How To Get Wine Stains Out Of Towels

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We’ve all been there. In a split second, you watch as a top-heavy wine glass begins to wobble. Then, the contents splash onto the nearest surface. If you’re lucky, it pools on a table or a hard floor where you can easily wipe it up. Or, maybe it spills onto the carpet or some upholstery. Before you have time to think, you grab the nearest towel and soak up what you can of this notoriously hard-to-clean substance before it sets.

The good news is, you acted fast and cleaned up the spill. That’s what towels are for. In the end, you’d probably rather replace a towel than a carpet. Don’t throw in the towel quite yet, though! You should be able to get that stain out with the right cleaning supplies and methods.

Whether you’re a thrifty shopper looking to remove a stain after a dinner party fiasco, or a restaurant or bar owner who cleans up wine spills all the time, you can get your towels looking fresh again. Learn how to clean wine stains out of towels and other fabrics with this guide.

Why Is Red Wine So Hard to Remove?

Red wine might be one of the most stubborn stains of all. Even grease stains feel easy to clean by comparison. While some assume it’s because of the color, that’s not exactly the case. Artificial reds, like those found in juice or soft drinks, come out much more readily than red wine. That’s because wine gets its color naturally from chromogens, which produce vibrant red colors in plants.

Chromogens are in many red dyes. Red wine also contains tannins, another ingredient in ink production. So while many red-colored stains lift relatively easily, red wine is essentially dyeing your towel. Since we usually use them for permanent coloration, dyes are challenging to remove from fabric. And just like your favorite red shirt doesn’t turn white in the wash, a wine-stained towel is tough to clean.

Tricks to Get the Best Results 

While wine is challenging to remove, a few strategies give you the best chance of success.

  • Act quickly: With any stain, you’re better off when the liquid is still wet. As the liquid dries, it soaks further into your fabric’s fibers. It spreads a bit further and has a higher chance of dyeing the material. Start cleaning as soon as possible. 
  • Pick the right cleaner: If your towel is pure white, you don’t need to worry as much about your cleaner selection. Although not usually necessary, bleach could restore your linens to their bright whites. If your towel is any other color, make sure you have a color-safe fabric cleaner. 
  • Dab, don’t rub: Scrubbing the fabric can also cause the wine to spread and embed itself further beneath the surface. While this is a more significant problem with carpets and upholstery, it can still worsen a towel stain.
  • Avoid heat: You don’t want the stain to dry out, and hot air quickens this process. Heat also causes a chemical reaction with wine stains to make them more permanent. Don’t use a hairdryer or throw the towel in the dryer before you’ve prewashed it.

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How to Get Red Wine Out of Towels

Most quality towels are 100% cotton. That’s some good news for your stain because removing wine stains from cotton is relatively simple. Food dyes cannot build a strong chemical bond with cotton, linen, rayon or hemp, making these materials easy to wash out. As another plus, towels are washable, unlike upholstery and carpet. After a little pretreatment, leave the heavy-duty cleaning to your washing machine.

1. Start With a Dry Powder

While you don’t want the stain to dry and set into the fabric, you can lift some of the liquid using an absorbent powder applied to a fresh stain. Pull your towel taut and sprinkle your chosen powder liberally. Some of the powders to try include:

  • Table salt
  • Sodium percarbonate, the solid form of hydrogen peroxide
  • Baking soda
  • Powdered soap
  • Baby powder
  • Kitty litter

Leave the powder for a few minutes, and be careful not to rub it into the fabric. When done, shake off the towel into a trash bin. The powder could eliminate the wine stain in some cases.

2. Flush the Stain

If you still have a stain, the next step is to use water to lubricate and loosen it. In general, it’s good to use cold water to avoid setting the stain. However, wet heat is different from dry air. You may try flushing with boiling water, especially on cotton. The warm water will dilute the stain, helping the wine molecules loosen.

Another option is to use a glycerin wet spotter. Create a DIY stain solvent with one part vegetable glycerin, one part liquid dish soap and eight parts water. Shake your mixture and spot-treat the stain.

Keep flushing the stain until it is gone. Alternate between flushing out the spot and soaking it up with powder.

3. Launder Your Towels

If the stain persists, the next step is to throw it in the wash. First, pretreat the stain with a full-strength detergent, then add the recommended amount of laundry detergent to the washer. Use the warmest water setting safe for your towels. Check the tag on your towels for basic care instructions. When the cycle finishes, check if the stain is gone before tossing the towel in the dryer. Drying the towel when it’s not completely clean will set the discoloration.

4. Bleach If Needed

If the washing machine couldn’t remove the stain entirely, repeat your wash cycle with the right type of bleach for your fabric. Your three options include the following.

  • Chlorine bleach: While chlorine bleach is safe on cotton, it’s the harshest form of bleach and not usually necessary. Letting it soak for too long and not rinsing thoroughly can damage cotton fibers. It can leave your white towels looking bright as ever and is safe on bleach-resistant colored towels. Avoid chlorine bleach on other types of towels.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: Safe on cotton, a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution is an effective red wine stain lifter. It’s not safe on metal, so do not use on towels with grommets.
  • Sodium perborate: Better known as oxygen bleach, this bleach is a gentler form of hydrogen peroxide. It’s generally safe on color, making it an excellent all-around choice for wine stain removal.

 Best practice for any bleach dictates to always spot test to avoid discoloring the fabric.

Additional Tricks and Do-It-Yourself Cleaners for Removing Wine Stains

If dab, wash and repeat haven’t worked, one of these stain-fighting secrets could be your answer.

  • Milk: The most surprising DIY stain lifter is milk. Although it’s a liquid, it can also absorb stains. Let your stained towel sit in some milk for a few minutes, then blot it up with a sponge.
  • Vinegar: White vinegar, not wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, has excellent red wine stain removal properties. It’s not always ideal for colored fabric because it can change the color of some dyes. A spot test on an inconspicuous area is a good idea. Vinegar is best for treating silk and wool, so when you use it on cotton towels, dilute it first with water or club soda.
  • Dish soap and hydrogen peroxide: A study out of the University of California, Davis, deemed this homebrewed concoction the most effective stain fighter for red wine. It even beat out commercial cleaners. 
  • Club soda: Club soda could be one of the best-known DIY stain removal tips. Professional cleaners and household laundry-doers alike debate whether club soda is extra effective or if water works just the same. Either way, it often does the trick to get rid of stains.
  • Rubbing alcohol: After flushing with water, a dab of rubbing alcohol could be the final touch to lift red dyes.

If All Else Fails, Upgrade to New Towels

If those wine stains won’t come out, it might be time to order some new towels. At Towel Super Center, we offer a selection of white towels for restaurants and bars or homes. Since they’re white, they’re safe to bleach for worry-free cleanup. If you’d rather have a set of colored towels, consider our bleach-resistant hand towels and washcloths. They can endure a range of chemicals and harsh cleaning procedures. Plus, since they’re colored, they can hide a stubborn stain. Shop our quality wholesale towel collection today.

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