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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

For Whiter Whites, Try These Tips from a Stain Pro

A Matterhorn-like mountain of household linens glided through the house as if moving under its own volition. The dogs watched warily. My husband stepped back yielding, giving the hulking mass the clearance it commanded.

From deep inside the mound, a voice (mine) said, “I’m making our whites whiter.”

“I see,” my husband said, knowing better than to get in the middle of this, or between my trundling tower of towels and the laundry room.

I have just hung up the phone with Wayne Edelman, of Meurice Garment Care, a high-end cleaner based in New York, where he is affectionately known as the stainmaster. Edelman grew up in the family cleaning business, which his father started in 1961, the year the younger Edelman was born.

Once a neighborhood dry cleaner, the company is now a large luxury cleaning service with a high-end clientele that includes fashion houses, museums, private collectors, and couture garments for celebrities. “We clean priceless collections,” Edelman said, recalling the day Princess Di’s gowns arrived in an armored car. I quickly realized this man could change my life.

Not that I want to air my dirty laundry in public, though I pretty much do that here every week, but I will share that I confessed to this man that my whites were just not as white as they should be. I feel pretty sure this is a character flaw.

“I love that my sheets get softer and my towels more absorbent with age and washings,” I tell him. “What I don’t love is that they’ve lost their bright whiteness. I wash them as the manufacturer instructed, in cool on delicate, but they look, well, grim.” (I don’t tell him I sometimes use liquid bleach. Shhh!)

“Many people don’t understand that white is a color,” he said. “They think it’s the absence of color, and that all fabrics are white at their core. But white textiles are dyed white, and fade like any other color.”

“So, you’re saying I have unrealistic expectations,” I say. This is the story of my life, by the way.

“White is not always white underneath,” he says. I haven’t been this disillusioned since I saw the Minnie Mouse character at Disneyland take her head off.

But sometimes soil and residue are the problem, he added. The best way to brighten and restore dingy or stained white household linens is to soak them in warm water, laundry detergent and a sodium-based bleach like OxyClean overnight.

“You need ample time, temperature, and concentration,” he said. “The duration of the wash cycle matters. A longer wash will remove more soil than a short one. Although heat can shrink some material, don’t be afraid of warm water. It will keep whites whiter and increase the chances of stain removal. And don’t skimp on the soap, but don’t go overboard either or garments can get sticky.”

Encouraged, inspired, and enlightened, I hung up, and created my laundry mountain.

Here’s what else I learned from the stainmaster to the stars:

· Stains come out best the way they came in. That is, if you see lipstick, ketchup, coffee or red wine on a table linen, blot or scrap off what you can. Apply stain remover to both sides of the fabric, then push the water through from the back side.

· Know your enemy. Figure out if the stain is oil, tannin, or protein based, so you can pretreat properly. Oil-based stains include salad dressing, hamburger grease, and some cosmetics. Pretreat with stain remover, straight detergent or Dawn dish detergent, which has a strong grease cutting agent. Wash and rinse in warm-to-hot water, which, unlike cold water, will help release the grease. Dry cleaning also works well on grease stains. Tannin-based stains include fruit, wine, and grass. A general stain remover such as Shout or Spray-N-Wash works best on these as well as on protein-based stains, which include dairy and blood. The difference with protein stains is you should use cold water on these because hot water can cook in the protein.

· Check the edges. To figure out if the stain is oil-based or non-oil based, look closely at how the stain sits on the fabric. An oil-based stain will follow the fibers and look as if the edges are jagged or digitized. A non-oil-based stain will leave a ring. If you can’t tell, take a picture with your phone and enlarge it so you can see the edges, Edelman said.

· Some stains don’t show up right away. Certain clear substances, like white wine, will caramelize, and leave a sugar stain, he said. This delayed reaction explains why that napkin you thought you put away clean turned up later with yellow or brownish stains. “The napkin isn’t ruined. Pre-treat and wash.”

· Air dry when you can. Dryers are hard on clothes. Of course, you have to put towels and blankets in the dryer, and for me sheets, because I am not going to string up a clothesline, but hang or lay flat smaller items to dry, or remove them from the dryer when they are not quite dry. The last bit of drying is when shrinkage happens.

· Iron linens when damp. If the item you want to iron is dry, sprinkle or spritz it with water and iron at the recommended temperature. Don’t steam iron.

· Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets. They leave a residue on fabric. Also save the chlorine bleach for your fountains and pools. It degrades fibers.

· Find a good dry cleaner. “Garment cleaning is a hands-on craft or should be,” Edelman said. “Sure, you can go to the bang-and-hang cleaners, but if you pay a little more, you might find a place with detail-oriented workers who notice when a seam is opening or a button is missing and fix it. These places want you to leave notes on garments with masking tape next to stains letting them know what the stain is from. If a cleaner makes you feel high-maintenance for doing that, find another cleaner.

CAPTION: Whiter whites? — To keep white linens bright, don’t skimp on the washing basics, said Wayne Edelman, owner of Meurice Garment Care. Forget cold, delicate. Go for long wash cycles, warm water, plenty of detergent and a sodium-based bleach. Photo courtesy of Meurice.

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