieallen wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 8:39 AM

Hi Kathleen,

Can you tell me where I can get the sweater pattern for the ribbed grey side-buttoned turtleneck sweater pictured in the article about getting stains out?

Thank you.

Ellie Allen

jblanken wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 8:07 AM

Kathleen - I love this sweater!  Where is the pattern?

My boys get oil/grease stains on their clothes which I just

put Dawn on the stain before throwing into the washer.

Thanks for the tip!

Birley wrote
on Apr 23, 2014 7:33 AM

I enjoyed this article about removing stains from hand knits. I too have used the wool wash soak method over the years. I am now knitting for grandchildren and grand nieces and nephews. I often always use my homemade stain remover on their clothing as well as hand knits. On the finest, most expensive fibres I would recommend testing it on an inside unnoticeable area first. This solution is far cheaper than off-the-shelf stain removers and far more effective.  In 30 years of using it I have not ruined even 1 garment, either hand knits or purchased clothing of any type. It can be used as a pre-wash dab on or for really tough stains as a 'several days pre-soak", either straight or diluted in a basin. Here it is:

Mix equal parts vinegar, water, liquid ammonia, and liquid laundry detergent in an empty bottle. Shake!