I Should Have Learned This Somewhere
July 5, 2012 12:53 PM   Subscribe

How do people keep their light-colored clothing nice?

This question is exactly as simple as it looks - I feel like a complete beginner to the world of light-colored clothes. I've stuck with black and darks for as long as I've done my own laundry.

I wore a pair of khakis the other day and of course, at lunch, splattered lentils on them and had to quickly get to the bathroom with soap and water. Do most people have the problems I seem to with stains/dirt/food? How do most people deal with it? What is the most effective way?

Are khaki pants, for example, completely ruined if a largish oil-based stain happens on the front? What do people do when they are at work and can't take off their pants?

Are there different levels of cleaning for different layers of light? For example, I know people bleach white clothes. How does this not ruin the next batch of black clothes that go through the washer? Can you bleach 'lights' or just whites?

Really, I need a light clothes primer. Help, Metafilter!
posted by amicamentis to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (34 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
1. Shout or similar for grease-based stains
2. Oxiclean for whitening and other light stains, particularly sweat

I do not usually find the need to bleach with a regimen of the above, being careful to separate whites from any colors (even light colors, they get their own load, not with whites)
posted by slow graffiti at 12:57 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Everyone drops food on themselves. This is especially true if you are female. (And more so if you are big breasted)

Most people blot the stain with wet paper towels/napkins if they aren't home. Always blot, never rub.

In my opinion all clothes become "around the house/sleep in" clothes when they become stained. They're not ruined, they're just not for wearing to work anymore.

Buy one of these for the times you are at work/not home.

Honestly I only bleach towels, underwear, and completely white items. Light colors get treated like bright colors. Use Color-safe Bleach.

Buy this stuff. It works. and make sure you're only washing like items together. Don't go throwing in brand new red shirts with your khakis.

You can stain black and darks, just so you know. And they can be just as easy to see. Just instead of being a red stain on khaki, it's a darker black splotch on black.
posted by royalsong at 1:05 PM on July 5, 2012

They buy new clothes, a lot. That is why white clothing is generally a symbol of wealth: Only rich people can afford to replace clothes that get dingy after a couple of wearings.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:06 PM on July 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

As soon as you are seated place your napkin in your lap.

Are khaki pants, for example, completely ruined if a largish oil-based stain happens on the front?

No, not at all. Use a laundry stain pre-treatment, like Spray N Wash or Shout.

Are there different levels of cleaning for different layers of light?

I find that lighter colors can handle warmer or hot water since they don't fade as obviously as black and dark colors. Some lights can handle bleach but I don't advise it. Chlorine bleach is damaging. I do use bleach. On white cottons -- underwear, white t-shirts, undershirts, towels. Chlorine bleach can yellow so if I have a nice white t-shirt or cotton button-up I will not bleach it. I will will use a pretreatment and wash with hot water.

How does this not ruin the next batch of black clothes that go through the washer?
The washer does a good job of rinsing away bleach. This won't be an issue. It could be an issue if you spill bleach on top of your washer, or the floor, and place colored clothes on the spills, but the washer is fine.

Follow care labels. Also, wash your clothes in the warmest water setting as they will tolerate according to the label. The warmer the water, the cleaner the clothes, in my opinion. I had a science teacher who said cold water and the least expensive detergent is fine to use with all clothes because modern detergents all behave in the same way. Maybe I'm a sucker but I don't find this to be true. I use Tide and warm to hot water on lights. Hot on whites and cool to cold on darks and blacks. Use just enough detergent. Overdosing on detergent makes clothes dingy.
posted by Fairchild at 1:09 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recommend carrying Shout wipes or a Tide pen for immediate removal of any stain. I was at a wedding and the server splashed red wine on the white shirt of a gentleman sitting next to me. I whipped out my pen and voila! No red wine. His wife was delighted. They were from the UK and amazed at how great the product was.

Don't use too much detergent. If it foams, you used too much. Detergents have artificial foaming agents because we equate bubbles with clean. It ain't necessarily so.

