Wine lovers must accept a few truths: An asparagus omelet limits your pairing options, tasting a lineup of bold reds can leave you with a horror-movie mouth and … spills happen.
Chances are, at the next tasting you attend or party you host, someone (and that someone might be you) is going to splash wine on your favorite outfit, drip it onto your new rug or leave glass-rings on your dining table. And wine can leave a lasting impression! After all, it’s packed with fabric-staining pigments (aka anthocyanins) and tannins. As tragic as that may be for your carpet, not to mention the wine, there are a few tricks you can use to mitigate the damage. Unfortunately, you can’t save the spilled Pinot.
After your initial embarrassment (is everyone staring at the big blotch on my shirt?) or irritation (hey, careful around that spit bucket!), this will likely be top of mind after a spill takes place. So, what’s to be done?
Step 1: Soak It Up
Use a dry napkin or paper towel to soak up as much of the wine as you can. Blot with the towel, rather than scrubbing, which will just add to your headache by spreading the liquid and more deeply embedding it. Act quickly, as you improve the odds of avoiding a permanent stain by cleaning up the wine while still fresh.
Do Not: Use white wine to dilute a red wine stain. It might actually make the situation worse by spreading the stain and, at best, is no better than regular washing on most fabrics. (However, it may work on nylon.) Plus, you still have to clean the white wine up afterwards so you or your room don’t smell like a bar floor after closing time. Wine is for drinking, not cleaning.
Step 2: Determine the Best Treatment
A lot depends on what kind of material you’ve spilled on, and you may have to try a few different methods before you achieve full success. Be sure to test any new cleaning products first in an inconspicuous area. And if an item says “dry clean only,” leave it to the pros; take it to your dry cleaner as soon as you can, point out the spot and tell them what made it.
For fabric, as you might expect, it’s far easier to remove a stain from sturdy cotton than it is from delicate silk. For more durable materials like cotton tablecloths, try soaking the stain in boiling water to dilute it before a good washing.
For still-wet stains on less-sturdy fabrics, some people swear by applying a thick layer of kosher salt, baking soda or talcum powder to a stain first to absorb as much of the pigment as possible before shaking it off or blotting it, then washing.
For wet or dry stains, you can try an “oxi” cleaner (with sodium percarbonate), use club soda and/or white vinegar, or mix hydrogen peroxide with dishwashing liquid and let it sit for around 30 to 60 minutes. Blot and then wash with laundry detergent according to the fabric-care instructions on the item (if any).
There are also commercial sprays made just for removing red wine stains, and they can often work well to help remove smaller stains from clothing before washing. One of our editors relies on WineAway, which is made from fruit and vegetable extracts. Another editor discovered a product called The Laundress, which helped get red wine and tomato sauce out of a white linen skirt three weeks later.
Be warned, sometimes cleaners can turn a red or pink wine stain into a blue one (here’s why) before washing, and there’s no guarantee that blue spot will come out either.
The University of California at Davis actually conducted a study in 2002 to see which home remedy was most effective on cotton, cotton-polyester blends, nylon and silk. Many cleaners weren’t any better than simply washing with laundry detergent, but the best option overall turned out to be a blend of equal parts hydrogen peroxide (a bleaching agent) and Dawn liquid soap.
Do Not: Put the item in the dryer before checking to be sure the stain is fully gone. Heat may set the stain permanently.
What About Wood?
For wood floors or tables, if you missed your chance to blot the liquid up quickly and the wine pigment has seeped into the grain, you can try many of the techniques above. Apply a thick layer of salt or baking soda to absorb the wine and let it sit for a while before removing. Or apply white vinegar to a cloth and place on the surface to try to remove the stain. An oil soap specifically designed for wood may work on lighter stains. Or mix baking soda with a citrus-based oil meant for cleaning wood into a paste, apply a coat and let it set. Wipe off and if the stain isn’t fully gone, try again, multiple times if needed.
Still, at the end of the day, if a stubborn stain is in a prominent place, you may just have to sand the stained area of wood and apply a new finish or (intentional) stain.
A Note on White-Wine Stains
They’re not discussed as much as the dreaded red stain, but yes, white-wine stains can happen too. After all, white wines can have tannins and pigments, just like reds, especially skin-contact whites. Not every piece of cloth or carpet is going to show a white stain. But be mindful of where the white spilled, and take care of it if there’s any possibility of a stain. A “better safe than sorry” attitude can keep you from having to replace your favorite shirt or placemat. Luckily, the same methods used for red-wine spills can also be applied to white stains.
Dealing with Broken Glass
Sometimes you’re not just faced with spilled wine, but also a glass or bottle that got knocked over onto a countertop, table or even the floor. In such cases, before even worrying about the stain, you need to protect yourself and your guests:
Clean up the glass right away, ideally wearing gloves to protect your hands from stray shards. Begin by removing the larger chunks to avoid the potential for major cuts and place them in a sturdy, disposable bag, such as a paper grocery bag, or container.
On a hard surface, use a broom or brush to sweep up the smaller bits of glass. Don’t forget, those bits may not be easily visible, so sweep up the full accident site—and beyond. Carefully put those pieces into the disposable bag as well. If you’re using your regular household broom and dustpan, clean them off carefully so you don’t spread tiny shards around next time you sweep up.
Make a final pass to make sure you’ve picked up all the fine glass dust and tiniest shards. Fold several paper towels into layers, dampen them and press them gently around the area to pick up the smallest pieces.
On a carpet, after picking up the larger pieces, try removing smaller pieces with duct tape or packing tape. Cut a large strip, hold it at both ends and press gently into the carpet, letting it stick, then lifting. Place the pieces full of glass into the sturdy disposable bag. To get the finest pieces, use a vacuum cleaner with the hose attachment or a wet/dry vac. (Check the instructions for your model first to ensure you don’t damage it.) Promptly and carefully remove the vacuum bag, which can be cut by any shards, or clean out the canister, likewise placing the contents into that disposable bag/container.
Seal the disposable bag as best as you can (try using staples) and place it in your garbage. (Be extra considerate and label it “Broken Glass.”) By using the disposable bag as an extra safety layer, you’ll help ensure that no shards tear through your plastic garbage bag, injuring or annoying anyone on garbage day.
Do Not: Vacuum up large pieces of glass.
With the broken glass cleaned, now it’s time to consider how best to replace the broken wineglass or bottle. In this, consider yourself lucky, as you have a world of possibilities open to you. Do you go high-priced or low-priced? Which shape do you pick? Do you still want to use stemware or go stemless? Just keep an open mind.