There was a bad run of salad dressing spills recently at my house.
And when several of my husband’s shirts came back from the cleaners with the oil and vinegar stains still showing, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I picked up one of my go-to pre-treat sprays and spritzed and then washed. Sadly, there was no improvement.
So I called my personal oracle for housekeeping tips, a friend who was raised in a Southern home where learning to care for everything correctly was paramount. She swears by OxiClean Max Force Gel Stick, which has "stain-grabbing nubs" that help you gently rub in the blue gel after you squeeze it onto the fabric. I bought a bottle, applied the gel and let it soak into the shirts overnight. I washed them in hot water. The stains were gone.
Sometimes it pays to add new stain-fighting tools to your cleaning arsenal. I asked experts to share simple techniques for common scenarios.
Your dog or cat pees on a rug: Don't panic, says Cameron Capel, a vice president of Capel Rugs, a 100-year-old rug company based in North Carolina. And keep a bottle of liquid laundry detergent on hand. She recommends Tide Free and Gentle Liquid or All Free Clear, with no perfumes or dyes. Blot the area with a dry cloth, then mix two cups of water with two teaspoons of liquid detergent and apply directly to the stain with a white, absorbent cloth or paper towel, working from the edges of the spot to the center. Keep blotting, never overwetting the stain, until your cloth comes away clean. Use plain water at the end to remove detergent residue.
Birds and falling leaves have done a number on your outdoor cushions: Most stains come out with simple soap and water, says Hal Hunnicutt, vice president of marketing at Glen Raven, which manufactures Sunbrella, an indoor-outdoor fabric many retailers use on their outdoor cushions. If you have Sunbrella cushions that unzip, machine-wash the covers with a bit of mild detergent such as Dreft or Woolite. Never put them in the dryer, as they can shrink (and they dry quickly on their own, anyway). If your cushions do not unzip, "literally put them out on your patio or yard, mix up some mild soap and water in a bucket and pour it on the cushions," Hunnicutt says. "Let it sit for a bit and rinse with a garden hose."
Another tip: “If you have a swimming pool, throw the cushions in there in the morning, at lunch flip them over and then take them out at night,” Hunnicutt says. Rinse with a hose at the end. “The chlorine in the pool does a great job of cleaning the fabric,” he says. If your cushions are another brand of indoor-outdoor fabric, check with the manufacturer.
Your pots and pans are caked in crud: The trick to a good pot cleaning is to scrub a warm pot. You can heat it on medium heat just before you start, according to Jolie Kerr, a cleaning expert and advice columnist. Of course, be careful not to touch it with your hands while cleaning. Sprinkle on baking soda and scour the pan with a damp but not soaking sponge. Her favorites are the Dobie pad and other Scotch-Brite products. Keep scrubbing until the buildup, water spots and stuck-on food go away. Then rinse in hot water.
The grout on your tile floor is perpetually dingy: Kerr, who also hosts Deadspin's Ask a Clean Person podcast, says this is a chore best done on your hands and knees. Mix a gallon of water with a scoop of oxygen bleach. Working in sections, pour it in a thin layer on the floor, starting at the back of the room. (She cautions against flooding — just a thin layer.) As you move toward the door, work the solution into the tile and grout with a scrub brush. Allow it to sit for 30 to 60 minutes before wiping up the water with dry rags, a sponge or a mop. Wipe with clean water if you see residue. "The grout may not immediately look brightened, but as it dries, you'll start to see a big difference," Kerr says.
Your walls are covered in scuff marks and coffee drips: The sooner you can address a mark on the wall, the easier it will be to clean, according to Jeff Spillane, a Benjamin Moore senior manager. Use a clean cellulose sponge with a little warm water and give the wall a good rub. Wait for it to dry and see whether it's clean. If the mark is still evident, repeat the process using a dab of dish detergent and wipe the area dry with a clean sponge. This should work regardless of your paint's finish. Use only nonabrasive cleaners and sponges or gentle cleaners such as baby wipes or cotton swabs. Avoid using regular household cleaners (especially those with ammonia) because they might change the sheen of the paint.
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