Video: How to deal with stains on tailoring
This video, the latest in our series on how to care for your tailoring at home, looks at stains.
Cutter Ben Clarke, from Richard James in London, suggested this as a topic a while ago, but I wasn't sure. I thought we'd want to talk to a dry cleaner or similar professional.
It was only when we started discussing Ben's tips and tricks, that I realised how often a cutter or tailor has to deal with this problem. Cloth gets rubbed, spilled on, even bled on (easy to do with shears and needles around) and instant solutions are needed.
In fact, in that way these tips are particularly relevant to you, the reader. It's about first aid: about how to apply quick solutions or minimise the problem. You can still go to the dry cleaner if it's bad, but what - if anything - should you do now?
Interestingly, often the answer is nothing at all. Some stains can be dealt with quickly, according to Ben; others can be mitigated; but if neither of those is possible, you shouldn't do anything. It's too easy to make things worse.
Here's a summary of Ben's points, for anyone that needs quick advice, or a quick reminder:
Absorption is the best first aid on a wet stain. So if you can, soak it up
If the stain has dried, and it's not oily, then try lightly rubbing the cloth with another part of the cloth
The next thing to try (on a dry stain) is a bit of steam. Animal-based cloths, such as wool, contain natural oils, which work well with steam. Whereas water is repelled
Apply steam, then try brushing - particularly if it's cloth with a pile, like velvet or flannel
If the stain is oil, try French chalk powder. Sprinkle it on, leave it overnight, and then brush off in the morning
All chalks don't work though - eg the chalk a tailor uses for marking cloth does not
If the stain is blood, use your own saliva. Soak some cotton thread in your mouth, then put it on, pressing lightly. Can use tissue as well
With wax, you can put greaseproof paper on top and then use an iron, to heat up the paper and draw the wax out
But this is hard to do, and it's unlikely you've done it often. So anything this hard, is best just taken to a dry cleaner
Equally with stain removal products - it's easy to make a stain worse. If you're going that far, basically a chemical-based approach, then it's probably time to go to the dry cleaners. Particularly with something expensive like a bespoke suit
Same with wine, don’t try and treat it with lots of other things (nothing more than water) - just go to a dry cleaner
Good dry cleaners are not easy to find, but Simon recommends Michael Norman
Many thanks to Richard James and Campaign for Wool for their help with this video.
For other cleaning and maintenance videos, see:
Another superb post Simon!
I’ve already learned to sew a button from your previous video with excellent results.
For stains, where does one obtain French Chalk?
I apologise for starting off-track; but I thought other readers of PS might like to read a three-page spread from yesterday’s New York Times, ‘The Unraveling of Savile Row’. It deals with the economics of the Row in the time of Covid grounding, with tailoring aided by robots and Zoom, and includes comments from Edward Sexton, Kathryn Sargent, and Ozwald Boateng, among others. Go to nytimes.com and search ‘Unraveling Savile Row’.
Thanks. There was a great piece in the FT that’s worth having a look at too, on the volume of fashion consumed today, and the little it’s worn: Piece here
French chalk is talc, or hydrated magnesium phylosilicate. Talcum powder will work just fine.
I second that. I’ve used talcum powder (specifically formulated for babycare) with great success. Even on a silk tie.
This video turned out to be a lot less useful than I had hoped. Why not actually illustrate how these methods could be used by applying some dirt, salad dressing, wine, blood, etc to that piece of cloth and prove that they can be cleaned off? It would have particularly interesting to test the highly dubious claim that blood can be cleaned off only with the same person’s saliva!
We didn’t quite have the scope and time here to do that, and I’m not sure (having tried the methods myself) that it would have added anything – they’re all relatively straightforward.
Testing the assertion about blood and saliva would certainly have been interesting, though it would have taken a rather wider and more personal experiment! In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter how accurate that is, in that you’ll be cleaning your own blood 99% of the time anyway.
Except for well-dressed hitmen.
The world’s greatest authority on dry cleaning has to be Stu Bloom of Rave Fabricare, Arizona, USA. Do a video with him, and it’ll be a science lecture. Hoping other readers will back me up on that.
Off topic: hope I don’t sound impolite here. Funny how we all have the same body parts, yet some men will never look good in what they wear. No matter how expensive the suit. It seems that secret code will never be cracked. Still baffles me after all these years. They’re experts on the subject matter and know all the ‘rules’ too. It’s a weird one I’ll never stop pondering over.
Luckily, none one of that applies to you Simon. You wear it well. Good luck to you, or should I say your genes.
Don’t know if you’ve ever done a post on posture, movement, confidence and poise. Slipping into a bespoke garment is only half the story.
Thanks Harry, yes Stu is amazing and we’ve chatted about some of these things in the past.
You’re certainly right, dressing well is only one part of looking good, and probably a minor one compared to ones face, manner of speaking and acting, and so on. I’m not sure I’d be best placed to talk about confidence, poise and so on, though it does also relate closely to elegance, which of course we talk about in passing. Perhaps one to interview someone else about.
Your presupposition is knowledge of origin of stain. Some of my cotton trousers begin to get irregular discolouring after machine wash. There must be something like vinegar or whatever that affects like chlor the cloth.
