Friday, August 1, 2008

Stains (from fire, not food)

I haven't often met a stain I couldn't cure. I have no training in stain removal or other home-ec type processes, but I like to solve problems and stains are problems. When one of my best friends and her fiancé recently lost most of her belongings in a horrible fire, I went down to attempt some stain removal with her. She was able to salvage a couple of bins of clothing that had been clean in a hamper when the fire happened. Starting with a recipe from the Red Cross (who, along with the Chicago Fire Department were incredibly kind and helpful to my friends), we concocted a recipe that was sure to help at least a little bit.

The Red Cross recommends:

2 tablespoons Sodium Hypochlorite
1 gallon of water
Use in combination with Clorox, Purex or Lysol

We used:

1 gallon cheap vodka (apparently gets the smell of the smoke out more than the stain)
1/2 bottle Lysol
1/2 bottle dish detergent
a few generous scoops of OxiClean (intense!)
a couple gallons cold water (cold water opens up the fibers in the fabric, theoretically allowing the stain to escape)

After pouring all of the ingredients into a large plastic bin, we soaked the smoky clothing for a couple of hours. Immediately the water turned black, so we were very hopeful (and disgusted) about what would be coming out of the clothes. After the soak came the scrubbing, which, in retrospect, could really have benefited from some gloves. The Oxi plus Lysol was pretty rough on the hands, but the fact that it's so granular and harsh really helps while you're trying to scrub out the smoke. Some items were not too badly damaged to begin with, and the scrubbing brought the stains right out. Others were more difficult--it seemed like across the board synthetics held the stain more permanently, while cottons and cotton-blends were forgiving once we really got to scrubbing on them.

My friend and I discussed trying bleach on some of the white items, but I don't know if she's had time to attempt it. Obviously there are some more important things than testing bleach when putting your life back together after a fire. I really enjoyed the stain removal experiment though, it was a great learning experience in the stain department, and the process allowed for some quality friend-helping time.