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SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Mustard is so good. But mustard stains? Not good!

One of the reasons that mustard stains are so not good is that many mustards, including and especially that classic yellow stuff that goes on hot dogs, contains turmeric — and turmeric is just a terrible, terrible stain. I’m sorry to have to introduce such ugliness into a column about such a wonderful condiment, but I have an obligation to be honest with you about the horrors of the world.

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But let’s move along and not dwell on such unpleasantness.

There are two main topics to cover when it comes to mustard stain remediation: What to do in the moment, and what to do with a stained garment hours or days or [screams] weeks after the stain has occurred.

The Convenience Method

When mustard strikes, the first thing to do is to use a spoon or butter knife to lift the blurb (technical term) off of the the fabric — the idea is to sort of get under the blurb (just go with it) and lift it up and away from the clothing.

In an ideal world, you would have a Shout Wipe available to you, in which case make use of it by rubbing it on the stain. Shout, as we’ll talk more about, is especially good at removing all kinds of stains caused by food, and the Wipes work quite well.

The Unconventional Method

If you don’t have Shout Wipes, go in search of some hand sanitizer, which has a high concentration of alcohol in it and is also a great stain remover.

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To use it, put a small amount on your fingers and massage it into the stain. It can also be helpful to rub the stained fabric against itself to work the hand sanitizer into the stain, breaking it down.

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The Simple Method

Absent those things, dabbing some water on the stain can help at least remove some of the offending matter by flushing it out of the fabric. If you have a change of clothes, you could also perform some triage by removing the garment entirely and holding the stained area taut under cold running water. One thing to bear in mind, generally, about flushing a stain is to run the water through the backside of the fabric so that the water pushes the stain away from the fabric rather than back through it.

The “It’s Too Late” Method

If mustard has stained, say, a shirt and you were unable to deal with it in the moment, it is a very good idea indeed to pre-treat that stain prior to washing the shirt. Shout Triple-Action Stain Remover Spray is my go-to for food stains — it’s just very good stuff!

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The Washing Machine Method

If you don’t have Shout, however, you can apply a bit of liquid laundry detergent to the stain in lieu of a dedicated stain pre-treatment product.

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Then launder as usual but do be sure to check that the stain is entirely gone before chucking the shirt in the dryer, as heat will set a stain in. If the stain is still there after being washed, just reapply the stain treatment and launder again; sometimes it just takes a second pass.

The Last Resort Method

There is, also, a sort of DIY technique that’s worth mentioning, as well as a warning of what not to use. A combination of salt and lemon juice is quite good at treating mustard stains: Squeeze lemon juice all over the stain, then pour table salt on it and let it sit overnight. Brush away the salt and launder the garment as usual.

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However, do not use chlorine bleach on mustard stains that involve turmeric, because turmeric and bleach don’t like each other — chlorine bleach can make turmeric stains worse by turning them from yellow to bright, bright red. Weird but true!


Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person

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