I love saucy foods and nice clothes, but the two don’t always mix. The other day, I was enjoying a bean burrito when a drop of hot sauce landed on my pants. I felt devasted. I had just bought this suit last spring, and it cost me a bit of money. I also know from experience that oil-based stains are harder to get out than water-based ones. Water-based stains, such as what you might get from spilled soda, can sometimes be taken out through a wet wash. Oil-based stains, on the other hand, have to go to a dry cleaner. And I don’t have much faith in my local dry cleaner.
When I got home, I was ready to contact Rave FabriCARE, the best dry cleaner I know of (they’re based in Arizona and will take mail-ins). But then I remembered a trick I learned from Chris Despos, a bespoke tailor based in Chicago. He suggested that oil-based stains can sometimes be lifted out with baby powder.
I figured it couldn’t hurt. So I fetched some baby powder out of the closet and sprinkled it liberally. I left it to sit for about six or seven hours, brushed it off, and still noticed a faint stain. So I reapplied it again and let it sit overnight.
By morning, the stain was gone.
The nice thing about this trick is that it’s a completely dry application, so there’s little chance of you worsening the situation. Sometimes when you apply water and try to scrub out a stain, you’re setting it into the fibers. Other times, if you use some cleaning solution — particularly on cotton — you can remove the dyes and leave a different mark. This is why Stu at Rave FabriCARE suggests that people just gently blot — don’t rub — a stain and send the garment to him.
But with baby powder, there’s no risk of either of these things happening. You’re not rubbing or potentially spreading the stain with water; you’re not risking removing dyes with some liquid cleaning solution. Ideally, you’re just lifting the stain out like a sponge.
Clothing emergencies arise at inopportune times, and you don’t always have time to get things to a dry cleaner. So I recommend having a few things on hand at home for when these situations arise. Some things you might find useful:
- Baby powder: Available at your local pharmacy or grocery store. I imagine any brand will do. I bought the cheapest, most generic one.
- Garment brush: If you wear tailored clothing, you should already own a garment brush. In this baby powder application, you’ll need one to clean the powder off your clothes. But in regular times, you can also use a garment brush to knock the dirt and debris off your tailored clothing, which reduces the number of times you have to send them to the dry cleaner. My garment brushes are from Kent. While they’re not inexpensive, they last forever (likely the rest of your life). If you don’t mind the splurge, the double-sided CC20 has bristles with different levels of stiffness. The softer, gentler side is suitable for delicate fabrics such as cashmere wovens. However, the cheaper CP6 works just fine for most situations.
- Tide To Go Pen: Tide’s To Go pens are a bleach-free, hydrogen peroxide-based cleaning agent that helps break down the pigments in food. For a suit, I would sooner send the item to Rave FabriCARE than risk something liquidy — just on the chance that I make things worse. But for something less consequential, such as a shirt, a Tide To Go pen might be a smart solution.
- OxiClean: The do-all, magical stain remover for anything that can be thrown into the laundry. For tough stains, let the garment soak in an OxiClean solution overnight.
- Saphir Omni’Nettoyant Suede Shampoo: You may also want something on hand for suede. A few years ago, I accidentally stained a suede trucker jacket with some tahini sauce (I’m a messy eater, apparently). On the upside, I was able to get most of it out with Saphir’s Omni’Nettoyant suede shampoo. It didn’t work 100%, but it removed about 90% of the stain, and sending it to a dry cleaner would have changed the entire jacket’s nap. In my experience, the shampoo is gentle enough not to cause permanent water damage (although my heart did stop for a second when I saw the liquid darken the tan leather — it later dried just fine).
- Suede Cleaning Brush: After you use Saphir’s suede shampoo, you’ll need a way to restore the nap. I use a suede and nubuck cleaning kit. A few swipes with this brush and the suede should feel new.
- Sneaker Cleaners: There are a ton of sneaker cleaners on the market nowadays, and sneaker forums are full of nerdy debates about which one is best. Personally, I just stick to Jason Markk and have never been unhappy with the results. However, Complex gave the nod to Crep Protect.