Don't cram your washer full. I like an even ratio of clothing and empty space. This gives everything a chance to move around and brethe in the water.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:13 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Lots of napkins when eating. Multiple napkins on my lap, hell, I'll make a bib if I have to. Then Tide To Go if a stray droplet hits. Enzyme based laundry soap if all else fails.
posted by tatiana131 at 1:14 PM on July 5, 2012

I wear a lot of light-colored clothing. I wash almost all of it on hot water, as Fairchild mentions above, and place a cloth napkin on my lap when I'm eating lunch. I don't generally stain-treat anything at work, I just take things off as soon as I get home and put them in the sink. For some reason, I've always had luck using at-home liquid hand soap (something like Softsoap) as a pretreater. I just glob it on the stain, let it soak in, scrape at it with my nail, rinse it out, and repeat if the stain is still there. It gets almost all my stains out and seems to work especially well on period-related accidents.
posted by jabes at 1:14 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oil-based stains should be rubbed with a bit of baking powder to help draw out the oil.
My wardrobe is entirely dark colors as well, but I find OxyClean plus hot water does a fine job on towels and other white/light-colored items. You really don't need bleach at all.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:15 PM on July 5, 2012

Have you ever used bluing? It does a pretty amazing job keeping bright whites bright white. I don't have any now but I used to use it on towels - remarkable result.

I also have constant problems with grubbing up my nice clothes. currently I have a pair of just perfect white trousers for work that I am working hard to preserve. One thing I do is only wear them to work. As soon as I'm home, they come off and go into the laundry basket. That way I won't relax around the house and do something stupid to ruin them. I might get a few extra wearings out of this strategy.
posted by Miko at 1:19 PM on July 5, 2012

Yes, nthing Shout spray immediately after you stain, or as soon as you get home. I think you are supposed to wash within 24 hours, but I live in an apartment building without washer/dryer and often leave treated laundry in the hamper for a week or two until it's laundry day and have never had a problem doing that.

Other stuff I do:
- Oxiclean soak for big stains/discolorations (follow the instructions on the tub.) A scoop or two of Oxiclean goes in each load, even if things aren't stained.

- I also use the Clorox 2 powder. YMMV, but I think it keeps light colors brighter/fresher.

- Counterintuitively, heat sets protein (as in, sweat and blood) stains and discolors them further so don't wash those kind of stains in hot water until after you've treated and removed the stain.

- Martha, that lovable lunatic, has a really useful stain chart you might want to print out and keep around.
posted by superfluousm at 1:21 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

tide pens are AMAZING for most food. a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda takes out blood stains and other organic stains really well, bleach and oxyclean are a must, and you HAVE HAVE HAVE to sort your laundry. I also tend to pre-treat whites even if they don't really have any obvious staining. if you do drop something on your clothes, try to rinse it out fast.

and still, my lights tend to last a year or so before they're just irreparably dingy.

grease stains are a whole other creature. sometimes they come out, sometimes they don't. I've melted chapstick on a whole load of laundry, and didn't successfully get it out of one article. canola oil I've gotten out of lots of things. (I think maybe the wax in the chapstick wicks, and then it's not actually a grease stain, but a piece of wicked material.)

it's hard though. I love darks and colours.
posted by euphoria066 at 1:22 PM on July 5, 2012

I kept those Shout wipes in my desk drawer at work, to pre-treat any spots right away. I am a big fan of Oxi-Clean, I use it in every load except for delicates. Whites get washed only with whites, lights with lights, and the dark regular is a jumble of everything else.

If you have a spot and it doesn't come out on the first try, don't put it in the dryer, let it air dry and try again the next time you are doing that kind of load. A couple of rounds with Oxi-Clean can often triumph over stubborn stains.
posted by ambrosia at 1:28 PM on July 5, 2012

It seems like most people are telling you how to launder clothing and I think it's important for someone to note here that no, I really don't spill food on my clothes very often. I wear a dress shirt and nice pants almost every working day and have yet to ruin even one with a food stain. Eat slowly, sit up straight, put a napkin in your lap, and consider what you are wearing before you order. The best defense is to prevent stains before they happen.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:34 PM on July 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

The biggest advancement I made in terms of Keeping Adult Clothes Looking Nice was to learn NOT to touch any stains that get on my clothes while away from home. Don't even go into the bathroom and dab it with soap and water because it might set permanently. As soon as I get home I deal with it using every cleaning solution I have at my disposal.

