The turkey is in the oven, the guests are at the door, and—oh no!—there’s a cranberry-sauce spill on your white tablecloth. Keep these quick fixes and post-party formulas handy to bring clothing, upholstery, and linens back to life.

By Tamara Kraus
Updated October 24, 2018
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Holiday celebration
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Picture this: Your spirits are merry and bright at a holiday party, and all of a sudden, a red wine spill lands onto your fresh, white blouse and instantly kills the mood. But wait, the material is dry-clean only—is there a fast solution or do you need to wait until you can go to the dry cleaners (hint: Don’t do a thing and leave it to the professionals)? Or what to do when candle wax drips onto a cloth napkin—do you clean up right away or let it dry first? With these brilliant now and later solutions (so smart, you might think they’re magic) in your back pocket, there’s no reason to fret next time these inevitable stains make an uninvited appearance on your clothes, upholstered furniture, or tablecloth during your winter festivities. Below, cleaning experts gave us the inside scoop on salvaging just about every material in your home when life’s little messes happen.

RELATED: How to Remove Stains in One Easy Chart

The Stain: Cranberry Sauce

The first rule with sticky spots is to avoid spreading the stain around, so scoop up pieces of cranberry with a spoon. Use a pretreater pen or try this simple solution: Dab the area gently with a cloth dipped in club soda; the bubbles will help break the bond between the surface and the stain. Alternatively, use cool water and dish soap. Note: If the material is dry-clean-only, step away from the pretreater pen and send the item straight to the cleaner, as the pen could leave a permanent mark.

For a spill on a cushion, mix one teaspoon of white vinegar with a quarter cup of rubbing alcohol and sponge onto the stain. The alcohol helps break down the stain, and the vinegar makes it easier to remove. Let the solution sit for 15 minutes, then blot dry with a clean cloth. If the cranberry is on machine-washable fabric, apply a mixture of one teaspoon dish soap and one tablespoon rubbing alcohol. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then wash on the coldest setting. Make sure the stain is gone before throwing the item into the dryer, since heat will set the stain for good.

The Stain: Dairy

This protein-based stain may start to smell as it dries, so tackle it immediately. If the item is machine washable, first absorb residue with a cloth, apply a dab of dishwashing liquid, and flush with warm water. Repeat as needed until you can toss the item into the wash for a more thorough clean. For upholstery and household fabrics, blot up as much milk or yogurt as possible until you can address the stain further.

For upholstery, sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch onto the area and let it sit for 15 minutes. Vacuum up the powder and apply a dry-cleaning solvent (like Puracy Natural Stain Remover, $11; Let it sit overnight, then apply water, scrub with a toothbrush, and blot with a clean cloth until the stain disappears. For clothing, rinse in warm water to dilute the stain, apply a pretreater, and let it sit for 20 minutes. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to work the formula into the garment’s fibers before washing in warm water.

The Stain: Chocolate

Scrape off what you can without spreading the debris and dab the stain with a cloth dipped in club soda. If you can slip away to the bathroom, remove the garment, place a clean cloth on either side of the fabric, and blot from the inside. This will help force the stain toward the front, where it originally made contact with the fabric.

Pretreat with dish soap or laundry detergent, soak for 10 minutes, and launder in cool water. If the stain persists, apply a solution of two parts hydrogen peroxide and one part dish soap; let it sit for about an hour. Soak the garment in oxygen bleach for up to six hours, then wash again. If the stain is ground into upholstery, add a drop of dish soap to a damp towel. Gently rub in the direction of the fabric’s grain to work away the discoloration, then blot dry.

The Stain: Turkey Grease, Lipstick, or Gravy

Oil-based stains require immediate attention, so quickly dab the area with a paper towel to remove as much of the substance as possible. Sprinkle the spot with cornstarch or baby powder and let it sit for about 10 minutes to absorb the grease. Then dust off the powder over a sink or trash can. Another option: Cover the area with castile soap and work it into the stain with clean fingers. Let it sit until you can complete the cleaning process.

If the stain is small, draw over the area with chalk to absorb the grease, pretreat with a dab of liquid detergent, and launder as usual. For carpet, spray with Spot Shot Instant Carpet Stain Remover ($6 for 21 oz.;; test on a hidden area first. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes and blot clean with paper towels.

The Stain: Candle Wax

Do nothing. Let the wax dry and it will be easier to remove later.

If it fits, place the item in the freezer for a few hours. The wax should pop right off once it’s frozen solid. If the wax has melted into the fabric’s fibers, use a spot remover (try Gonzo Natural Magic Stain Remover, $7; and launder as usual. To tackle wax on an area rug or tablecloth, place the item between two paper towels. Heat an iron on low and glide it over the top; the wax will melt and transfer to the paper towel. Be careful not to leave the iron in one spot for too long, as it could burn the fibers. For carpet, set a plastic bag filled with ice on top of the wax until it hardens. Use a butter knife to scrape it up. Remove any residue with Spot Shot Instant Carpet Stain Remover.

The Stain: Mulled Wine or Red Wine

Blot to absorb what you can before you have access to a washer.

Rinse with cool water from the back of the stain to remove as much discoloration as possible. Pretreat with liquid detergent, and add one to two scoops of oxygen whitener (like Molly’s Suds Oxygen Whitener, $10; to the washing machine. If the stain seems particularly set in, wet it and rub the oxygen whitener directly onto the spot before laundering.

Our Experts

Jennifer Ahoni, Tide Senior Scientist
Linda Cobb, creator of the Queen of Clean book series
Donna Smallin Kuper, certified housecleaning technician and author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness
Melissa Maker, author of Clean My Space
Sherri Randall, Tide Principal Scientist
Becky Rapinchuk, author of Simply Clean and founder of Clean Mama