How to Remove Dirt Stains

Useful advice, whether or not you just won the French Open.
Photo: Getty Images

Red Clay Gives You Wiiiiings

The big question on the minds of most French Open fans these days: How does Rafa do it?

The question we’re obsessing over: How the hell do they manage to get the clay stains out of those tennis whites?

For a little insight into the second quandary, we turned to John Mahdessian, owner of Madame Paulette, whose family has been cleaning Manhattan’s delicates for over fifty years. For Madhessian, stain fighting is all about hitting a blistering return. “The best action is a quick reaction,” he says. So get some ice water on the stain—never use hot or warm water, which can help set a stain—disperse the stain and buy you some time until it starts setting in.

The next step is to get the right solution on the stain. Madhessian recommends four parts water (4 oz.), one-part ammonia (1 oz.), one-part peroxide (1 oz.) and one-part color-safe detergent, like Ivory Liquid (1 oz.). (Note: if you’re actually planning on playing the French, you may want to concoct this stuff in advance). Just to be safe, Madhessian recommends you “test the solution on a hidden seam or somewhere to make sure that the fabric can handle the removal.”

Then place the stained item on top of a clean towel, and dip a cloth (or Q-Tip, depending on the size of the stain) into the solution and gently tap—don’t rub—the stain, pushing it out and into the towel. As the stain comes out, rotate the towel so that your fabric is always in contact with a clean portion, you don’t want to push the stain out from one side of the fabric only to have it adhere to the other. Launder normally after.

And while it may be tempting to just use one of those detergent wipes and forget about it, Madhessian points out that they just bleach out the color of the stain, often leaving a residue behind. Stains are like a slice of apple or a glass of wine: leave them exposed to air and they will oxidize, setting the stain into the fabric and thus making it a lot more difficult to remove later. Of course, when in doubt, you could always take your muddied up duds to a professional like Madhessian—or consider taking up golf.

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