To avoid airing your dirty household linens in public, you may want to try simple household remedies to either eliminate or lighten most spots caused by foods, beverages and other familiar offenders.
In most cases a stain or a spot should be treated before you wash the item, and as soon as possible after the stain has occurred. Early treatment facilitates stain removal and limits damage to fabric.
Beth Eckert, a designer who also restores vintage quilts, recommended this formula for lightening the brown spots and yellowed areas on old linens: Add a few drops of lemon juice and distilled water to a touch of Orvus, a mild PH-neutral cleanser recommended for washable textiles, to form a runny paste. Wet the stained area, dab on the mixture and let it set for 15 minutes. Rinse the item thoroughly in warm water.
Eckert warned against using the mixture on colored linens, because the acid in the lemon can lighten or remove color.
English author Jane Newdick found a list of cleaning recipes in an old book, which included this one: Broil rhubarb stems, strain the juice and dab it, while still hot, on the stain. Then wash the item immediately.
Rhubarb treats stains effectively because it contains oxalic acid, an antidote for many of the brown spots found on vintage linen and cotton textiles.
Textile conservator Nancy Lane Terry, a member of the American Institute of Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, warns that you should work carefully when applying to fabric any agent that contains acid. In general, it is best to use a weak solution.
If you own a valuable or fragile textile, it is best to determine what caused the stain before attempting to remove it. If you cannot identify the cause or you are afraid to try to remove the stain yourself, consult a textile conservator.
Michele Durkson Clise, author of "The Linen Closet: How to Care for Your Fine Linens and Lace," offers a range of antidotes for common stains.
* Coffee and tea. If you are able to treat the stain immediately, apply a solution of one part borax and six parts water to the item. Wash in warm, soapy water using a gentle cleanser. If the stain has already dried, loosen it with an application of one part glyceride and one part water. To remove stains on sturdy fabrics, stretch the area over a bowl and pour a stream of boiling water through the stain from a height of 2 to 3 feet until the spot disappears.
* Berries, sand and fruit. To treat a wet stain, sprinkle the area with salt and rub it with damp soap. Allow to stand for a few hours, then rinse well. For dried stains, soak the item in a solution of one part borax and six parts water. For sturdy fabrics, you can also use the boiling-water technique.
* Wine. You can usually remove white wine stains with a hot, soapy washing. To treat red wine stains, sprinkle salt on the area and immerse the item in cold water. If the spot remains, rub it out with salt before washing the item. Another remedy for red wine stains is to saturate the area with club soda or a solution of baking soda and water.