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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.](mailto:joliekerr@gmail.com)  

As part of my flea-market mermaid costume, I wore an old silk nightgown, then spent a rainy evening treading all over the bottom hem. I have already given the nightie a wash with mild laundry soap in cold water, which took care of most of the dirt, but it’s pretty ground in along the seam. Think it can be removed?


I do think it can be removed! The fact that the stain didn’t entirely come out the first go around doesn’t mean that all hope is lost (which is a good rule to remember, generally). When that happens — whether it’s on Halloween or on a regular day — take heart, because it means that the stain can and will come out, it may just require a second pass.

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Halloween is a good time to point out this law of stainage, because Halloween is great, but also it can be spectacularly messy, which is a big part of the holiday’s charm.

Okay so let’s start with mud/dirt/party sludge, because that’s what our Letter Writer is asking about, and also because Halloween is the unofficial first day of party sludge season. Mud and dirt are protein stains, which is good to remember around Halloween, what with its wild parties, because blood and vomit are also protein stains. So! That means that stain removers that work on mud and dirt will also work on blood and barf. This is also true of sexual fluids — yup, those are proteins too! — so when you and your date have a little too much fun with, on and in your sexy Gritty costume, your plan of action will be the same.

What you’ll do is this: The way to treat a protein stain is to use an enzyme-based stain treatment, like Zout or Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover, or a laundry detergent that has enzymes, like Tide Original or Arm & Hammer Plus OxiClean.

Because the issue in this case is that the dirt has gotten ground into the seamwork on the hem of the nightie, using a laundry brush will help work the stain treatment into the fabric. Laundry brushes are also very helpful for scrubbing out stubborn stains like blood, and for use in spot treating things like your sexy Gritty costume components, that you may be hesitant to put in the washing machine, and might want to avoid fully submerging to hand-launder because they’re bulky or oddly constructed.

You can buy a dedicated laundry brush for a few dollars OR you can press an old toothbrush or a nail brush into service. You basically just want a soft-bristled brush of some sort. Another good tool for spot treating costumes is a plain old washcloth, which is just the right size to dip in a solution of diluted laundry detergent and wipe the stain clean — for this operation, it can be helpful to hang the costume from a trousers hanger.

For costume components that can go in the washer, sometimes the trick to stain removal is simply that a garment may need a second pass. In the case of the nightgown, I would suggest the following approach to treating the lingering stains:

  • Give the stained hem a spray with one of the enzymatic stain treatments (Zout or Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover);
  • Dilute about a teaspoon of laundry detergent in cool or lukewarm water, in a space big enough to submerge the item. In this case, because nightgowns aren’t super bulky, the kitchen or bathroom sink will be a good spot for this operation (make sure they’re clean!), but in the case of something like a sexy Gritty outfit, the tub might be a better choice. A bucket or kiddie pool, if you’ve got one of those around, are also good spaces for pre-soaking stained garments.
  • Soak the stained garment for an hour up to overnight before re-laundering. If you have a top-loading washer that allows you to fill the drum with water and detergent and stop the cycle, you can perform this operation right in the machine.

Before I leave you to go make a mess of your costumes, it’s probably helpful to note that the technique I described can be adjusted for other kinds of stain removal — you’ll just want to switch up the type of stain remover you’re using. For Halloween, bear these two stain removers in mind: 1. Rubbing alcohol is great on makeup and dye, so if you smear lipstick or fake blood or grease paint on fabric, that will help to remove those stains; 2. Shout will remove chocolate stains, so if you fall asleep eating a fun-sized Snickers bar in bed, that’s what you’ll want to use to remove the evidence from your sheets.

Okay now it’s your turn to tell me things: What’s the biggest mess you’ve ever made on Halloween?