We’ve all been there. Dressed to the nines, we step dazzling into the holiday party feeling like royalty…until someone bumps into you and you spill red wine all over your clothes. Or (maybe worse), you spill red wine on the host’s carpet. Instead of mingling over the hors d’oeuvres, you spend the rest of the party wondering how to get out a red wine stain. Luckily for you, I’ve been there enough times to know the best ways to remove red wine stains. I’ve put together my best tips.
Why Red Wine Stains are the Worst
Red wine makes for a particularly persistent smudge because chromogens, a substance often used for dye, are also found in wine. Tannins are common in ink, so dark and tannic wines can be even harder to remove from clothing, carpet, or teeth… So basically, you’re drinking a giant glass of dye, waiting to leave its mark on your white button-down. Once it spills onto fabric, the naturally-occurring liquid dye sinks into the porous fibers and spreads.
Rules for Removing Red Wine Stains from Anything
Rule #1: Act fast
As red wine is a powerful dye, time is of the essence after your spill. Do not fall into the temptation of waiting until the next day—dried red wine stains are significantly trickier to get out than wet ones.
We will talk about teeth stains later, but this is the exception to the rule. Brushing your teeth too soon after drinking wine can damage the enamel on your teeth, so it’s best to give it at least 20 minutes after you’re done drinking. In the meantime, splash some water around your mouth to help strip the stain.
Rule #2: Blot, don’t scrub
When you scrub wine stains, it actually spreads the stain out even further. Scrubbing is a HUGE no-no for clothing, carpets, furniture, or anything else. Instead, blot the stain with medium pressure using a dry cloth. The stain will start to transfer to the dry towel instead.
Rule #3: Use an absorbent, dry material to lift the stain
Liquid likes to cling to dry materials. Quickly after spilling, blot the stain and then generously apply a substance like table salt, baking soda, or baby powder to help lift the splotch. Let it sit for a few minutes before blotting again. If the stain persists, continue onto other methods below.
Rule #4: Let it air-dry
Dry heat will make red wine stains absorb into the fabric. The heat has a chemical reaction to the chromogens, so when you use a blow dryer to dry the spot, it ensures your stain will stay for good. You’ll also want to avoid sending your wet clothes directly into the drying machine after a red wine battle.
Other Methods to Remove Red Wine Stains
Use boiling water
Boiling water dilutes the stain and helps lift it out of the fabric fibers. You may notice that the stain spreads a bit at first, but the color should get lighter and easier to remove.
In every sommelier’s cellar is a bottle of Wine-a-Way (at least in the USA; the product isn’t available in most countries). When I used to sling wine at fancy restaurants, I would use this spray any time a guest or I dribbled a bit of red wine. I’ve seen it lift stains with little effort from couches, carpet, and white blouses. It also comes in travel bottles for the particularly spill-prone.
Try dish soap
Dish soap is a miracle-worker for many stains, including red wine. When mixed with hydrogen peroxide, it can mean checkmate for even the worst red wine blotches. Blot the solution onto the stain, let it sit for 20 minutes to an hour, then blot again before washing with hot water.
Bleach will usually knock that red wine stain out for white fabrics, especially if it’s dried.
Can’t wash your clothes ASAP?
Practically speaking, you might not be able to take off your clothes at the party and throw it in the wash (or, if that sounds like your type of party, power to you!). Follow these steps:
- Blot the stain with a dry cloth
- Apply table salt, let it sit, then blot again.
- Blot on boiling water or club soda
- Blot again with a dry towel
- If you have Wine-a-Way or a Tide stick, apply liberally.
- If you’re distracted by the big wet spot on your clothes, try adding your scarf or a mid-weight jacket to your ensemble.
- Treat the spot with a serious stain remover before washing in hot water as soon as you get home. Think Oxiclean or bleach.
Red wine stains for teeth
If you like dark, full-bodied reds, you may have to accept that your teeth will be purple while you’re drinking. The best way to prevent the look is to switch to white wine or a lighter red.
Preventing red teeth at the party
Fact! The calcium in cheese builds up on your teeth, which helps to tighten the micro-pores on your enamel. In other words, pairing cheese with red wine helps prevent red wine stains!
Keep your lips hydrated.
Red wine is more likely to cling to cracked, dry lips.
Water will help to lift superficial wine stains from your teeth.
Try Wine Wipes.
About the size of a wet hand wipe you get with shellfish, wine wipes can help to remove stains from your teeth on the go.
Bite an apple.
Apples have natural teeth-whitening properties that brighten your smile on the go. Same for strawberries.
While you may not want to be smacking on a piece of gum while mingling at the party, you can sneak it in for a couple of minutes while in the coatroom or bathroom to help lift some of the stains. Note that this will definitely make your wine taste gross after.
The after-party for your mouth
Around 20 minutes to an hour after you finish drinking, be sure to brush your teeth and finish with mouthwash. Opt for products that also protect your enamel, as wine’s acidity can weaken it.
Red wine stains can be devastating, but the blotch doesn’t have to be permanent with a bit of salt, hot water, and fast action. But, if your new holiday ensemble was an investment, consider switching to Champagne.