And yes, it sucks to walk around with a stain but, to me, it looks weirder to have a giant wet spot in place of it from trying to dab it off with soap/water.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:35 PM on July 5, 2012

I think it's important for someone to note here that no, I really don't spill food on my clothes very often. I wear a dress shirt and nice pants almost every working day and have yet to ruin even one with a food stain. Eat slowly, sit up straight, put a napkin in your lap, and consider what you are wearing before you order.

Seconded. I only ever spill on myself when I'm trying to eat and work at the same time. If I'm having something potentially messy for lunch, I push away from the computer, pull up closely to the table, and focus on eating until I'm done, ensuring that I stay spill- and stain-free.
posted by anderjen at 1:43 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fels-naptha soap (alternate brand name: Octagon) is great for pre-treating stains, even set-in BLOOD stains. Try wetting the spot of the stain and rubbing that on it, and then scrub it a bit. You could be surprised.

That takes care of treatment. As for prevention - just...eat carefully, and don't sweat it if you spill something, because it happens to everyone. (I once dropped an entire bowl of tomato soup onto my khaki-clad lap during lunch at work. My boss was very understanding of my sudden need to go to the ladies' room and my need to stay there for rather some time, and everyone politely ignored the big wet patches on my paints for the next hour.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:50 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Spray & Wash

I would sell this for a living if I could. Someone once spilled red wine on my couch and I did not even flinch. I keep the bottle right beside the laundry basket now that I'm a real grown-up. But when I was a lazy, single, slob it still worked on items stained and forgotten in a pile on my floor for weeks.
posted by it's a long way to south america at 1:51 PM on July 5, 2012

They buy new clothes, a lot. That is why white clothing is generally a symbol of wealth: Only rich people can afford to replace clothes that get dingy after a couple of wearings.

Huh, who knew? I do replace white t-shirts and shorts pretty much every other summer. Not so much dresses and skirts -- maybe I behave better when wearing those!

I don't spill a lot but I do lean against NYC subway platform supports -- my white shoulders/upper arms end up pretty grimy by summer's end. Oh, and deodorant stains intensify too.

I too am a fan of Spray & Wash, over similiar products. And of course, treating the stain immediately, no waiting!
posted by thinkpiece at 1:58 PM on July 5, 2012

I do the laundry for our household, and I'd say that 50% of my husband's shirts need at least one spray of Zout (my preferred pre-treating product). I just asked him if he thought it would be possible for him to train himself not to spill, if he were really motivated, had a reward system, etc. He said no, not even for all the BJs in the world.

Some people are spillers. I'm sure some of them could change their ways, but it would take a lot of concentration and practice, and a belief that it's really important. It's not natural to always chew with one's mouth closed or refrain from belching in a social situation, but somehow most people can handle it. I wish you luck in your quest for unsullied clothes.
posted by wryly at 2:06 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

The archives of The Hairpin's Ask a Clean Person column are super-helpful on laundry, and she did a series on Laundry School (back links at the bottom of the post) too. Worth checking for solutions before you relegate anything.

I try really hard not to buy anything light-coloured.
posted by carbide at 2:12 PM on July 5, 2012

The subway comment reminded me that not just eating, but other habits contribute to clothes getting worn and stained. Here are some stain risks that I fight against, sometimes futile-ly:

  • Crossing ankle across knee, or sitting with one foot folded under you. Shoe grime, sole rubber, old polish can rub off on your pants when you do this.
  • Wiping your brow (or anything else) with a sleeve.
  • Carrying pens or pencils in your pockets.
  • Thinking you're going to be very careful this time when using bleach (or Comet with bleach, etc) for any cleaning purpose. Or decanting wine, etc. Better just to wear an apron or change clothes for certain cleaning/kitchen projects.
  • Sitting on damp or dirty train seats, park benches, etc.
  • Changing copier toner, carrying big piles of copies, drawing on the white board with colored markers, using Sharpies
  • Leaning against walls, chalkboards, whiteboards, utility poles, counters
  • Eating in the car, which means old sticky tiny bits of popcorn and crap like that might be on your car seat

