Tricks for Wool & Silk
Sometimes, a small stain is all that stands between your wearing a wool jacket or silk blouse out again and wearing it out completely with frequent cleanings. This simple spot treatment can help remove unsightly stains without cleaning the entire garment. This treatment can be used on most fabrics (including wool or silk), but don’t try this on rayon.
The method: Moisten a cotton ball with white vinegar, being careful to avoid saturation. Gently dab the cotton ball onto the stain, but don’t rub. Let the vinegar work for a minute or two. Then blot the stain with a dry, clean cloth several times.
Baby Your Silk
Since silk is a protein fiber, it cannot withstand coming into contact with soap that has a pH of 10 or higher. Like human hair, silk fibers have a natural coating of oils that must be preserved to stay looking good. In fact, this coating helps the material to resist dirt and stains. Gentle hand washing is the best way to avoid risking damage to silk from high alkali agents and the agitator of the washing machine.
Combine 1 capful low pH castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s Aloe Vera Baby-Mild Castile Soap) in a small tub or basin full of cool or lukewarm water, swirling with your hand to distribute the soap. Place the silk garment into the water and gently dip it up and down several times (you mustn’t allow silk to soak). Rinse thoroughly in cool or lukewarm water (never hot!), but don’t wring or twist the garment. Lay the garment flat on some towels and, using your hands, press the excess water out. Then let the item hang dry.
REVIVE FADED OR YELLOWED SILK
Hand wash as described above, but add one of the following to the wash water: ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide; ¼ cup white vinegar; or 15 drops tea tree oil diluted into a ¼ cup cool water. Follow the directions above for rinsing and drying the silk garment.
Be Cool with Wool
You can hand wash wool items in the same manner as described above for silk garments, except you should gently squeeze the wool garment while washing, don’t dip. Also, do not hang wool to dry. Instead, it must be allowed to dry on a flat surface.
Sometimes, real life happens and we can’t always tend to a stain right away. Or the stain is the worst you can ask for, such as red wine, blood, or ink. But before you toss the garment out or make it into a dusting cloth, give one of these natural remedies a try. If a stain doesn’t come out the first time, it’s worth repeating the process. Whatever you do, don’t put the garment into the dryer if the stain is still visible after air-drying; doing so could make the stain permanent.
The following is a list of the most troublesome types of stains and some suggested remedies. Some of these stain problem-solvers involve herbal teas or extracts, while some call for other easy-to-use natural ingredients that you probably have on hand.
Baby formula. Anyone who has cared for an infant knows that formula, especially those that are soy-based, makes an ugly stain. But if formula stains are treated when they land on clothing, they can sometimes leave a ring after laundering. To treat them, rub a mixture of vinegar and a few drops of garlic juice into the stain. This will help to break down the protein in the formula and release it from the fabric. A little moistened meat tenderizer will do the same thing. I also discovered long ago that baby wipes — which are basically a combination of alcohol, mild cleanser, and emollients — will remove these stains beautifully if applied right away, and are safe for most fabrics. Choose the method best for the age of the stain and the type of fabric that you’re treating.
Berries. If the stain is fresh, rub a slice of lemon over it several times. If the stain is old, treat it with glycerin and wait 30 minutes. Rinse and allow to air-dry. If the stain endures, make a mixture of 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch, 2 drops eucalyptus essential oil, and 1 teaspoon glycerin. Add just enough water to make a thick paste and spread on the stain. Without rinsing, put the garment in the sun to dry. Repeat the paste application if necessary. Once the stain is gone you can launder as usual.
Blood. Immediately rinse the garment thoroughly in cool water. If necessary, let the garment soak in a solution of laundry soap and water for several hours. For light-colored fabrics, try wiping with a soft cloth moistened with hydrogen peroxide. Hang the garment in the sun and keep applying hydrogen peroxide until all traces of the stain are gone. Allow to dry and launder as usual.
Butter or margarine. Make a paste of 1 tablespoon baking soda; 2 drops lemon, lime, or orange essential oil; and water. Spread the paste on the stain and allow to dry, then wash as usual.
Candle wax. First harden the wax with ice cubes and gently peel off as much as you can. Then place the stained area between paper towels and press with a warm iron. Keep moving or replacing the paper towels to avoid transferring the candle wax back into the fabric. Continue this procedure until the paper towels no longer absorb the wax. The remaining stain should then be treated with a little glycerin on a cotton ball and laundered as usual.
Chewing gum. If chewing gum makes its way onto clothing, put the garment in a plastic bag and place in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes. The gum should pull right off. If a residue remains, soak in full-strength vinegar before washing.
Chocolate. Make a paste of borax and water and spread over the stain. Allow to dry and then launder as usual.
Coffee and tea. Immediately flush with cool water. Then soak in a borax and water solution before laundering.
Egg. Scrape off any dried material. Douse the remaining stain with a mixture of 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 3 drops sweet orange or lemon essential oil. Wash in cold water.
