On a recent Friday night, I ventured to a BYOB restaurant for dinner with a group. After waiting in line for 30 minutes to place our orders, we sat at a picnic table and started to uncork the bottles of wine we’d brought. I was pretty jazzed about my 2017 Les Heretiques, a natural, French Carignan, so I carefully poured healthy servings into flimsy plastic cups and set the open bottle down in the middle of the table. I took a sip and was delighted to find the red table wine was just to my taste—tannic, medium-bodied, and full of dark fruit.
My cup quivered ominously.
Soon after, our plates of jerk chicken, plantains, rice, and beans arrived before us. Just as I finished my first bite, a friend of a friend reached for her own bottle and in the span of a second, collided with my bottle of wine, which knocked over my cup of wine, both of which drenched my food and my outfit. For a moment, I was speechless and distraught by my sudden trifecta of loss. Gone were my wine, my food, and my jeans.
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This friend of a friend did help me get a new entrée, though due to dim lighting, no one could tell that my favorite dark grey jeans had acquired a large purple stain. Nor could they detect the significant splatter on my beloved, medium-wash blue jean jacket.
According to California Winery, La Crema, red wine contains chromogens, the primary substance in colorful plants—also responsible for pigments in many natural dyes. Oh, and the tannins in red wine are also used in ink production. Combine red wine (basically a bottle of dye molecules) plus the porous nature of fabric, and your dinner table is poised and waiting to make your prized white shirt an experiment in tie-dye. Sigh.
I anxiously endured the rest of the evening, unable to immediately treat my stained clothing. When I finally got home, I took my mom’s advice and poured my regular detergent on the stains and let it soak in overnight. My mom warned me against trying to rub in the detergent, which she explained might actually remove the color of the jeans themselves. In the morning, I threw the soiled pieces in the washing machine and put on a cool cycle. After a harrowing 50 minutes, I returned to the laundry room to check on my dear items. I breathed a sigh of relief when, after scrutiny, I didn’t detect any remaining stains.
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Later that night, I joined a group of friends for a beach bonfire, another BYOB endeavor. Not having sufficiently learned my lesson (and too stubborn to drink white wine, which I like less than red), I brought an organic, Chilean petit verdot. I nearly survived the evening unscathed, but managed to drizzle a few drops onto the ankle of my stonewash jeans before I left.
When I got home, I repeated my routine from the previous night and the next day my jeans exited the washer in pristine condition.
While I’ve had lots of luck with plain detergent, depending on how long the stain has been set, it might have varying degrees of success. Here are some of the more popular solutions to removing red wine stains from around the Internet:
- La Crema warns not to rub, wait too long, or apply heat to the red wine stain. Use dry material to draw the stain out (like table salt or baking soda), and follow by applying boiling water and blotting out.
- Submerge the wine stain in milk for a few minutes, as it has absorption properties, and rinse the fabric clean with water.
- Club soda is the most classic of all methods, which is likely made better by the addition of vinegar to the solution, since both liquids absorb and break up the wine molecules.
- “Oxi” variety stain treatments and detergents work especially well on already-dried stains that the above methods might not help. Most of these products contain sodium percarbonate, which when combined with water, breaks down into bubbling hydrogen peroxide. Apply it to the stain, let it sit for 20 minutes to an hour, blot, and rinse clean.
- Three-parts hydrogen peroxide and one-part dishwashing liquid are a DIY “oxi” cleaner, just follow the above steps for the store-bought kind.
While I’d like to think I can avoid future red wine spills, I know I’m just one glass away from another stain—but at least now, I know the secret to salvaging my jeans.
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