  • posted by Miko at 2:13 PM on July 5, 2012

    To add to Miko's above comment, DO NOT EAT MESSY THINGS WHEN YOU ARE DRUNK. It should seem obvious in retrospect but when you are all hopped up on vodka tonics in your sassy summer dress, it is a Bad Idea to get sloppy joes from a food truck, no matter how glorious they smell.
    posted by elizardbits at 2:32 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

    Unfortunately, I'm a bit of a klutz - and I write on whiteboards with Sharpies a lot for work. And I love marinara sauce. AND I'm one of those lefties who drags her hand across wet ink if I'm not careful. So I avoid wearing long-sleeved light-colored shirts or dresses when I know I'm going to be writing with Sharpies (or I roll up my sleeves or wear a dark-colored cardigan over the light shirt). And no marinara sauce or red wine if I'm wearing something light.

    Apart from that, Tide pens (for on the spot treatment) and prompt laundering with a pretreatment like Shout (so the stains don't set) do a pretty good job at keeping my light-colored clothes presentable.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:05 PM on July 5, 2012

    I've had amazingly good luck in getting oil-based stains out of washable fabric by heating water up to 160-175°F or so, covering the stain in Dawn dishwashing detergent* and pouring the hot water through it.

    * Old food service worker's trick.
    posted by telophase at 3:38 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Removing blood stains from white fabric, the 19th century solution:

    Soak the stain with a solution of table salt and lemon juice, then let it dry in strong sunlight.
    posted by Rash at 4:09 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

    When all else fails (I am a fan of spray-on OxiClean, which...it does not get every bit of all set-in stains, but if I spray any mess with it that day, it works, even if it sits in the wash pile for a while before hitting the machine) I haven't found much that sun won't bleach out. It is particularly good for getting rid of "dinge," though I also second the suggestion for bluing.

    I very rarely use bleach -- very hard on clothing -- but I am a laundry additive nut and enjoy the Clorox Colour Safe stuff, borax, vinegar, powdered OxiClean, Tide Stain Release, and boiling badly stained whites in dye remover (which you can find with the fabric dye in craft and discount dept. stores).

    I drench greasy spots in detergent and wash and repeat if needed. Anything will come out with enough washings.
    posted by kmennie at 4:18 PM on July 5, 2012

    I have a closet full of great looking clothes. I shop discount stores and clearance racks and thrift stores, so if something were to get irrevocably stained, I would should not be heartbroken. But I think carefully about putting myself in positions where I might soil my clothes. I don't brush up against dirty counters, I don't sit on curbs or other (even potentially) gross things, I look at every seat before I put my butt on it. I don't eat standing up, I always use a napkin sufficient for protecting my clothes (they aren't fig leaves! use three or four if the one thin one isn't going to be a real barrier!). I avoid drippy foods, and have perfected eating the drippy foods I love. Popsicles, ice cream cones, long pasta in red sauce, I have a method for each that keeps food off my person. I don't generally eat foods like wings that are messy and can't be eaten with a fork and knife. Cheeseburgers are my exception for this rule. Whatever I eat with a fork gets securely speared, not just rested on the tines so that it can fall off while it travels toward my face. I scoop my soup spoon toward the center of the bowl, away from the edge nearest me. I sit near the table and not all the way against the chair back while I eat, further protecting my lap. Further, I make sure the hems of my pants don't drag on the ground behind my shoes. I check every garment for wear and stains before I put them in the laundry, so as not to accidentally set something greasy in for the long term.

    When someone spills something on my white shirt, I use a mixture of sudsy ammonia and peroxide to get the stain out (this also works for white underpants, ring around the collar from sunscreen, dingy cuffs, and armpit stains. And this mixture is great for cleaning the washing machine, if you find yours has a gunky build up. But never, never ever ever mix ammonia with bleach. Do not store ammonia in the same room as bleach, and mark the ammonia bottle as poison. Further, grab a sharpie marker and write the number for poison control on any ammonia bottle you bring into your home. If someone drinks that stuff you have to take immediate action. But it works.) Otherwise, the only thing I use for laundry is the homemade laundry powder that is one cup of borax, one cup of washing soda, and one bar of soap (fells naptha, or Yardley lavendar soap, or something foofy from Marshall's). One tablespoon of that in a load of clothes. Two if it's a huge load or something gross is in there.

