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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Handkerchief Stains

By Dr. Laundry September 1, 2009

Q. Two questions please:

  1. I always have a handkerchief with me. Over time these get stained. I want to use Clorox to soak them in hopes of removing the stains. The handkerchiefs are 100% cotton. What dilution should I use, and for how long? The stains are noticeable.
  2. Is there any way to remove grease (from food) stains from my cotton shirts after they have gone through the dryer? My dry cleaner says no.

A. Let’s deal with your questions:

  1. You definitely want to do a thorough job of cleaning and disinfecting frequently used handkerchiefs. You didn’t indicate if they were white or colored, so I’m not sure if liquid bleach usage is appropriate for all of your items. You may be surprised to know that a large number of colored items can also be safely washed in Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden colored area like an inside seam, hemline, etc.; wait 1 minute and then blot with towel); no color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item. Any color change could also show you the amount of change in color that likely will occur if you proceed with the liquid bleach usage.

    Want to proceed? I would do a quick liquid bleach soak (1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in a gallon of cool water for 5 minutes (with “bad” stains maybe a little longer) then wash immediately in the hot water using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. Always check for success before dryer drying in case not everything was removed with the original treatment; you may need to repeat the procedure.
  2. Removing a previously dried greasy/oily stain is always a crapshoot. The dry cleaner is probably right, but there may be some hope since you indicated it was a cotton shirt. Synthetic or poly/cotton usually are the really bad actors. I would try a pretreat with either liquid dishwasher or laundry detergent (don’t pre-wet the stain; apply, rub-in, wait 3–5 minutes) then wash in the warmest water recommended on the care label using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1, for whites or recommended amount of Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster for colors. Again check for success before drying, retreat the shirt if the stain remains. If this doesn’t work after a couple of tries, it probably isn’t coming out.

Hope this helps; let me know how it turns out or if you have any further questions.