I accused the Italian trouser manufacturers of New & Lingwood to be responsible, but realized my error when the mysterious stains appeared on other trousers. Some trousers seem immune. I’m resigned. – Off topic: when Crombie tweed or wool coat arms must be shortened from 66 to 60, is the cut around the arm cuff straight?
True, and in that case always stay on the side of caution.
Perhaps, with your trousers, it’s the way they are being garment dyed, or a hotter wash than advised?
Yes, a cuff should be cut off straight usually – though perhaps have a look at what the angle of it is currently?
I would have thought that fuller’s earth would be the best powder for soaking up stains. It’s been used for centuries for just that purpose and even now is used by the military for decontamination of clothing. It’s available online.
Interesting video, thanks Simon. On the topic of steam… should you avoid steaming the canvassed chest piece, as I’ve heard some people say it can cause puckering and damage to the canvassing?
If you’re just steaming it hanging up, running steam around it until the cloth relaxes a bit, and never touching the cloth, then you’ll be fine. Don’t start pressing the jacket lying flat, or you could alter the shape as well as the canvas
Simon, what have you got in your jacket breast pocket during the video ?
Sunglasses. This was filmed a while ago, with sun and heat (and shops)
I looked up French Chalk as I expected it to be something different from talcum powder, but in English sources it is effectively described as talcum. You may want to try what was my guess however, Terre de Sommières, which has a more specific reputation as an oily stain remover in France.
Just a thought Simon, how about a follow up video with your preferred cleaners – Michael Norman?
You guys could go over a few more tips, but more importantly how to validate a good dry cleaner, what questions to ask, what methods do they typically use, maybe more advanced techniques that can be done at home?
It’s becoming terribly difficult to find good cleaners that know the difference between wool and polyester, or tailored clothing and a track suit…
I guess it’s the demise of the suit and tie overall, but i have found that most cleaners will absolutely ruin your beautiful garments the first time. I’ve had to explain to the cleaner to never iron the lapel flat to the coat!
My tailors here in Rome agree; avoid the cleaners at all costs – better to learn to do most things yourself !
I definitely see the need, though I’m not sure such coverage would help unfortunately. Most good cleaners, including Michael, wouldn’t recommend doing more extreme fixes at home. And with rating the cleaners, it’s so much about the care taken that it’s impossible to quiz them on it. The basic thing is just to ask them not to press it, then take it to a good presser – like George.
Simon – you may have seen “The Dig” on Netflix, where Ralph Fiennes excavates English history while wearing tweed tailoring, Fair Isle sweaters, and a tie – as in, what people in the 30s would have just called “clothes”. No microfibers or performance polyesters here. Not only does he get dirty, and probably sweaty, but several times also head to toe drenched. Which begs the question, how would you get those clothes clean, either today or in the past? Did people have a greater tolerance and expectation for smell? How would such wear impact the garments’ longevity? And what can this teach us about how to dress and care for our clothes in the present day? I would love to see your perspective on this in a post. Otherwise, this could be someone’s esoteric PhD topic. Thank you.
Good question Peter.
I think there are a few short answers, which are:
– They brushed down their clothes thoroughly at the end of every day, as discussed here
– They paid attention to airing them too, as mentioned here in our post with Bruce
– Tailoring was made out of much more robust materials, designed to put up with greater wear and tear
– They repaired the tailoring often, eg replacing linings, and of course patching etc, as covered here
– They hand washed knitwear, and often, so that was less of a problem
But yes, there was also more of a tolerance of smell, particularly sweat. There’s any argument we’ve become a bit too obsessed with this over time.
Thank you Simon. I imagine the costume department helped Ralph Fiennes with his upkeep as well. If you’ve ever been to the Washington DC area in summer, it’s incredible to think that the US Civil War was essentially fought entirely in wool. Our standards for comfort have changed.
I thrifted a nice suit yesterday, and it had a dry stain on the lapel that I was confident I could brush out. After not being successful with the brush, I remembered about this video and tried rubbing against another part of the jacket. It was like magic, I am still impressed by how quickly it disappeared. Thank you very much!
Amazing! Good to hear Dario
Hi, Simon! Couldn’t find an article better suited to this question, hope fine here: how about stains on shirts, Tees, and polos, particularly knit ones? I’m mostly referring here to the unfortunate consequence or combo of sweat and anti-perspirant stains, that are sometimes tough to fight. Any suggestions on grooming products that don’t leave those marks, or the white talcum ones? Thanks!
I’ve usually found that applying an extra bit of detergent to the underarm area when I put something in the wash deals with this. But you do have to catch it early: if you leave it until there is a really noticeable stain, it may not be possible to get rid of.
Definitely white vinegar. That helps as a preventative but I have had success “de-staining” some shirts.
Thanks, Simon and Rob. Unfortunately, this has happened to a few shirts before I’d noticed… I assume dry-cleaning this would not help? I shall try with white vinegar and revert in case of success, or indeed finding a different advice elsewhere.
What would you recommend to do to treat discolouration/ fading on a navy linen jacket?
Nothing really Robert. You don’t want to start trying to recolour it. Just reassure yourself that it looks more friendly and worn-in that way