3 Easy Ways to Remove the Most Perplexing Stains

Expert solutions for tackling some of the most stubborn spots. 

red-wine-stain-antidote
Photo by Craig Cutler

You can remove grass stains from the kids' pants and red wine from your beige carpet like a pro. But what about those more obscure stains? Armed with these expert tips, you'll be able to defeat just about any trouble spot.



"A pen leaked inside my purse!" — C.L., via e-mail

THE FIX: For any type of lining, apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to the stain with cheesecloth, says Tony Pecorella, a co-owner of Modern Leather Goods, a New York City leather-repair shop. Rub the stain until you no longer see progress. Chances are, you'll be left with a faded blotch. If you can't bear to live with this or aren't willing to part with the purse, you'll have to send it to a pro for relining. (Try modernleathergoods.com.) Be warned: This may cost $150 or more.

"I spilled wine on cherished photos!" — Liza G., via e-mail

THE FIX: You'll need a pro, whether you're dealing with Pinot or pineapple juice, an old stain or a fresh one. (Advice on fresh stains: Don't touch the surface; just shake the liquid off.) You can find a skilled photo conservator through conservation-us.org (click on Find a Conservator, then type in your ZIP code), says Monique C. Fischer, a senior photograph conservator for the Northeast Document Conservation Center, in Andover, Massachusetts. Expect to pay $100 to $250 an hour. Simple jobs can take one hour, while complex ones (like old, large stains) may call for a few hours of washing, which involves cleaning the photo with a special solvent, says Lisa Duncan, a paper and photograph conservator in Seattle. As a cheaper alternative, a digital restoration service can make a computer-generated version. Keep in mind that some details may not match the original exactly. American Photo Restoration charges $39 for both a print and a digital image of your restored picture.

"I left my patent-leather purse in a yellow plastic bag, and the color rubbed off on it." — Adrienne, via e-mail

THE FIX: For any stains on patent leather, whether you're dealing with a bag or a shoe, dab white vinegar onto cheesecloth and gently rub the stain, says Chris Moore, the owner of Artbag, a handbag-repair shop in New York City. The blemish should vanish instantly. If it doesn't, dip a cotton swab in acetone-based nail-polish remover and lightly run it over the mark, says David Mesquita, the vice president of Leather Spa, a New York City leather-repair shop. (Spot-test first in an inconspicuous area.) To prevent dye transfer in the future, store patent leather away from colored plastic or cotton bags. (Polyester or rayon bags are fine.) And keep hand-bags separated; leaning one against another can also cause discoloration.

Have your own tricky dilemma? Submit your practical conundrums to the Real Simple Editors at realsimple.com. Selected questions will be answered on the website.