How To Get Stains Out of Hand Knits

This is a story about spilling coffee on very delicate and expensive yarn knit up into my Thérèse sample, and how I got the stain out! I'll also include some additional tips for removing stains at the bottom of this post.

Of course the best way to care for handmade garments is with lots of care, and ideally we wouldn't have stains happen. At the same time, I believe that making clothes we really want to live in is incredibly beautiful. To me, living in my clothes means sometimes accidents will happen. I try to give myself grace in these situations. There are a lot of feelings about ruining a hand knit item, but even if your garment is ultimately stained beyond repair, there are ways to save it! (Let me know if you'd like me to do a post on this kind of mending!)

the backstory

You may know that I've recently moved in with my girlfriend in the beautiful Tampa Bay area of Florida. We had lots of furniture to purchase and shelves to hang and have since made great progress on our space! During the first week or so of our time here however, there weren't a lot of stable surfaces available for resting coffee.

In a freakish and horrible accident, coffee was spilled all over a set of drawers which was housing my Thérèse sample. Somehow the coffee generously spilled into the drawer and all over the front of the sample. It even sank through all the way to the back of the dress.

The sight of it was horrifying. I had to take a lot of deep breaths and a few moments of time sitting sadly and silently to consider my options. I consider myself fair at laundry, I am a Cancer afterall. We are domestic creatures; however, coffee is really likely to cause a stain.

Thankfully, tencel is a little tougher than wool in regards to washing. It is NOT recommended that you put this yarn through the washing machine; however, I often do wash plant fibers in cold water on delicate, just not tencel. Tencel is more delicate than most cottons or linen in my experience. Still, I decided it was worth the risk because the location and size of the stain would effectively ruin the garment if I were not able to get it out.

Before washing it, I used a cloth to gently blot out as much liquid as a possible. I pre-soaked it in water, then applied a little bit of dishsoap to the stain.

This took out about 85% of the stain but not enough to call the problem solved. So, when the garment came out of the wash while it was still wet I dabbed the stain with a cloth soaked with white vinegar. Vinegar is a risk to use on hand dyed yarn if you are not sure what kind of dyes were used. It is typically fine with acid dyes but natural dyes may be considerably shifted by vinegar and I would NOT advise trying it on your garment without first doing a test with spare yarn or a swatch.

In this case, the vinegar worked like magic on the wet garment and removed almost all of the stain. After applying vinegar I added some more soap and vinegar as well to a second round on the delicate cycle.

This time the sample was saved. Almost. Due to the rough treatment of two runs through the washing machine, a bit of yarn deteriorated in one of the garter wedges along the side of the skirt. Thankfully, mending and reinforcing weak sections of knit fabric is something I'm comfortable with and I was able to mend this section to my satisfaction.

All in all, it was a really dreadful time but I ended up feeling very pleased with myself for being able to care for my garment so well and save it. I believe mending and saving things is one of the most important skills we can have towards consuming less and living with more harmony.

Do you have a story about a horrible stain or saving a treasured garment in another way? I'd love to hear it! Leave a comment and share your wisdom with me!

Here's hoping we don't face any more mending emergencies anytime soon, and that we have the knowledge and strength to get through our next one!

Much love,

Elizabeth

tips for removing stains from hand knits

  • Always test any methods of stain removal on a swatch before using it on your finished garment. In a scary situation it could be your impulse to act as quickly as possible, but missteps can further ruin your garment. I keep swatches of any working projects close by just in case!
  • White vinegar works very well on acid and food stains. I have used it successfully on plant based fibers as well as wool, and on both natural and acid dyes. Still, some dyes will be more sensitive to vinegar which can shift the ph and sometimes change the color completely during the natural dying process.
  • Rubbing alcohol works very well for removing stains like dirt, soot or ash that can get stuck in the fibers of your yarn. I have used alcohol diluted with water on a clean cloth to blot this type of stain and successfully removed the stain. Alcohol can remove dye from yarn in some cases, use sparingly.
  • Try not to rub a stain! You may have heard this before but it is especially true in knitting. Rubbing can felt your wool, or fuzz it up, and change the texture of the fabric. Not to mention it can rub the stain in further and make it more difficult to remove.
  • Instead of rubbing, blot! Use a clean cloth (a clean cloth is preferable to a paper towel which can leave residue behind). If blotting is not enough, place the cloth down on the stain and place a heavy object like a full glass of water on top of it to soak up more of the stain from the yarn.
  • Some hand knits can withstand a run through a washing machine on the gentle cycle after spot treatment such as superwash wool, cotton and linen. Other hand knits CAN NOT go through the delicate cycle especially non superwash wool.
  • If your knit can go through the wash, after spot treating run it through the wash which will hopefully totally remove any remnants of your stain. 
  • If your knit can not go in the wash, after spot treatment soak it in cool water with wool wash. You may need to spot treat again, unfortunately non superwash wools are the most difficult to clean as they are delicate and subject to felting. The good news is that these fibers are often more resistant to liquids and you may be able to soak up a liquid before a stain sets in with a clean cloth!
  • Remember to be patient and easy on yourself. No one is perfect and your knits do not need to be perfect to be useful and loved.

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