Out, Out, Damn Spot
July 5, 2009 10:25 AM   Subscribe

How do you remove a stain....if you don't know what the stain is?

I have a white rayon tunic shirt which long ago developed some mysterious brown stains on the front. It almost looks like I dribbled tea down the front. Except - I didn't. I just pulled it out of the closet one day and noticed all these drips of an unknown stain on them.

All I can think is: I used to live in an apartment where the "closet" was open space under a platform loft bed, leaving all my hanging clothes open to random weird floating gak in the air from inside or outside. So this stain could be ANYTHING.

I've tried stain spray, I've tried diluted bleach, I've tried Oxy-Clean; it's still rather stubborn. I even got desperate and tea-dyed the whole shirt to see if the rest of it would take on the same hue as the stain, but...that just made the stain a little darker too, so you can still see it. Researching all the "stain removal tips" web sites out there require you to know what the stain is first, but....I don't know.

posted by EmpressCallipygos to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How old is the shirt? Is it possible this is just discoloration from a very old invisible stain?

Have you tried soaking it in water softner and borax. I don't hold out much hope if Oxy failed but it's sad to have a shirt die on you.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:09 AM on July 5, 2009

How long did you leave it in the Oxy? I collect old dolls who sometimes come with clothes that are brown which turn out to be white after a week of soaking in Oxy or Bleach for Unbleachables (same chemical.) I change the water every couple of days and mix up a new batch. RIT used to make a stain remover/yellow remover which was good for synthetics and rayon.
posted by x46 at 11:45 AM on July 5, 2009

Sounds like a rust stain. Try letting some lemon juice sit on the stain for a few hours, preferably in the sun.
posted by 26.2 at 2:32 PM on July 5, 2009

Zout. I have yet to find a stain it hasn't helped.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:21 PM on July 5, 2009

Best answer: What you have is likely a tannin stain. Think of how when you slice an apple, it turns brown. Your drycleaner may be able to help you: http://www.americandrycleaner.com/article.cfm?articleID=17692 (actually, would have been better able to help you in the first place).

It may have been something clear that dripped originally that went unnoticed, but heat and thingies floating in the air oxidized it (and if it was in or near plastic, that would have made it worse).

But, the treatments you've used may have set it more: http://housekeeping.about.com/od/surfacefabric/a/tanninstains.htm

I worked for a drycleaner for years (though IANYDC), and have worked with vintage clothing for 25. Rayon is tricky, and your garment may now be a lost cause. You'd have fared better with linen or cotton, where you could use the old lemon juice and sunshine method. You have to watch the acids on rayon though. In this case, since you've soaked it in tea and have already attacked it and it's pretty far gone, I'd say try the RIT dye remover as recommended above to get it white again, and then try peroxide on the stain. But too much work in one area on rayon is going to show; and the abuse to the fibres if you rub too much or use chemicals that ruin the finish is going to mean that area will always be noticed, likely with a dull spot.

In general, for you and everyone, always put clothes away clean and never ever ever in plastic. Leave room for air to circulate around each garment (don't jam pack them in), and use non-acidic tissue or paper (or clean white cotton/muslin sheets) over the shoulders to prevent fading or discolouration there if you can. (And yes, I practice what I preach, because things need to be taken care of as vintage garments are a finite quantity; and quality contemporary items need to be cared for in order to become vintage.)

Sorry it happened to you! I know it's no fun (says the person for whom white is never an option, what with the kid, the dog, the cat and the red lipstick and coffee habits).
posted by peagood at 5:33 PM on July 5, 2009

Response by poster: Peagood, I'm not wedded to the shirt actually being white -- would maybe using RIT dye remover on it, and THEN dying it another color be another option? Or would that also just make the stains potentially still show up because they're this weird color difference?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:20 AM on July 6, 2009

Re-dying the shirt without completely treating the stain area properly will always mean that the stain area is still going to be noticed -- but because the area has already been affected, it will never take dye the same way as the rest of the shirt. Mostly because it is rayon, and because the RIT dye remover will further weaken the fibres (though it's a good prep if you're considering doing it, since rayon doesn't work well with every dye).

Think of it as erasing a pencil mark on paper -- you can remove the mark, but not the impression the pencil originally made on the paper; and you've changed the quality of the paper around it with the imprecise use of the eraser. If you colour, ink or write over the area in pencil again, it's going to show a slight difference where you've done so. If it's left unwritten on, you'd be hard pressed to see more than the faintest impression of the original mark that will pass unnoticed at a glance.

With your shirt, if you return it to white and remove the stain, you have a chance at fooling the eye enough to make the shirt wearable as white without a noticeable spot. Because it is rayon, you now have a problem that it's been wet, and on top of that the fibres have likely been damaged in that area, and using the RIT dye remover will be like erasing the whole page but without any extra attention to the stain. That's what the peroxide is for - it works pretty well even on old stains, but best on white. Also, without knowing what comprises the stitching, you may have uneven dying of the seams and body.

This article talks about it well enough: http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/FAQ/rayon.shtml
posted by peagood at 8:49 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, I took it to a dry cleaner -- they couldn't get it out. I'm giving up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:15 PM on July 22, 2009

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