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Quick: Name the messiest summer foods you can imagine. Did barbecue come to mind? Between their savory sauces and their often hand-held nature (drumsticks, ribs), grilled goodies can really do a number of your clothing. When it comes to barbecue stains, “Prevention is half the battle,” says Tre Mitchell Wright, expert at Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science, who reminds us that even if you’re at a backyard barbecue, your pants are not a napkin. If you do end up with residual marks from either cooking or consuming barbecue, we’ve got you covered:
If you get charcoal dust on your clothing, always get rid of the charcoal residue while the stain is still dry. Do this by brushing it off or, in a situation where a whole bag of charcoal has exploded on you, you might even try using a vacuum. Tre says the next line of defense is to make a paste with a powder detergent and a little bit of water and apply it to the stain (a powder detergent is always a better bet for a particulate stain, which is a stain made up of tiny particles like charcoal). Work the paste into the stain and then launder the garment using the warmest water the garment can handle according to the care label. Check to make sure the stain has disappeared before drying.
Unless you have an unusual barbecue sauce recipe that contains mayonnaise or another protein, the method for treating this type of stain is to remove the sauce residue and hit the stain with a laundry pretreater (let the product work on the stain for at least 10 minutes before laundering). When washing, opt for the warmest water the garment can take according to care label. If it doesn’t come out after one washing, do a second wash with some color-safe bleach. Don’t let the stain dry between these washings.
For light grease stains, you can follow the same method as you would for barbecue sauce. If you don’t have a pretreater handy, you can always use liquid detergent as a pretreatment instead.
Tip: For heavy grease stains, the American Cleaning Institute suggests, placing the stain face down on a stack of clean paper towels. Then, apply cleaning fluid to back of stain (the paper towels should suck up the stain). Replace paper towels under stain frequently. Let dry, rinse and then launder using hottest water safe for fabric.
Elizabeth Karmel, executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue, says she’s tried dozens of methods for treating stains over the years, but most are just old wives’ tales. “The only thing that has helped me is treating stains as soon as possible after they occur, using cold water and an extra rinse cycle,” says Elizabeth. Her secret weapon for really bad stains is Chef Revival Stain Remover, a prewash treatment designed specifically for kitchen stains.
Laura Fenton is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in many publications, including Country Living, Family Circle and Good Housekeeping. Read her blog, The Little House In The City, and follow her on Twitter @littlehousenyc.