Sunday, April 27, 2014

Make do and mend: 3-for-1

I have been running a chemistry experiment of sorts for a week.

I have three very favorite vintage white blouses (two made of cotton and one poly/cotton blend) dating from the 1940s and 50s. All three of these I wore quite often more than six years ago. Their lengthy careers ended abruptly when somehow they got into a warm wash load with bleach.

Have you seen what happens to very subtle underarms stains when they are bleached? Those subtle underarm stains turn an angry shade of yellow that refuses to be removed.

Yes, denisebrain sweats. There I said it.
However I love these three blouses so much that I kept them on the off chance I would find a new solution to their problem.

Because of my resolve to help my fix-me pile this month, I decided to give many solutions a try on these blouses. I like to start from the least toxic alternative and work my way into the nasty stuff.

First it was baking soda paste (with water). If you have unbleached fairly recent underarms stains this can work, but for me this time...nada.

Then it was a slightly diluted white vinegar soak. The blouses smelled like tossed salad and the stains didn’t budge at all.

Next I got out other non-bleach stain removers. Ammonia has been recommended to me by dry cleaners for washable sweat-stained clothing. I gave the ammonia several chances. Then I used Pit Stop, among other things.

PitStop (now called Raise) is, for many cases of recent sweat stains, very effective on washable clothing. However, I’m truly disturbed that the ingredients are not listed on the bottle. Thanks to an page by Mary Marlowe Leverette, I know that the active ingredients are:

- sodium hydroxide, also known as lye or caustic soda
- cocamidopropyl betine, a synthetic surfactant derived from coconut oil and dimethylaminopropylamine
- EDTA or Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, a polyamino carboxylic acid

Rubber gloves, open doors, a breathing mask and multiple attempts later...nothing. It didn’t even begin to budge these old bleach-set stains.

Finally in desperation I searched online using terms like “stubborn,” “old,” “bleach-set,” “impossible,” “horrendous”... OK, so I exaggerate slightly. I found The Art of Manliness blog on the subject. With the writer’s six year-old yellowed stains he had no success with ammonia but he had great success with a less toxic solution: OxiClean.

So into the OxiClean went my blouses. In two full days I saw maybe some letting up. In the meantime, I could at least breathe around the soaking solution, so I let the blouses stay in the solution for five days. After five days...100% success! The blouses are cleaner than the’ve ever been and those bleach-set sweat stains finally packed up and went home.

I could practically cry for joy to get these favorite blouses back! It is true that the more epic the effort the better it feels to achieve the goal. I feel pretty good!

Do you have any fabulous stain removal tricks? Come on, I just told you one of mine! 


Louise said...

Wow, that is impressive, and something I will try myself, especially on my two boy's white shirts that they have to wear as part of their school uniform. Being young they aren't careful in the least with their clothing (not that I expect the to be!) and there are stains on pretty much every shirt. Will let you know how it works out!

Amanda said...

Ah! So exciting! I was hoping you'd get around the stain removal!

Any secrets for non-white, but washable pieces?

denisebrain said...

I can only say that stains take a certain amount of knowledge, humility and patience.

If you know the fabric you are working with and what stained it, and you are working on the stain fairly soon after it occurred, the possibility of getting it out is always greater. Here is a starting place:

But how many of us have it that easy?

I think my biggest lesson here has been that bleach is not a stain cure-all. It really depends upon the type of stain because bleach can actually cause quite a bit of worsening.

I once bleached a white cotton vintage collar and it turned entirely bright yellow. The only thing that worked on that issue was a commercial dye bleed remover.

Amanda, if you are thinking of fresh sweat stains on non-white washable pieces you could try the vinegar, the baking soda, the ammonia...or go to Oxiclean which is OK for washable colors. It is best to get it dissolved in warm water but you can then let it cool if needed.

I hope this works for your boys' shirts Louise! Don't forget to let them take some time to soak if you can.

denisebrain said...

(the shirts, not the boys...)

Past Pieces Vintage said...

Why did you go through all that trouble and not reach for the OxClean first? I've found it to be an excellent whitening/brightening product for vintage items, white or otherwise. And you can soak things for days, as you discovered, without harm. You can speed things up by changing the solution daily. The only things I haven't used OxiClean on are silk scarves, but if I ever find one that I can't get clean otherwise, into an Oxy soak it'll go. You want to get nylon sparkling? Soak in OxiClean. It's a fantastic product and is the basis for my stain arsenal.

Here's the link to Etsy's Vintage Lovers team's compilation of stain tips and tricks if you'd like more ideas for cleaning vintage items.

denisebrain said...

Thank you for the insight and link! Sometimes I do things that are definitely live and learn material. In this case the really dumb part was accidentally letting these blouses get into a load with bleach, which I almost never use.

OxiClean will be a go-to for me now. What a breath of fresh air it is next to all the chemicals!