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How to get stains out of white cotton

White cotton used to be worn mostly in summer. Now, with the crisp white cotton shirt a staple of the working wardrobe for both sexes, it’s an all-season favourite. But the more we wear it, the more likely we are to stain it.

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The same with gorgeous high thread count cotton sheets – upset your morning tea over them, and you’ll definitely need to apply some know-how to get them back to their original pristine whiteness. Luckily, white cotton fabric can take effective stain removal techniques better than some modern man-made textiles. Just follow these useful tips.

1 Act straight away

Use a paper towel (or your napkin if you’re in a restaurant) and press it firmly onto the stain for at least a minute, to soak up as much of the staining substance as possible, before it has a chance to dry.

2 Chlorine bleach is a no-no

People use bleach on white cotton fabric because they think the material doesn’t have a colour. But white is actually a colour, and chlorine bleach will act on it as it does on any other colour, taking the colour out. There is a different kind of bleach, based on hydrogen peroxide. This is OK for whites and you’ll find many of the ‘Oxy’ products use the power of oxygen to clean clothes. So look in the laundry section of the supermarket, not the cleaning products section –

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3 Pre-treating and soaking

Many detergents recommend pre-treating the stain for five minutes before the main wash. Traditional soaking methods include a salt water soak for blood stains, followed by the pre-treatment with detergent, followed by the wash. Waitrose is particularly good on laundry products. Their ‘White Fabric Stain Remover Powder’ is very effective.

Keep the stain cool

It sounds strange, but the reason is that heat will help set the stain into the fabric. So don’t leave the stained item in a hot place before you get round to washing it.

When to call in the dry cleaner

There are some clothing stains that are best dealt with by a dry cleaner, who can use a solvent to spot treat the stain. This may be the best course for oily stains such as mayonnaise or olive oil, or for old stains which have set.