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Tips and Tricks for Removing the Most Common Holiday Stains

A wine glass spilled on a white carpet.
Lisa-S/Shutterstock.com

The holidays means plenty of good food and good company, but what happens when that good food lands somewhere it shouldn’t? Inevitably, you’ll probably end up with a spill or stain you need to clean up, but this doesn’t have to be stressful. With a few tricks and the right products, you’ll be able to remove even the toughest holiday stains with ease.

Stains can sometimes be tricky to get out due to their color or consistency, but the right products will cut right through them. From hacks with household products to specialized cleaners, here’s how you can save your home and clothing from even the worst stains.

How to Remove Cranberry Stains

Cranberry sauce is a holiday staple, but that vivid red color and thick consistency can make it a major concern when it comes to staining. Fortunately, simple solutions using items you probably already have should clean up the majority of the stain.

If the stained item is made from a delicate material like silk, or has vintage fabric, you may want to consult a professional cleaner instead of doing a DIY stain removal. Some older fabrics have unique properties that may be damaged by at-home treatments.

Start by blotting away as much of the spill as possible, but don’t press hard or scrub. Flush the stain with cool water. If it’s on an individual piece of fabric (such as clothing, rather than carpet), run a stream of cool water through the material itself. From there, you have a few other options.

Detergent

Someone cleaning a cranberry sauce stain out of a carpet.
Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com

If you’re working with clothing, tablecloths, or similar pieces, you can start by simply applying a stain remover or laundry detergent, preferably one with enzymes to break down the stain. For instance, Dirty Labs Bio-Liquid Laundry Detergent uses advanced enzyme technology and is vegan and hypoallergenic, making it a great option for getting rid of tough stains.

Dirty Labs Bio-Liquid Laundry Detergent

This enzyme-based detergent is ideal for removing tough stains.

For carpets, a solution of 1 tablespoon of dishwashing detergent to 2 cups of cool water should work on most stains. Simply blot it with the solution, using a clean cloth, and then rotate sections to avoid restaining from the cleaning cloth.

Rubbing Alcohol and Vinegar Solutions

Another option is to mix 2/3 cup of rubbing alcohol with 1 teaspoon of liquid laundry detergent, and then blot away the stain using a cloth or paper towel dipped in the mixture. Rinse, and then launder on the hottest setting.

A vinegar-based solution can work both on clothing and upholstery. For clothing, mix a solution of 4 cups of cool water, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar, and 1/2 a teaspoon of liquid laundry detergent.

Let the cloth soak in the solution for 10-15 minutes, and then rinse with cool water and launder as usual.

For upholstery, combine 2/3 cup of rubbing alcohol with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in a plastic bowl (the solution may react with a metal container). Then, blot the stain with a cloth dipped in the solution. Blot it again with cool water once the stain removal is complete.

How to Remove Gravy Stains

A plate of food spilled on a light-colored carpet.
Joe Belanger/Shutterstock.com

Gravy leaves behind oily stains, which may sound intimidating but they’re actually fairly easy to remove with the right product. Your best bet is a laundry detergent that uses enzymes, like the Dirty Labs detergent above, or a product designated as a stain remover.

The OxiClean Max Force Laundry Stain Remover Spray is one such option: an easy-to-use spray stain remover with multiple stain-fighting ingredients.

OxiClean Max Force Laundry Stain Remover Spray

Takes the guesswork out of stain removal.

After blotting away any excess from the original spill, apply the stain remover or detergent solution and let it sit for a few minutes (about 10 to 15, depending on how bad the stain is). Launder using hot water and a reliable detergent.

Tip: These solutions will work on any grease-based stain, not just those caused by gravy.

If the gravy stain is on upholstery or carpet, the option of washing it traditionally is, obviously, out. The trick is to use an absorbing product to soak up as much of the oil as possible.

Cornstarch or baking soda both work great, and you probably already have at least one of them in your pantry. After letting it absorb for about 30 minutes, vacuum the powder away, and then, using a dry cleaning solvent, remove any of the stain that remains.

How to Remove Chocolate Stains

A man eating a piece of chocolate cake with a stain on his white shirt.
Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock.com

If chocolate desserts are part of your holiday plans, it’s a good idea to know how to get chocolate stains out of most surfaces. Chocolate contains not one, but two major stain-causing components: oil and tannins (which is also the stain-causing component in red wine, cranberry sauce, and related stains). Because of this, they have to be treated very carefully.

Removing from Clothing

Start by gently scraping away as much of the remaining chocolate as you can without damaging the fabric or spreading the stain. If it’s on clothing, a tablecloth, or something similar, start by rinsing the stain under a faucet with cool water.

Next, apply liquid laundry detergent to the stain, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes, depending on the severity of the stain. Then, soak the cloth in cold water for about 15 minutes. Gently rub the stain every few minutes to help lift away as much of it as possible.

Finally, wash the item as you typically would, but air-dry it instead of putting it in the dryer.

Removing from Upholstery or Carpet

The same as with clothing, start by scraping away as much of the stain as possible. Since these items obviously can’t be laundered, unless the stain is on a removable cushion (in that case, wash it immediately with cool water), you’ll have to tackle these by hand.

A solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap (not dishwasher detergent) to 2 cups of water should work to lift away most of the stain. Gently dab the solution into the stain with a clean cloth or paper towel and blot away as much of it as possible. Repeat until the stain is gone.

How to Remove Red Wine Stains

A glass of red wine spilled on a couch.
Vershinin89/Shutterstock.com

Red wine stains are some of the toughest to remove, but if you tackle them right away, they’re far less likely to leave a long-term stain. The simplest solution is to buy a specialized stain remover, like Wine Away. This stain removal liquid lifts away tannin-based stains without bleach or phosphates.

Wine Away Red Wine Stain Remover

Tackle those red wine stains with a product designed specifically for them.

Otherwise, you have a few different options for DIY stain removers, both for clothing and upholstery. Always start by blotting the stain with a dry towel until no more liquid can be absorbed.

Rinsing a wine stain with club soda is a popular remedy. After you rinse, just blot away as much liquid as possible. A paste made from 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 3 tablespoons of water can also work to remove a stain. Just apply it, let it dry, and then brush it away or vacuum it.

The one at-home stain remover you should always be careful with is hydrogen peroxide. Because it has bleaching properties, it’s not recommended for use on material that isn’t white already. There are some methods that involve diluting the peroxide with liquid detergent, but unless you’re out of options, just be aware you’ll run a higher risk of damaging the material.


Armed with these tips, you’ll know just how to attack the most common holiday stains, but what about the rest of the year? Be sure to check out how to remove ink or coffee stains, as well, so you can keep things spotless all the time.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »

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