For many of our Who What Wear readers, summer style can be whittled down to one word: dresses. From our try-on of the season's best to the biggest trends of the year, not to mention the frocks we're seeing everywhere right now, dresses are all that's on our minds. One of the biggest reasons? Weddings, of course. The nuptial season starts around April and gets busier and busier right through until the middle of September. In a single year, you might end up having six to attend, if not more.
This means one thing: Your favourite dresses will be getting serious use. As you probably only have only a couple of extra-special ones, you need to take care of your dresses. However, there's no denying that rich, oily foods combined with plenty of booze are a spillage situation waiting to happen. I'm the first to admit I've managed to smudge brie on my favourite wedding-guest dress while hastily making my way back to the dance floor. But there's no good in not enjoying yourself for the sake of an oil stain or three. Instead, you need to know how to repair your dress once it's happened.
I spoke to Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, founders of chic cleaning label The Laundress, who advised me on how to get stains out without ruining my favourite frock. From how to prevent stains in the first place to what to do if the stain doesn't come out, take a look at this easy seven-step guide on how to get rid of oil stains. So sip that prosecco, have an extra slice of pork pie and dance the night away.
1. DON'T PANIC—WAIT
You might want to start working away at that stain immediately, but Gwen recommends that you wait: "Whether you're out or at home—don't panic. Wait until you have the proper products, tools and time to treat the affected area. Frantic attempts can end up making more messes, leaving you with traces of paper lint on the item and an even larger stain. Instead, carry on, confident in your ability to safely and effectively remove that stain.
"We created the travel-friendly Wash & Stain Bar especially for treating oil-based stains such as salad dressing, sunscreen and ring around the collar. When you come across a frightening grease on your dress, run the bar under warm water and work a lather directly into the stain. You can then blot-dry with a lint-free cloth or wash the item as normal."
And the number one thing you shouldn't do when faced with an oil stain? "Step away from chlorine bleach!" says Gwen. "Chlorine bleach weakens fabrics and can cause yellowing over time."
If your item is washable at home rather than dry-clean only, Lindsey recommends pretreating stains sooner rather than later. For colour-rich tannin stains such as wine, coffee, pen ink and pit stains, you want to use a detergent similar to something like the Stain Solution. For greasier problems, the Wash & Stain Bar is ideal for oil-based stains such as salad dressing, grease, makeup and a ring around the collar.
If you want to pretreat the material, Lindsey recommends being mindful of the substances you're using. "Use sprays at your own risk! There are many variables, including efficacy and toxicity surrounding fabric protector sprays." She suggests that it's best to choose fabrics that work with your lifestyle and are easier to maintain: "For example, cotton and linen are some of the most washable fabrics, and natural fibres such as wool, cashmere and silk are also washable."
3. POUR WATER ON AFFECTED AREA
Once you've done the pre-treating, you want to pour water on the area. Be careful not to just put any temperature on it, as there are strict rules for what kind of water you want to use on which type of materials. "Use hot water for cotton and linen fabrics and cold water for silk and wool," advises Gwen. "Then soak up to 30 minutes. If the stain isn't completely gone, repeat this process until satisfied before properly washing by machine or by hand."
4. HANDWASH ITEMS
You can then put your dress through the washing machine (provided it's machine-washable, of course), however, it will probably last longer if you hand wash and it's the safest method if you're washing silk, wool or cashmere. That said, "cotton and durable synthetics can easily be machine washed on the normal cycle with warm or hot water," says Lindsey.
5. NEVER TUMBLE-DRY—ALWAYS LAY FLAT
You probably know that tumble drying is not only bad for the environment but it's also going to ruin your favourite dress—especially if it's a delicate material. "It's the most damaging for many garments. The high heat and tumble of the dryer can cause fabrics to weaken, shrink, or fade," says Lindsey. "Never put silk and wool in the dryer. Line-dry and or lay flat to dry in its natural shape to preserve fibres while also saving energy."
6. DON'T IRON IF THE STAIN HASN'T GONE
It probably goes without saying, but if the stain hasn't come out yet, don't iron the dress (even if you're desperate to wear it), as it will further cement the stain. Gwen confirms this: "Do not iron or machine-dry an item that's still stained—the high heat can set the stain in further, making it more difficult to remove. Always be sure the stain is 100% removed before ironing."
7. REPEAT ABOVE STEPS IF UNABLE TO REMOVE STAIN FIRST TIME
All is not lost if there's still a stain after doing all the above steps. "Set-in stains may require you to repeat the stain-removal process for desired results," reveals Lindsey. "So don't worry if you still see a blemish after the first try. For added cleaning power, put the affected area under the tap and let the pressure of the hot water help work the stain. For treating wool and silk items, use cool water."
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