Grass. Soak garment in vinegar, then spread a paste of baking soda and water over the stain. Wash in hot water.
Grease. Cover the stain with a mixture of 2 teaspoons each of cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. Let this mixture stand for 30 minutes or more to absorb as much grease as possible, then wipe away. Soak the remaining stain in ½ cup vinegar, 5 drops lemon or orange essential oil or grapefruit seed extract, and ¼ cup water until the stain breaks free. If the fabric can tolerate it, wash in hot water.
Ink. Place a cloth under the fabric and dab the stain repeatedly with undiluted eucalyptus essential oil until it begins to break up. The ink will begin to transfer to the underlying cloth. Remove as much of the stain as you can with this method. Then soak the garment in a solution of equal parts of vinegar and milk before washing.
Linens. Linens can sometimes yellow if stored in a trunk or closet for a long time. The best prevention is to wrap them carefully in acid-free paper before storing. If yellowing does occur you can soak them in a tea made from 2 or 3 fresh rhubarb stalks and 3 cups boiling water. Allow the material to dry in the sun. Repeat as necessary until the stains have disappeared. You can also use 1 cup lemon juice diluted in 2 cups water in place of the rhubarb tea.
Lipstick. Gently massage the stain with white toothpaste or 3 to 4 drops of glycerin for a few minutes and blot dry. Then wipe several times with eucalyptus essential oil. Launder as usual. Repeat the eucalyptus application if the stain doesn’t come out completely after washing.
Mold and mildew. Sometimes towels are left in a duffel bag after a day at the beach, or clothes are put into storage while still damp, resulting in mold or mildew stains. Pretreat these stains with a solution of ¼ cup vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 6 drops tea tree essential oil. Launder as usual.
Mustard. Mustard contains turmeric, which yields a bright yellow dye. To break up the stain, apply some glycerin and let stand for 30 minutes.Then gently massage some laundry soap (liquid or powder) into the stain and wash as usual.
Nail polish. First try blotting the stain with rubbing alcohol. If this doesn’t work, test some nail polish remover in an inconspicuous place on the garment. If the test area of the fabric isn’t damaged, proceed to the stain. Note: Organic nail polish removers are available at health food stores that carry natural cosmetics.
Oil. Carefully blot up excess oil from the garment, then follow the treatment recommended for grease stains.
Paint. Success depends on the type of paint involved. Latex paint is easily removed by rinsing in hot soapy water. Oil-based paint is another matter, and your best chance is to act immediately. Rub the stain with rubbing alcohol, then soak in a solution of equal parts hot vinegar and milk for several hours. If this doesn’t work, you may have to take the garment to a professional cleaner or accept the fact that it’s now a dust cloth.
Pencil. Pencil marks may seem innocent, but they can persist after washing. The cure is simple: Rub them off with an eraser before washing.
Rust. Make a paste of lemon juice and salt. Let the paste sit on the stain for several minutes and then pour boiling water over the stain. Or, boil the garment in 1 tablespoon cream of tartar and 1 quart of water. An old-fashioned but time-tested remedy for rust stains is to let the fabric soak in a cooled infusion made from 2 to 3 fresh rhubarb stalks and 3 cups boiling water.
Salad dressing. Soak in a solution of ½ cup vinegar, ½ cup lemon juice, and 6 to 8 drops of sweet orange, eucalyptus, or tea tree essential oil for 30 minutes. Then launder as usual, in hot water if the fabric permits it.
Scorch marks. For light-colored fabrics, test a small area with hydrogen peroxide. If no damage occurs, treat the stain by dabbing on hydrogen peroxide, then hang the garment in direct sunlight. Keep the stain moistened with additional hydrogen peroxide until the scorch marks fade. For darker clothing, coat the stain with glycerin and allow to rest overnight. Then wash as usual. If any residue from the glycerin remains after washing, it can be removed by rubbing with liquid castile soap and rinsing thoroughly.
Shoe polish. Water or any other wet treatment will cause this stain to spread. Instead, blot the stain with glycerin on a soft, clean cloth to loosen it from the garment’s fibers, then launder as usual.
Tar. Fresh tar can be countered by first scraping off surface pieces with a warm butter knife. Dried tar should first be treated with glycerin or olive oil to soften it. Then place the garment over several folded paper towels and pour on 2 or 3 drops of eucalyptus essential oil. The paper towels will absorb the dissolving tar underneath, so replace them as needed. Keep working with the knife during this process to scrape off the lifting tar. Repeat this process until the tar has been removed.
Urine. Soak the material in a solution of 1 cup vinegar, 5 drops lavender essential oil, and, if the fabric can tolerate it, 1 cup very hot water for 30 minutes. Then wash as usual.
Wine. Rinse in cool water right away, then follow the procedure for removing berry stains.
