The Triton


Out damned spot! Move fast, but know the way to stain removal


Professional yacht stew have all tried to remove red wine stains from clothing, napkins or carpet. Red wine is, after all, the beverage of choice on many yachts, often served every single day. When spilled, it produces a most dreadful stain.

There are several safe, effective methods to remove red wine stains. However, before trying anything, check the manufacturer’s laundering instructions to prevent damaging the carpet or fabric in an attempt to clean it.

The first step is to act quickly to blot up wine, using white paper towels or clean white cloths. Always use white for blotting, so you can see color transferring and to prevent dye from the blotting cloth transferring to fabric or carpet. Press firmly, don’t rub, using a clean section of cloth to wick liquid away until no more color shows. Rubbing can spread the stain or push it deeper into fabric or carpet.

Most stews instinctively want to dilute wine stains, and guests most certainly want us to do something, and quickly. Club soda is the best option. It has a lower pH than water and so acts as a weak acid, plus the carbonation helps lift the stain. Absent club soda, cool water works, too.

But there is a better way, and it is recommended by world class experts.

Salt has been used as a cleaning agent for hundreds of years, and is considered one of the best options for use on red wine stains. According to Ingrid Johnson of The Fashion Institute of Technology, the first and easiest thing to do to clean up freshly spilled red wine is sprinkle the surface with a thick layer of salt. The sooner salt is applied, the easier it will be to lift the stain. You can actually see the process, because the salt will soak up the pigment and start to turn pink. This solution holds true for sofas, carpets, bedspreads, and most other home items that soak the wine in slowly, making it easier to get the wet stain out. (Use extreme caution on silk fabrics.)

I like to combine these methods, blotting first and then covering in salt. If red wine is spilled onto a tablecloth or carpet during service, it’s impossible to work on it, so just treat it with salt and cover with a clean cloth.

For carpets, let salt sit overnight, then vacuum. If there is residue, mix 1 tablespoon each of hand dishwashing liquid and white vinegar with 2 cups warm water. Apply and blot until stain disappears; rinse and blot dry. Whenever you use soap on carpet, rinse thoroughly to remove all residue. Soap sinks into fibers and over time attracts dirt. Avoid saturating carpet backing when rinsing.

red wine

red wine

For napkins and clothing, cover with a good layer of salt and leave for a couple of hours. Discard salt and rinse. If stain remains, rub a bar of Ivory soap directly on the back side of the stain and rinse. Repeat until stain is gone, then launder in warm (not hot) water. When removing items from the washer, do not place into dryer unless the stain is completely gone. Heat will just set the stain.

If the stain still remains, treat using one of these options (but not both):

Option 1: Alkaline. Saturate the area with hot water. Apply a paste of color-safe powdered oxygen bleach product and water. Let it work on the stain for 2-10 hours. Rinse and launder as usual. There are many brands of color-safe bleach. They are a combination of hydrogen peroxide and washing soda, with builders, surfactants, enzymes and optical brighteners added.

Option 2: Acid. Soak fabric in a solution of one part vinegar to two parts water. Once it lightens, launder the item as usual.

Many commercial products work great, however, don’t use any chemicals on materials unless you know what that material is. Follow the package directions. Wine Away and Carbona Stain Devils are safe for most materials. Wine Away is great for fabrics, carpet and upholstery. Carbona is not recommended for carpets and upholstery, but works great on most fabrics. Some wine stains will turn blue after you apply stain treatment products, and this is normal. Just launder as usual, with normal detergent.

Make note of stains and the methods used to treat them. Tell any carpet and upholstery cleaning professionals who work on the fabrics what procedures you followed. They will have a particular protocol, and you don’t want to use techniques that work against them.

There are many options for stain removal. It is great to have natural options as well as commercial products. Know your materials and fabrics, and follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Most importantly, don’t give up on stains too easily. It takes time and patience to become a stain removal expert. But it’s worth it when we consider all the expensive fabrics and upholstery under our care.

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at and on Contact her at

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