Video: How to deal with stains on tailoring

Monday, November 16th 2020
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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: