The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
The story of snow white and the summer sunshine
As I write this, it’s early morning and frost glitters on the roof tiles in front of my study window. Only the other week, I was gardening in a T-shirt. The weather recently may have veered between unseasonably warm to perishingly cold, from my pelargoniums practically walking themselves out of their winter quarters in the kitchen and on to the sunny terrace, to my worrying they would be rendered brittle by frost in the morning, but what it has certainly and consistently been is bright. With the sun out, it leaves little to the imagination and nowhere to hide. Curtains look dingier, clothes greyer and those marks on the carpet from winter shoes can no longer be ignored. So today I am writing about how to rescue white clothes and furnishing towards which the spring sunshine is ruthlessly unforgiving.
CARPETS AND RUGS
God bless you for your optimism in choosing white carpets and believing you could simultaneously live a rich, fulfilling life without being condemned forever to wander the halls of your home with a tool belt filled with stain removers strapped permanently to your body. But here we are.
First, remove any fresh, wet stains or residue by scraping up and blotting with a wad of kitchen paper, then vacuum, vacuum, vacuum.
For spot stains, use a carpet stain remover such as Vanish Carpet Care foam shampoo, about £6 for 600ml, available from supermarkets or online. Whatever you use, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but as a general principle work from the outside of the stain in, limit how wet you get the carpet as much as possible, and bear in mind you may need to repeat the process. Most importantly, use white cleaning cloths so there’s no colour transfer from cloth to carpet, and blot the stain to dry it. Rubbing will ruin the pile.
Once you’re done, you might have one beautifully clean spot and the rest looks a bit dirty. In which case, get the carpet professionally cleaned if you feel comfortable having people in the house, or hire a machine and do it yourself. You can arrange to collect a Rug Doctor machine from supermarkets or DIY stores from £29.99 for 48 hours, or have one delivered for a fee; rugdoctor.co.uk.
Over the winter, white bed linen and table linen can become greyish because we dry them inside
These suck up dust, particularly if you live on a busy road. Clean them in the washing machine, using a delicates wash. If you put them in mesh bags or pillow cases, it will protect delicate fabrics and finishes. Or wash them by hand, in a bowl of just-warm water with a glug of detergent. Leave them to soak for 15 minutes then gently squeeze them to get the dirt out – don’t wring or pummel or you could damage the fabric. Rinse very well, then lay them out on a large towel, roll them up like a cigar and gently squeeze them to get rid of as much water as possible. Never tumble-dry net curtains, simply line-dry them or hang them up while they are still damp to dry on the windows – perhaps put a towel on the floor first, and clean the window if you can before you rehang them. If you’ve done all this and they’re still not sparkling white, try Dylon Curtain Whitener, designed for nets, voiles and muslin, three sachets for about £3.50 from supermarkets or online
Over the winter, white bed linen and table linen can become greyish because we either dry them on an airer inside or tumble-dry them. As soon as the weather improves, line-drying in the sunshine is the very best thing for bleaching linens back to their pristine state, with the added bonus of imbuing them with that wonderful fresh-air smell, which is a hundred times more delicious than even the most expensive linen sprays.
When it comes to washing, I know this seems counterintuitive, but don’t use bleach. Chlorine bleach reacts with protein stains such as sweat, bodily oils, blood and the rest to create yellowish marks, which is obviously not what you want. Either wash on the hottest possible setting with a scoop of stain remover such as Vanish Gold Whitener and Stain Remover, £4 for 750ml gel or £9 for 1kg powder from supermarkets, or some Dri-Pak Borax Substitute, £1.50 also from supermarkets; dri-pak.co.uk.
If your whites are particularly dingy, soak them in the bath in warm water to which you have added either of the stain removers mentioned here for up to six hours before running them through a hot wash.
If your white linen and cotton clothes are looking exhausted, you can revive them using the same instructions I have given for linens, though check care labels and don’t try these methods on pieces that have coloured embroidery or other embellishments. Sometimes you run into specific stains that could do with some extra help, such as grass stains, rust marks, pollen, ketchup and mildew. Here I could suggest all manner of laundry witchcraft specific to each kind of stain, but honestly, left to my own devices in the privacy of my own basement, I usually just start with either neat washing-up liquid or stain remover worked gently into the mark with an old toothbrush and then left for an hour before running them through the machine and line-drying. Do email me if you want the full witchcraft remedy for specific stains if this isn’t successful for you, but nine and a half times out of 10 it works brilliantly.