    Yes, these things all take practice and attention.

    The secret, for me, to going through all this trouble of keeping my clothes looking great is remembering back to the time when I had very little in the way of clothes. We were so poor that I often had two pairs of pants that sort of fit and maybe three or four shirts of my own, I could make a skirt last a while by wearing it until it was far, faaaaaaar too short, I'd get one skirt each year as a gift from a relative. Luckily, I had two sisters and could "borrow" their clothes too. This, combined with the fact that our parents did not do our laundry (they were either not home or too intoxicated) meant that wearing garments more than once was a necessity. We spent a lot of time with the electricity shut off at home (that happens when you don't pay the bill!)

    Having to do laundry was an ordeal. In the house we spent the most time in, laundry was in the basement, which was scary and gross. I have a whopping case of ADHD, so forgetting that my clothes were in the washer meant having to wash them again because they'd get a funk of mildew odor. Or a sibling would borrow them out of the laundry. Better to not have to wash if I didn't have time to sit next to the washer with a book.

    Now. I'm a grown ass woman and I live in an apartment with only my boyfriend. My clothes take up 2/3 of our closet. I can wash clothes whenever the hell I want. And it is great. But I still cannot bring myself to pick up anything other than a cheeseburger or french fries with my hands. And even then, I feel very very wrong until I wash my hands. Can't touch...anything. So, I wouldn't recommend this particular route to having immaculately clean clothing, but it has served me well.
    posted by bilabial at 4:25 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

    probably you have more advice that you want, already, but I have two quick thoughts:

    1) if you're doing a quick paper towel-water in the bathroom, be sure to use soap (dish soap in the office kitchen is even better); it helps keep the grease from setting, making your regular laundry more effective

    2) if you're eating someplace (or with people) that doesn't make you too self-conscious, consider tucking a paper napkin in your neck -- I used to get a lot of stains from just mixing my lunchtime salad around (at my desk), and this has completely ended that. helps with the overall chest-as-drip-ledge issue for any kind of clothing (even light stuff that's hard to use stain-remover on).
    posted by acm at 5:05 PM on July 5, 2012

    Recently discovered that good old hand soap is a MIRACLE stain remover, especially if the stain is grease based. Once you are home and ready to launder, rub some hand soap into the stain and wash. Voila, like new again!

    Also, what everyone said above. Be more observant of your surroundings and try not to sit/lean against gross thing and the napkin is your friend when out eating.
    posted by latch24 at 8:35 PM on July 5, 2012

    In addition to the tide pen and other suggestions above, I wear big faux (like $10 or even less from "authentic" street vendors) "pashmina" scarves/wraps in bright colors over my white shirts when I am drinking coffee or eating.

    I get compliments on the pretty colors AND I protect my "real clothes"
    posted by pointystick at 6:36 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: Oh my goodness, guys, this is awesome. I would have never thought hot water was okay on stains (I misguidedly thought it would 'set' them). I will probably end up printing this entire thread out. Thanks so much!
    posted by amicamentis at 8:13 AM on July 6, 2012

    Actually, hot water sets SOME kinds of stains - but only protein-based stains, like blood stains. Unless you're eating raw meat for lunch, this needn't be a concern.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

    For blood, you can soak the stain in milk. Enzymes in the milk help break down the stain. In my experience you still need soap, cold water and scrubbing, but it helps.
    posted by Miko at 10:20 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

    amicamentis: I used to think hot water would set stains--mine are 99% oil-based as I mostly drip food on my chest or forget to put an apron on while frying--and got tired of having to toss clothing that I'd stained. In desperation, I tried the trick I gave above: rubbed Dawn into the stain (what I used to do when working in a kitchen) and poured hot water through - voila, no stain!

    I also stopped washing my laundry in cold and started washing most of it in warm, and the frequency of stains has dropped. OTOH, I also have very few items of Good Clothing, and mostly wear jeans and knit shirts, so I'm not concerned about keeping businesswear nice-looking. The very few cold-water-only items I own I wash by themselves and try to be uber-careful when wearing.
    posted by telophase at 3:09 PM on July 6, 2012

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