Removing yellow and old food stains from embroidered linens

linnea56January 18, 2011

I just bought a set of cutwork and embroidered linens, a set of 7 placements, napkins, and a runner. The placemats are heavily stained. The runner does not exactly match the rest: it looks like a rougher woven linen, whereas the other pieces look like cotton. The dealer sold them as a set, as they are similar in style. I bought the whole set mostly because the runner is the right size to use for a dresser scarf for my buffet. But the price for all was what I would have spent for the dresser scarf/runner alone, so if I can resurrect the other pieces, they would look nice on the DR table.

The fabric is white but the embroidery (mostly buttonhole stitch around all the cut edges) is olive green. Therefore regular bleach is out. They are old, but I'd say not antique or valuable: and since purchased there is no sentimental value.

I posted last year about spots on an ecru hand crocheted cloth made by my grandmother, I am waiting for spring to wash that with quilt soap.

I looked online for removing food stains, but the articles I read all required knowing what the stains were. They are more than just coffee or tea, they are all sorts of colors (ugh). A shame no one appreciated the amount of effort that went into embroidering these.


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I'm coming back to quilt soap.....and soaking for several days..
If that doesn't do it....add some oxyclean to the soak water and give it another 2 days.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 6:32PM
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Before soaking anything, test the embroidery thread to see if it's colorfast. Just dab it with a damp qtip or white cotton cloth, and see if any of the color transfers.

You could also try a soak in Biz or liquid Ivory (dish soap)with warm water.

One of the best ways I've found to remove stains from old linens is to lay them out face down on the grass on a sunny day and spray them down with the hose or mist with water.
The trick is to keep them damp. A lot of old stains that can't be removed with soaking will come out that way.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 7:34PM
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Yes! Check the thread!!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 9:28PM
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Good point! Will do. I will go test it now.

I use Biz all the time for common household laundry stains. My teen daughter is a great spiller, and she has so many delicate lacy or ultra thin knits, sometimes I hold my breath when trying Biz.

I have not heard of using liquid Ivory dish soap. It is gentler than BIZ? It's hard to get BIZ to dissolve, too.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2011 at 2:07PM
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There are many laundry detergents with enzymes...Bis is just one.
And enzymes are not bleach...they are biological agents that "eat" organic put it simply.
Linda c

    Bookmark   January 19, 2011 at 8:35PM
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You can buy Biz liquid, but it's harder to find and more expensive. I like it better than Oxyclean, simply because it smells better.

Yes, Ivory dish soap, or Ultra Ivory is very, very mild. The pH is around 7.4. Probably not quite as good (or as expensive) as Orvis paste, but definitely more gentle on old fragile linens than regular laundry detergent. Regular detergent contains enzymes, sudsing agents, optical brighteners, excessive fragrance, colorants, etc. etc. All well and good for your underpants and jeans, but not so great for vintage textiles.

If the linens were mine, I would first check for colorfastness, then wash with Ivory or whatever mild soap you chose. If it's still stained, give it a soak for a few days in Biz or Oxy, changing the water when it gets dirty. If the stain remained after that, I'd lay it (damp) face down in the sun. This is a very old method of stain removal called "crofting." Check it frequently to make sure that it's staying damp, that the stain is disappearing, and that any colored areas aren't fading.

Always wash gently by hand, no rubbing or twisting the fabric, rinse until the water is perfectly clear, and lay flat to dry. Never use chlorine bleach.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 1:55AM
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Thank you very much!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 10:16AM
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Oxy clean and biz or other enzyme detergents perform different tasks. biz won't do a thing for a stain that is dye based, like fruit or coffee or tea, but will work on gravy and blood. Sudsing agents, optical brighteners are not harmful to your old fabrics....but the things that raise the Ph are...the things that make the solution more alkaline, are harmful
That's why since you don't know what the stains are, you need to use different things to remove them.
Andw hile they may be lovely....they are not something sentimantal in nature, like a quilt made by your you can be less gentle.
Linda C

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 10:52AM
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I have an antique linen tablecloth that has candle wax on it. I have asked here before how to remove it. I tried the hot iron but it didn't work. The stains are in the fibers. Would Biz or Oxyclean work?

