Out, Damned Spot! UC Davis Studies Most Effective Wine-Stain Removers

In a comparison of eight different cleaning methods, a home remedy proves more effective than some commercial products.
Jan 16, 2002

Whether your cellar is stacked with 1982 Bordeaux or you seek out the $6.99 specials at the corner wine shop, you share a common problem with every wine drinker: red-wine stains.

Oh, the carpet and tablecloths, shirts and skirts that have been ruined! But there's no reason to go through life wearing only black and maroon. A new study done at the University of California, Davis, has shed light on the best way to deal with tricky wine stains. Some of the results are predictable, others weren't.

The study compared the effectiveness of eight different cleaners, from commercial wine-stain removal products to folklore remedies such as white wine and salt. The cleaners were tested on four common fabrics -- cotton, a polyester-cotton blend, nylon and silk -- and to better replicate the haphazard way we deal with stains, the cleaners were applied at two different time intervals: two minutes after the spill and 24 hours later. About three hours after being treated, the fabrics were washed in cold water and then dried. Afterward, a high-tech device called a Minolta Colorimeter was used to obtain a precise measurement of residual stain. Each test was done three times.

Silk, it comes as no shock, was the hardest fabric to clean; none of the cleaners were altogether effective at removing wine stains from it. Cotton was the easiest.

Some cleaners worked better on particular fabrics, but perhaps the biggest surprise was how ineffective many of the cleaners were, often producing results the same as, or even worse than, the laundered-only control fabrics. Commercial wine-stain removal products were repeatedly listed among the least effective treatments, and treating stains with white wine or salt likewise seems to be an exercise in futility.

The best overall cleaner proved to be a blend of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and Dawn liquid soap.

"That's very effective," said Andrew Waterhouse, the professor of enology who supervised the project. Natalie Ramirez, a local high-school student working as an intern at UC Davis, carried out the research. "Peroxide is a bleaching agent, and the dyes in red wine are very susceptible to bleach."

Although the peroxide-Dawn blend didn't damage any of the colored fabrics during the study, Waterhouse advised testing it first on an inconspicuous spot.

Nearly as potent against stains was a product called Erado-sol. Camco, a Florida-based company, sells the stain remover mostly to labs and health-care companies, but it is available to consumers through the Internet.

The study also found:

o Soaking a stain in white wine was effective only on nylon. On the other fabrics, white wine was no better than simple laundering, and in some cases it actually made the stain worse.

o The only effective stain-removal method with silk was Erado-sol, which left a very slight stain.

o Treatments that were most effective on the 2-minute stains were usually the best solution for the 24-hour stains.

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