Q: My husband and I get a kick out of entertaining, whether it's intimate gatherings or large dinner parties. The period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve is particularly active when it comes to inviting others —some being sloppy and spill-prone — into our home. I wouldn’t give up my hostess-with-the-mostess duties for anything nor would I ban red wine from my home, but something I would give up is the stockpile of chemical stain removers that I have on hand for post-party cleanup. Do you have any suggestions for nontoxic stain-removing solutions that won’t harm the environment and will get the job done?


Ingrid, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


A: Hey Ingrid,

First off Ingrid, right on for not letting all those potential “whoopsie daisy!” moments brought on by guests, sauced or not, prevent you and your hubby from throwing holiday shindigs. If everyone were paranoid about hosting parties at home due to food, beverages and bodily fluids coming in contact with their carpets and upholstered furniture, the world would be a far less exciting place. 

I’m not sure what kind of products you’ve been using, but I’m glad to hear you’re willing to retire your arsenal of chemical stain removers. In addition to giving both the environment and your health a break, you’ll also be saving a few bucks (more money for the boxed wine fund!) since some of the most effective, simple and sworn-by stain-busters are things already found in your home. And if you don’t have them already in your pantry or cleaning cupboard, these items are inexpensive, versatile and easy to find.

Below you’ll find a rundown of five stain-lifting items you should have on hand during the holiday hosting season. And when I say “on hand,” I do mean it since quickness of application is key here. I wouldn’t recommend wearing a tool belt filled with DIY red wine removers at your New Year’s Eve blow-out (unless you think it really goes with your outfit), but do have them at the ready for the best results. 

  • A liberal sprinkle of regular table salt is effective at absorbing grease, wine and blood (you never know when a Yankee gift swap can turn violent) stains from household fabrics like table linens.
  • In addition to being a key ingredient in many holiday libations, straight club soda is effective in treating carpets that have been stained with red wine, tea, coffee and other spillables.
  • Versatile and full of acidic, stain-fighting goodness, lemon juice acts as nature’s bleach. Great for linen napkins stained with blueberry cobbler or kitchen countertops that have doubled as a pour-your-own wine station.
  • White vinegar rules supreme when it comes to DIY household cleaning tasks, and that includes stain removal. Key for treating upholstery and carpets that’ve been involved in tomato-based sauce mishaps.
  • A paste made from baking soda and water is also invaluable when it comes to erasing unsightly post-party messes. Great when applied to washable fabrics (if a guest spills on him or herself, send ’em home with a little box of B.S.), but I’m a fan of using it on cups stained by coffee and tea.
— Matt
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Inset photo of coffee: Caro Wallis/Flickr

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Green cleaning tips

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

What's a safe, nontoxic way to remedy household holiday stains?
Matt Hickman knows it's not really a party until someone spills a drink on the white furniture/carpet/dog.