A friend uses Dawn dishwashing liquid for stains and it works very well. I don't think it would work on my tablecloth, but it might work on the linens you bought.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 11:20AM
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I have soaked old tablecloths in warm water and oxyclean for several days and they stains came right out.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 5:13PM
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Blueheron, is there any wax still on the fabric, or is it just a colored stain? Carbona makes a liquid stain remover specifically for wax and crayon, so you might try that. You could also try a bit of Goo Gone. If there's still a stain, and the fabric is white or ivory, you could try soaking just the stained area with RIT color remover.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 12:46AM
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I can't tell if it's wax or stain, I think the latter. I bought something called Krud Kutter which was supposed to take out grease, grime, oil, tar and wax. Didn't work.

I tried Goo Gone, too, and didn't have any luck. I called a shop that rents tablecloths, etc. for occasions and they suggested the iron treatment, also. The lady says they always get the wax out. I guess I'll try the iron again.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 3:40PM
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Fels Naptha has gotten out many old stains for me....Its in a bar form at the grocery store.Always worth a try, very inexpensive too...

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 7:25PM
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Yes, I remember Fels Naptha soap. I didn't know they still sold it!

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 7:36PM
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Looooove Fels Naptha!! I managed to get an old set in grease stain out of one of DH's shirts with that. It does a great job on ring around the collar, too. Any sort of oil or grease based stain, I'd sure give it a try. I used to see it everywhere, but I've moved to a small town, and the only place I can find it locally is at ACE hardware.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 8:01PM
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At my local antique shop, the owner told me his trick for linens was to soak them in Mane & Tail horse shampoo. It is available in the drugstore.
I tried it on my Great-grandmother's baby quilt. It did take 2 soaking, but it worked.


    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 6:36PM
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I have become the owner of a vintage but not antique (40's maybe?) embroidered tablecloth, looks linen but I suppose could be a cotton blend. When I took it out and opened it up fully to try it on the table, I discovered that a cat had apparently mistaken the box it came in for a litter box at some point, resulting in a 6" spot on the cloth that is actually not yellow, but is rimmed in a mold/mildewy-looking ring of blackish spotting, and which smells vaguely of cat pee.

The cloth is large and the embroidery is red (of course), and I haven't the place to hang the full cloth (or lay it flat) if I hand-wash the entire cloth in the tub. Is there anything I can use on the spot? Fortunately, it is small.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 2:06PM
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Can you wash just part of the tablecloth - the smelly part?

You can try any of the pet stain and odor removers.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 6:06PM
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best thing for cat stains that I found is Nature's Miracle. soak the area then put in laundry on delicate. check for the stain to be gone, if not, resoak the stain, and put it in a second time.

i would not use a tablecloth that had been soiled in that way on the table again unless the whole thing was properly laundered.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 9:20PM
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If you have a cloth of some value to you then be sure to rinse it well several times after washing to remove any residue of cleaning agents before storage. Do not use starches because bugs will come to eat the starch and the fibers along with them. If you have the room, roll the whole thing on a tube that has been wrapped with white cotton cloth. I use an old sheet. Wrap another piece of sheet around the whole roll to protect from dust.

If you choose to fold then refold every few months in a different place. I saw a gorgeous old cloth rotting away on the fold lines once and it made me want to cry.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 1:14PM
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If nothing works and I am ready to throw the thing out, I will try this last resort, and it usually does the trick. Soak the item in the washing machine with hot water set at the lowest level and add 1 cup of laundry detergent and 1 cup of electric dishwasher detergent. Agitate it, and then let it soak overnight. Run it in the morning.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 9:05PM
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Be very careful about using commercial bleaches and harsh chemicals on antique or vintage linens because they tend to damage the fibers and eventually cause holes. The best thing I have found for removing old stains on linens is Mama's Miracle Linen Soak. It has never failed to get out food stains, yellowing, or the brownish oxidation that comes from age. It doesn't seem to work on metallic rust stains very well, but these aren't usually the problem.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mama's Miracle Linen Soak

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 7:40PM
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I bought this set of four crocheted coasters on ebay, and all of them were horribly stained. I soaked two of them in Mama's Miracle Linen Soak, and look at the difference now! The product works, and it won't hurt even the most delicate fabrics.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mama's Miracle Linen Soak

    Bookmark   September 5, 2014 at 10:55PM
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