Quick Fixes for the Worst Holiday Stains

Whether the culprit is chocolate or red wine, if your family is like mine, part of your holiday feast will land on someone's clothing, the couch or the floor. Some of the remedies I recommend are store-bought products. Some are tried and true home solutions that are just as good -- and sometimes better. These quick fixes will help ensure that common stains won't interfere with your holiday fun. Here are the top offenders:

Grease stains - When the feasting has left a greasy stain on your laundry, an old and effective trick is to rub in some Crisco (because grease removes grease), then launder. Or choose a prewash treatment and stain remover that's specifically designed to remove oily or greasy stains. One that contains solvents or grease or soil-release agents will be more effective than a detergent-based product. It's not always easy to tell -- even from the label. Generally, the ones with a pump dispenser are more likely to be detergent based and the sprays are more likely to be solvents.

Water rings on wood - When you're hosting a holiday party, you're likely to find a white stain on the furniture left by glass that's "sweated" on the wood. Use a combination treatment involving an abrasive and a lubricant. For example, use an auto-polishing compound, which combines both abrasive and lubricant. Or use a very fine steel wool (not the soap pad, but steel wool from the hardware store) dipped in paste wax. Rub with a soft cloth until spot matches surface, then buff and polish. If necessary, cover the spot with a color-wax stick or wood stain.

Candle wax on metal - If you dread the cleanup of the menorah at Hanukkah time, here's a tip: Spray it with no-stick cooking spray when you light each candle. The wax won't adhere and the menorah will wipe off in a jiffy. (Note: The same trick applies to a metal candlestick.)

Red wine - Red wine spilled on the carpet? First blot, blot, blot, blot, blot. (That's the best remedy for any spill). Then use a little white wine. Or sprinkle some salt on the area and leave it until it's absorbed the stain. Once it has dried, vacuum it up.

Silver tarnish - This quick cleaning method will clean up your entire silver service in a jiffy. Put a small square (about 5") of aluminum foil and water into a nonaluminum pan. For each quart of water, add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda. Bring to a boil. Drop in the silver and boil for two or three minutes (or until tarnish is gone). Remove silver with tongs, wash in hot sudsy water rinse and dry. Cons: It removes all oxidation, so some purists find it makes the pattern dull. Pros: It works fast!

Chocolate - Should the kids get chocolate stains on their clothing, take the item to the dry cleaner if it's not washable. If it is, treat the area with warm sudsy water, blot, and then apply a mixture of one part ammonia and three parts warm water, and blot again. If that doesn't work, rinse it thoroughly and try a dry cleaning solvent such as Carbona stain remover or Energine (grocery store items that are worth keeping on hand during the holidays). Apply the stain remover on the reverse side of the stain (putting the stain side down on an absorbent towel). Test the solution first in an inconspicuous spot, as it may affect color. Blot it away. Then launder as usual.

Christmas tree sap - If Christmas tree sap gets on clothing, rub it with an ice cube. Then gently scrape off any excess sap. Sponge the stain with dry-cleaning fluid such as Carbona Stain Remover and let the area air-dry. Rub with detergent and launder as usual. If stains persist, apply a few drops of household ammonia and air dry. Launder in the hottest water that is safe for that fabric. Or saturate the spot with a pretreatment stain remover such as Shout It Out. Wait a few minutes and then rub the stain with a heavy-duty laundry detergent and machine-wash it.

Cranberry - The magic solution for cranberry (or any berry) stains requires a helper. Have someone hold the stained fabric taut over a bowl while you pour boiling water over the area. The secret to this stain remover is to hold the kettle about a foot above the stain. The force of the water from this distance and the heat of the water seem to be the reason this trick eliminates stains instantly.

Candle wax - Candle wax that has dripped onto any surface can be cleaned off quickly with a blow dryer. Turn the blow dryer to medium, wave it back and forth over the spot, then blot away the drips. Another option is to dip the item in very hot water, so the wax will float out.

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