Vinegar is the fabric softener of choice for many reasons. Not only is it nontoxic, it also removes soap residue in the rinse cycle and helps to prevent static cling in the dryer. The fun part is in using different scented vinegars. Essential oils can produce a fresh, clean, floral, woodsy, or spicy effect — use whatever fragrance suits your fancy.
Adding one or two cups of vinegar to the rinse cycle is fine for whites, but more than that can cause some dyes to run, especially from rayon fabrics. Keep the color and fabric in mind when using these formulas.
Lavender Fabric Softener
Formulas don’t get much easier than this one, which is both fragrant and effective.
1 gallon vinegar
20 drops lavender essential oil
Add the lavender essential oil to the vinegar right in the container and you’ve got instant fabric softener! Shake well before using. For a large load, add 1 cup during the rinse cycle; use ½ cup during the rinse cycle for smaller loads.
Orange Glow Fabric Softener
White vinegar softens hard water and reduces static cling. The addition of sweet orange essential oil provides a fresh, clean scent.
8 cups water
6 cups white vinegar
1 cup baking soda
25 drops sweet orange essential oil
Combine all ingredients in a large plastic jug. Shake well before adding ½ cup to the rinse cycle.
Minty-Fresh Fabric Softener
This formula helps remove tough odors from clothing.
1 gallon vinegar
10 drops peppermint essential oil
Combine ingredients in a heavy-duty plastic container. Add 1 cup to the rinse cycle for each load.
Lemony Fabric Softener
There’s nothing like the smell of lemons to suggest freshness.
6 cups vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup baking soda
15 drops lemon or lemongrass essential oil
Combine all ingredients in a heavy-duty plastic container. Add 1 cup to the rinse cycle for each load for truly lemon-fresh clothes.
This idea is clever and simple — natural dryer sheets can be made from a scrap of cotton cloth and 3 to 5 drops of your favorite essential oil. Using more may actually soil your newly washed laundry. Here are some interesting combinations you could try:
Cedar and patchouli for a masculine, woodsy scent
Rosemary and thyme for an earthy scent
Geranium and neroli (orange blossom) for a floral scent
Peppermint and eucalyptus for cold sufferers
Jasmine and ylang ylang for a romantic scent
Sweet orange and lemon for a refreshing scent
Chamomile and hyssop for a relaxing effect (helps insomnia!)
Cut a scrap of cotton cloth into a small square (about 4 inches), and add 3 to 5 drops of your favorite essential oil. Toss into the dryer with the rest of the laundry. You can use the same cloth two or three times, each time refreshing it with 3 more drops essential oil. After that, wash the cloth and it’s ready to be used again.
Natural Moth Repellents
When it comes time to store your wool sweaters and coats, you’ll want to keep moths away so you’ll find your garments in one piece the following season. Aside from the terrible smell that regular mothballs give off (which seeps into clothing), they contain paradichlorobenzene, which is very toxic. The following alternatives are safe and just as effective.
Tuck away sachets of cedar chips with your wool items.
If storing your items in a trunk or other container, place a tea towel or a sheet of tissue paper that has been sprinkled with several drops of lavender and rosemary essential oils on top.
If your clothing will be hanging, also hang a few whole, dried lemon peels in the closet where the clothing will be stored.
Lavender Linen Drawer Liners
Keeping lingerie and clothing fresh couldn’t be easier with this fragrant idea. When the lavender flowers have lost their scent, simply open the fabric pocket and replace the flower buds with fresh ones.
1 cup dried lavender flowers
cotton or linen fabric to line drawers
Velcro (the kind with the sticky backing)
1. Cut two pieces of fabric of equal size that will fit snugly on the inside of the drawer you wish to line. Press the sticky backed Velcro around the edge of each piece of fabric so that the pieces will stick to each other when pressed together.
2. Spread the dried lavender flowers in an even layer on one piece of the fabric with the Velcro facing up. Place the other precut fabric on top, Velcro facing down. Press down on the fabric to form a pocket and seal from the Velcro edging.
Geranium Gift Wrap Closet Liners
Make use of leftover gift wrap and keep towels and linens smelling sweet at the same time. You can also use this lining in bathroom drawers, or kitchen cupboards and pantries.
geranium essential oil
Measure the shelf or drawer that you’ll be lining so you can cut the gift wrap to the right size. After cutting, smooth out the gift wrap on a table, printed side down. Moisten a cotton ball with 5–6 drops of the geranium essential oil and rub it lengthwise across the paper. Line the closet shelf (or drawer) with the scented gift wrap, scented side down. Note: To keep the lining from slipping, use a staple gun to secure the corner edges to the shelf. This makes removal of the liner much easier than using tape or glue.
Here’s a quick alternative to the commercial, chemical-laden starches.
1 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 drops of essential oil of choice (for light colors, use a clear oil like tea tree)
½ cup cooled black tea (for dark colors only)
Combine all ingredients in a plastic spray bottle. Shake well before each use. Lightly spray the garment and iron as usual.