Ask Martha

Tricks for getting rid of troublesome stains, scratches

By Martha Stewart
August 11, 2011

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Wine on the sofa? Scratches on the table? Accidents happen. But with these tools and tips, you’ll be ready to spring into action.

Caring for an ailing sideboard or an injured ottoman is simple once you know the right techniques. I asked top specialists to share their tricks for keeping furnishings in peak condition. The panel: antique-furniture restorer Christophe Pourny; fabric professionals Ingrid Johnson from the Fashion Institute of Technology and Kathlyn Swantko from the FabricLink Network; and Jay Myers, from the tanning firm New World Leather. Here are their tricks for handling any furniture first-aid emergency.

Getting ink out When it comes to stains, permanent ink is in a category all its own. As any parent of small children knows, one of those pens in the wrong hands can seem like a violent weapon in the house! The damage from permanent ink, as the name implies, presents a special challenge. Amodex Ink & Stain Remover, a nontoxic formulation, is effective at removing ink from most hard surfaces and some fabrics (depending on their fiber content). Apply it to hard surfaces with a soft cloth, leaving it on stubborn stains overnight. For fabrics, use a cotton swab rather than a cloth to avoid smears, working from the back if possible to guard against abrasion; let fabrics dry between cleanings so you can check your progress.

For other types of damage, here’s a quick-fix cheat sheet:

Wood Stains: A white ring or a patch of white haze means that moisture is trapped beneath the finish. To draw out the moisture, immediately “mound table salt on the ring or haze,’’ Pourny says. Then place a terry-cloth towel on top and gently apply a warm (never hot) iron or a hair dryer on a low setting, checking your progress regularly, until the ring has disappeared.

Scratches: Apply shoe polish with a cotton swab, and buff with a soft cloth. If you can’t find a good color match, mix polishes until you get the right shade, Pourny says. “Shoe polish is totally reversible, so you never risk damage,’’ he says. No shoe polish? Use your kids’ crayons.

Wax spills: Let it cool until it hardens, and then freeze it by applying an ice cube in a plastic bag. Scrape off the wax gently with a rubber spatula or a butter knife. Polish away cloudiness with paste wax.

Alcohol spills: Since it can harm many finishes, act quickly by blotting (never rubbing). Dab any damage with a little ammonia.

Burns: Working in the direction of the grain, rub gently with extra-fine steel wool and ammonia. Follow up with paste wax. Deeper burns that have penetrated the finish and charred the wood are best left to a professional refinisher.

Fabric Red wine stains: Cover with table salt, Johnson says. Let sit until the wine has been wicked up. Vacuum, and repeat as necessary. Blot leftover stains with a cloth dampened with water and dishwashing liquid.

Oily stains: Mound with baking soda. When oil is absorbed, vacuum. Blot remaining stains with rubbing alcohol or dry-cleaning solvent, Swantko says.

Pulls: Never cut pulls, Johnson says. Use a fine crochet hook or a safety pin to tuck the straggler securely underneath other threads.

Tears: Although tears at seams appear to be a simple fix, Johnson says that these repairs are best left to an upholsterer with a commercial sewing machine. “No home machine can sew a seam strong enough,’’ she says.

Spilled drinks: Many fresh spills come up with repeated blotting with a damp cloth (use a white cloth to prevent dye transfer).

Wax: Let it harden, and freeze it with ice in a plastic bag. Pull up gently with tweezers. If colored wax leaves a stain on the fabric, blot with dry-cleaning solvent, rubbing alcohol, or a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water.

Leather Stains: Most leather upholstery is coated with stain resisters in the manufacturing process, but this wears off over time, leaving leather vulnerable. For stubborn stains, such as soil, Myers recommends blotting or gently rubbing with an all-purpose household cleaner.

Scratches: Apply saddle soap with a soft, damp cloth. While you’ll never get rid of the scratch completely, “the wax in the saddle soap may help the scratch or crack blend in a bit,’’ Myers says. “Don’t bother with touch-up kits or trying to camouflage scratches with colored markers. You can’t match the color, and the scratches will be even more noticeable,’’ he says.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.