Here’s how to undo kids’ messes and stains
Spills, other mishaps are inevitable, but they needn’t ruin your home, clothes or day
Lydia Fenet does it all. She works full time at Christie’s auction house, just wrote her first book and has three kids under the age of 6. She gracefully moves from the boardroom to the playroom, solving problems and cleaning up messes with a calm, can-do attitude.
So when she recently found her 2-year-old daughter pouring a bottle of green nail polish onto a cream-colored carpet, she did not yell, but did what most people do: She frantically channeled her energy into rubbing it with stain remover.
When the stain did not come out, she flipped the carpet around, hiding the damaged portion under her daughter’s bed. On another occasion, her son’s container of sparkly purple slime cracked open and sat overnight, drying on her living room rug.
“I am terrible in these situations because even though I know what I am doing is wrong, I do it anyway,” she said. “In the case of purple slime, I immediately dumped a ton of water on it, which, I learned after calling a professional rug cleaner, is exactly what you don’t want to do.”
I wish I had met Fenet before these incidents. As a longtime magazine editor and mother of two, I’ve learned a lot about cleaning. Here are some of my best solutions for clothes, fabrics, walls and carpets — the spots where kids tend to make the biggest messes.
Treat stains as soon as possible. Don’t follow your kid around with a Clorox pen, but the sooner you pretreat a stain with a stain remover such as Shout or OxiClean, the better chance you have of removing it.
Never rub a stain. Blot or dab it using clean white towels or paper towels. Rubbing a stain will work it deeper into the fibers. When dabbing, rotate to a clean side of the towel as you blot so you don’t spread the stain.
Always wash a stained item in the hottest water the fabric will allow. Hot water will loosen and remove dirt.
Check to see if a stain has disappeared before you put it in the dryer. Dry heat will “bake” the stain into the fibers. If you have a stubborn stain that doesn’t come out after one wash, treat it again with a stain remover and rewash.
When using harsh chemicals such as nail polish remover or hair spray to remove a stain, try it on a hidden area first; it may damage the color of the fibers. Protein-based stains: Formula, milk, diaper accidents, blood — all of these are protein-based stains, so the first thing you want to do is soak the item in cold water for about 20 minutes to loosen the stain (if you soak in hot water, you risk baking in the stain). Remove the item from the water and treat the stain with a dab of an enzyme-based detergent such as
Biz, Era Plus, Wisk or Axion, and let it sit for 30 minutes. If the stain persists, dab it with some diluted white vinegar or diluted ammonia to lighten the stain. Machine wash.
Urine: For clothing, rinse in cold water, then wash in a normal cycle. For mattresses, first blot the area with towels. In a spray bottle, combine one part white vinegar to two parts water. Spray the mixture over the affected area, then blot with towels. Cover the area in baking soda and let it sit for eight to 10 hours. Vacuum the baking soda, then allow it to dry completely.
Colorful foods: Sweet potatoes, berries, juice, ketchup and mustard — you can remove most of these stains by pretreating them with a stain remover, then washing with detergent in hot water (if the item can withstand the heat). After washing, if the stain persists, dab it with some diluted white vinegar or diluted ammonia to lighten the stain. Machine wash.
Crayon: For stains on clothing, place the item stain-side down on a clean white cloth or paper towels. Spray with WD-40 or Goo Gone and let sit for several minutes. Turn it over and apply WD-40 to the other side of the stain and let sit for several more minutes. Dab the stain on both sides with dishwashing detergent and wash in hot water. Remove crayon from painted or wallpapered walls with a dry sponge or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
Acrylic or water-based paint: Dab off as much as you can with a paper towel. Sponge on a solution of liquid laundry detergent and warm water to soften the paint. Scrape off as much paint as you can with a dull knife. Rinse and repeat. If the stain persists, apply hair spray, rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover to the spot, and allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Blot with dry cloths. Repeat until the stain is gone. For clothing, machine wash. For carpets, run a steam vacuum over the spot, or flush it with cold water and blot until most of the moisture is removed.
Play-Doh: Do not use hot water or cleaning solutions. Allow PlayDoh to dry completely, loosen it with a stiff brush, then vacuum it up. If necessary, dab with a gentle soap and cold water.
Slime: To remove slime, first remove as much as you can with your hands. Mix two parts white vinegar with one part water in a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on the slime and allow it to soak, then blot with paper towels or a clean white cloth. Keep spraying and blotting until the slime is gone.
Nail polish: Use paper towels or a clean towel to dab up as much of the wet nail polish as possible. Then spray a small amount of non-acetone nail polish remover on the stain (you can use an acetone variety, but test it on a hidden area because it can damage your rug). Dab the area with paper towels until the stain is lifted. Rinse with cold water and mild soap.
Elizabeth Mayhew is a freelance writer.