A few days ago, a Tangle customer contacted me, upset because she had accidentally smeared some chocolate on her silk sofa. While I was unable to help her—a silk sofa stain of any kind would send me directly to a professional upholstery cleaner—I do have some suggestions for how to get chocolate out of clothing. A long-time employee of a western Massachusetts dry cleaner (who wishes to remain anonymous) gave me some more ideas, and some poking around on the internet led to an excellent article on stain removal by the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute here. The main points that everyone agrees on:
- Deal with the stain when it’s fresh. The longer it sits, the harder it will be to remove.
- Plan for it to take a number of tries. Most fabrics cannot be rubbed vigorously. The stain could be ground in further, or the fabric could lose some color or even, in the case of delicate or older fabrics, weaken and tear. So you have to go back in repeatedly, removing a bit more of the stain with each pass.
- DO NOT put the item through the dryer until you are 100% sure that the stain is gone or you have given up on ever removing it and you just don’t care. Heat will set the stain, making it permanent.
- Do not use hot or even warm water for the same reason. Stick with cold water.
Stains are water based (coffee, red wine), oil based (chocolate, lipstick), or a combination (“ring around the collar”, smoke). They need to be treated differently based on the composition of the stain.
My dry cleaner source said that a chocolate stain brought to them would first be treated with oil-based chemical/s (the dry cleaning part of the process), then the chemicals would be rinsed out with water (the wet cleaning part). Lestoil is an oil-based brand-name cleaner that my friend recommends. Your local supermarket probably carries it; you can follow the directions and approximate what your professional dry cleaner would do. Or, if you want to go a more natural and less smelly route, look for another product called Citra Solv. It’s also a degreaser, but it’s made from citrus peels/ingredients. You may need more than one application of Citra Solv, but don’t worry about what to do with the leftover product. In my research, I learned that Citra Solv can be applied to the highly-pigmented images in National Geographic magazines and transformed into extremely cool art! (https://www.citrasolv.com/altering-magazines-for-use-in-mixed-media)
After using a degreaser, you will need to get rid of the degreasing agent itself. Here’s where you turn to your old friend, liquid dish or laundry detergent. Apply some full-strength detergent to the stain and let it sit for 5 minutes. Then gently rinse with cool water, blot with a clean towel, and continue rinsing and blotting until all odor and evidence of the degreaser is gone.
Now for my personal experience with chocolate stains. I have discovered that if I catch and treat stains immediately, like before the chocolate has even hardened, I can skip the dry cleaning part of the process. I’ve had success with taking off the sweatshirt (it’s almost always a sweatshirt) and putting liquid detergent on it right away, letting it sit for 5-10 minutes, then gently rubbing the stain under cold water, rinsing, blotting, and repeating. It also works for me to keep the sweatshirt on and immediately apply a solid “stain stick” to the area super thoroughly. Then, later in the day at my convenience, I can pay attention to the rest of the stain removal process.
Huge disclaimer here: I’m sharing what has worked for me. I do not claim to know what will work for you on your clothing, so please don’t send me your dry cleaning bills if these suggestions are not successful. But, I believe in starting with the least invasive and least toxic products, and then working my way as needed to the chemicals, and finally, if all else fails, to the dry cleaner.
Or, we could all follow my dry cleaner’s advice, who shared, “I would definitely buy a full-length apron and try to avoid the problem in the first place!”