On Teaching Fashion: Stain Removal Lab

This week, my textiles students learned about stain removal with some practical experiments.

Supply List:

  • pre-laundered fabric swatches
  • ketchup, chocolate syrup, mustard, and vegetable oil
  • powdered laundry detergent, liquid laundry detergent, and club soda
  • mason jars, teaspoons and tablespoons, paper plates, and plastic cups
  • water (access to a sink is preferred)

These are the instructions I gave the class:

One stain to each fabric swatch: ketchup, chocolate syrup, mustard, or vegetable oil.

One cleansing agent at a time: powdered detergent, liquid detergent, or club soda.

No minimum number of swatches (just do as many as possible in the time allowed).

  • Use all three cleansing agents.
  • Choose your own stains.

Record the steps of your procedure as you go.  You will hand in your notes at the end of class.

  • Apply stain to fabric.
    • If using liquid or powdered detergent,
      • Half tablespoon of liquid or the powdered detergent
      • Fill jar 2/3 with water
      • Stir with teaspoon
    • If using club soda, add club soda only, choose your own quantity and record the amount used in your notes.
  • Put the stained fabric in the jar
  • Replace lid and shake for one minute
  • Rinse fabric in the sink, lay it out on a paper towel to dry.  Label it by stain and cleansing agent used.
  • Compare results and record your results in your notes.

The results were overwhelmingly in favor of the liquid detergent.  The students found the club soda to be the least effective of the three agents used to clean their samples.  Next time I do this activity, I plan to:

  • use grape juice for staining
  • put the oil on colored fabric samples, instead of the white ones we used this week, so the stains will be easier to see
  • use cornstarch and liquid dishwashing detergent to remove oil

Have any of you done something similar in a classroom setting? What worked best for you?

Related Articles


  • melina bee May 07, 2010 11.27 am

    In Italy, they keep talc/baby powder in every restaurant to help clients who may spill oil onto their clothes. It is also how my mom has removed oil stains for years (she is daaaammn good). I’d be super curious to see what you discover.

  • Lourdes May 07, 2010 11.00 pm

    Recomendations were different based on fiber content, but I specifically remember Peroxide for cleaning wool & I think silk (never chlorine on silk, but you know that already – however it might be fun to try it on the students, it will be something they’ll never forget)

  • Sarah May 10, 2010 08.49 pm

    You could also try Wool-lite, or a conservation-grade detergent like Orvus. I would definitely try peroxide like Lourdes recommends, but it needs to be a higher percentage that what you usually get at the drugstore.

  • Diana November 02, 2010 09.21 am

    I just discovered this wonderful blog, so I’m a little late to the party. I’m looking for a good reference book for conserving textiles. Any recommendations?


Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive


Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at : Amazon.com, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.