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Laundry for Foodies: The Dining Room Meets the Laundry Room

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Fun fact: I'm kind of a mess. I want to be one of those together people who always looks pressed and polished, but most days I'm somewhere on the spectrum between "slightly rumpled" and "totally disheveled." My unparalleled ability to get food on myself has only been increased by my food-writer habits of note-taking and photo-snapping -- if I had a nickel for every time my camera strap swept food into my lap, I could buy a new camera.

Luckily, I come from prime OCD stock. My mother gives me a Tide Stain Stick every Christmas. Every Christmas. Without fail. I have Tide Stain Sticks in the bathroom, my purse, and in my travel case, too. But I have found that a simple stain stick simply isn't enough. And since laundry is one chore I actually enjoy -- seriously, I'll take in your ironing -- I have begun compiling an arsenal of foodie laundry solutions to keep my wardrobe clean.

When you have a lapful of spaghetti sauce or wine, in addition to considering the stain agent, also consider the garment -- silk, wool, and leather are far more delicate than cotton and will require a professional cleaning. Rather than applying anything to silk, wool, or leather -- detergent, or even water -- blot up the stain as much as possible, and then bring the garment to the dry cleaner. I have a silk blouse that I adore, but in the process of removing one stain I managed to transfer dye from one area of the blouse to the other, rendering the garment unwearable. That blouse is now a beautiful nightshirt, and looks incredible with my hot-pink flannel pajama pants.

These days, silk goes straight to the dry cleaner. But when cotton, linen, or synthetic/synthetic blends are involved, this is how I tackle the job.

Red Wine The more red wine I enjoy, the more likely I am to get it on my clothes. Usually when I'm wearing white. Red wine (and purple grape juice) are best treated immediately, as they have a tendency to set quickly. Even when removed, red wine can leave a shadowy stain, so if possible remove the garment and rinse it thoroughly under very cold water, and then treat with detergent and wash. If the stained garment's instructions indicate that bleach is appropriate, by all means wash it in bleach, but if not, use a color-safe bleach or oxygen-based detergent to continue removing the stain.

Out on the town? Blot the stain with cold water until it is as light as possible. Club soda will also work, or even a little bit of white wine -- the white wine thing is great for red wine stains on carpets and furniture, too.

Tomato Stains Pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa, bruschetta--they seem like our friends when they are on the plate. When they are on our clothes, they are an evil, determined enemy. Like red wine, these can be some of the most stubborn stains to remove, and like red wine, they should be treated quickly with a cold water rinse and a detergent treatment. If the initial spill has left a lot of excess food on top of the fabric, try to scrape it off without spreading the stain.

As much as I love my stain stick, I find that a spray stain gel works best in a tomato sauce situation. I treat the stain for five minutes, rinse in cold water again, and repeat until the stain no longer fades. Then I treat with detergent for up to 15 more minutes -- as long as there is no color bleeding from the fabric -- and then wash the garment in cold water.

Mustard Mustard stains even faster than ketchup, but the removal method is largely the same: remove excess from the fabric by scraping (not rubbing) and then rinse well in cold water. Treat with a stain-removing detergent and then rinse again in cold water; repeat until the stain is as light as it will get. Wash the garment in cold or cool water, but do not dry the garment until the stain has been completely removed.

Oil/Grease/Fat Who among us has not had an errant piece of lettuce fling oily vinaigrette upon our clothing? These are often my toughest enemy, and I will admit my oil-removal success rate isn't as high as say, red wine. Oil stains can be hard to see, and sometimes it's just too late -- I don't notice the tiny, accusing pinpoint stains until it's too late. The options are be vigilant or switch to creamy dressings, I guess.

My big mistake used to be that I would try to treat oil like I would wine, or tomato, or anything else -- scrape, rinse, blot, treat, rinse, wash. Last year I found this article online with tips that helped me remove oil more effectively from my clothes. While I haven't tried all of the tips (we don't usually have WD-40, Cheez-Wiz, or Coca-Cola on-hand), I have had great success with the corn starch and hairspray methods. My favorite is the corn starch/dish soap method, in which corn starch soaks up the grease and dish soap removes the residue.

Ink Ink is definitely a foodie stain. Even when I am not writing a piece, I am often jotting down notes about what I am eating or a recommendation given by the waiter. (If you don't ask waiters where their favorite places to eat and drink are, you are missing out on an invaluable resource.) I suppose I could stop taking notes and do it all on my phone, but I'm old and I still like to write things longhand sometimes.

Hairspray comes to the rescue again when it comes to ink stains. I have read articles that say the hairspray stops the stain from moving deeper into the fabric, and others that say that the hairspray actually loosens the stain; I don't know which is true, I just know that this works. If the ink stain is big -- like a pen exploded in your pocket -- blot the stain from the front and the back with napkins or paper towels; if the stain is small, blot gently but do not rub the ink further into the fabric. Pre-treat with a stain remover gel, spray, or stick and wash at the earliest opportunity.

Your Kit & A Few More Tips To fight stains on the go, I keep a TSA-approved one-quart Ziploc bag in my purse, which contains the following tools in my stain-fighting arsenal:

• Tide (or your favorite brand) Stain Stick • Travel tissues for blotting • Travel-size hairspray • Travel-size cornstarch baby powder

A few general rules to follow when removing any stain (I learned these from my Mommy):

• Never rub -- scraping, dabbing, and rinsing are best • When rinsing, rinse the garment from the back of the stain so you don't push the food deeper into the fabric • Air-dry stained garments until you are sure the stain has been completely removed, as machine drying sets stains • When in doubt -- DRY CLEANER.

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