Cleaning Linen Napkins?

April 13, 2009

Linen Napkins and SilverwareI have recently started using cloth napkins exclusively for my family of seven. I am going through cloth napkins like nobody's business, as I am useless when it comes to getting out any stains! I use "fancy" white and cream-colored napkins. As well as burgundy and brown ones in an attempt to hide those stains!


I can't just keep on buying new napkins every time guests come for dinner and I'm too ashamed to use the stained ones. Any good advice would be most appreciated. Thanks very much for your help.

By Hanna Miller from Toronto, Canada


April 13, 20090 found this helpful

I have used cloth napkins for many years since my children (now in 30's and 40's)were young. I keep one set of napkins and a coordinating tablecloth for company. The family napkins get soaked overnight in a pail of warm water and powdered dishwasher detergent, using 1/2 cup detergent,and mixing well before adding napkins. This takes out almost every stain including red wine and tomato sauce. When I am ready to wash then I empty them into the washer and spin briefly, then wash as usual. I buy the dishwasher detergent at the dollar store. This soak also works well on baby clothes, bibs etc. with formula, food and spit up stains.

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April 13, 20090 found this helpful

Soak in powdered bleach,good luck.

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April 13, 20090 found this helpful

The best thing is to soak the stained napkins. Just throwing them in the washing machine is not enough, and if they sit around a few days the stain is harder to remove. Soak in a bucket with some soapy water--use shampoo, laundry detergent, dish detergent, whatever. Chlorine bleach is good for tomato stains and is safe for whites and many colors as long as you don't use a lot of bleach. For tough stains, don't give up--rub on some bar soap and rub the fabric together.


If this is too much work, then stick to dark colored napkins as the stains won't show.

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April 13, 20090 found this helpful

Also, after using whichever washing process you use, try drying them out in the sunlight.

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April 14, 20090 found this helpful

For "natural" stains like food, coffee, chocolate, grape juice, red wine, blood & urine, Hydrogen PEROXIDE WORKS WONDERS! It will NOT work for "artificial" stains, like artificial colors in foods. (For example it WILL work for grape JUICE, but will not work for grape JELLO or Kool-aid)


* I buy my peroxide on sale (two for $1 or 50 cents per bottle) at drug stores or supermarkets. (it cost more at most dollar stores than on sale at drug stores) I keep the peroxide above my washing machine along with an old toothbrush. Sometimes I'll pour the peroxide into a well-marked spray bottle. Spraying works better than just pouring it on the fabric.

---> DIRECTIONS <---
All you do is lay your item flat then spray the stain. For dried-on food stains, use a toothbrush to scrub the peroxide into the stain. Now wait about 10 minutes until the oxygen fizzes out the stain & wash as usual, or blot with a light colored cloth.

Several hints for removing stains:
1) HOT SETS STAINS IN - Never Iron or place a stain into a hot clothes dryer as heat will "set" the stain into the fabric.


2) COLD WATER - Use cold water for non-greasy stains & blood. (see above)

3) SUNSHINE - Hang whites & light colors outside in the sunshine on a clothes-line to dry because UV light from the sun bleaches out stains & whitens fabrics. Sunshine's UV rays also kill bacteria & viruses. A natural way to disinfect. (Even the CDC uses UV rays to kill viruses!)

4) GOOP - For greasy stains (like gravy or peanut butter), use a grease remover like "Goop" hand cleaner (for mechanics) ... Just dip your old toothbrush into the Goop & scrub it on the stains & leave it set 10 minutes or more then wash as usual. I buy Goop at the dollar store.

5) AMMONIA removes blood & some other stains, but never use ammonia in the same load as bleach.

6) BLEACH (for whites) or OXYCLEAN (for colors) works wonders too... (Never use them together in the same load!)


7) STAIN REMOVERS - Fabric stores sell AWESOME specialty stain removers. They remove everything from ball-point ink, to blood, to dye... There are 2 types sold. One is a bottle of "all around" super-duper stain remover, the other type is a display with different numbered bottles, & you pick the one that will work best for your need. They run around $4 or $5 a bottle but last a long time.

8) DON'T WAIT - Next time you have people over for dinner, take the spray bottle of peroxide & spray any stains or food areas on the napkins RIGHT AWAY... Either right after guests leave, or right after they get up form the table (then throw them into the wash machine without water & leave sit). It should take no more than 5 minutes or less to do this & if you spray it on right away (while wet), you won't have a stain later.


This would be a great job for a teenager!

9) FIZZY WATER - Seltzer water, Tonic Water or Club Soda when poured on to a stain & blotted will remove most stains when you are at a restaurant.

10) WINE - White wine removes red wine stains.

11) ENZYME CLEANERS - Another thing that WORKS WONDERS on natural stains is the enzyme cleaners they sell to clean up cat & dog urine, poop, blood, hairballs & odors. This stuff works because the enzymes & good bacteria "eat" up the stain & odor. You have to keep the area saturated & wet with the enzyme product so the enzymes & bacteria can do their thing. (It stops working when it dries) Sometimes it works best to cover the area with plastic to help it not dry out. I like a brand called "OUT!" sold at Target & Walmart, etc. because it has a slight Vanilla scent instead of a strong Floral scent like some brands. Just look for the word "ENZYME" & "Pet Cleaner" on the product. You won't be disappointed! ... Last night I got cat pee out of a rug with it & once I sprayed it on a dried-out hairball my cat left hidden in a corner, then covered the hairball with a plastic bag & a box. I forgot all about it until the next day & when I looked, the stain AND the hairball was totally gone, the enzymes had done their thing!

---> If it were me, I would buy some cheapie peroxide (not the kind for your hair) then put the peroxide into a marked spray bottle by your washing machine. Next time you use the cloth napkins, spray the stained areas with peroxide, then scrub with a toothbrush (if you need to) then let them sit for 10 or 15 minutes, then wash them in your machine with bleach. In the summer, you can hang them out in the sunshine & avoid the bleach. Every time you use bleach, you break down the fibers & it shortens the life of the fabric.

* If you decide to bleach the napkins, you may want to bleach the WHOLE set of them in case they fade a bit. This way they will all fade at the same rate & still match.

Peroxide usually does not fade or damage most fabrics, but try it first to make sure as each fabric is different. It's truly amazing stuff. I got dried-on coffee, chai & mocha out of a wall-to-wall carpet with peroxide. These nasty stains had been there for several years. All I did was spray it on to the dried on coffee, then scrub the area with a toothbrush, then leave it sit for about 10-20 min. I would then blot the area with a white wash cloth, then do it a second or third time & eventually the WHOLE carpet looked like brand new (& I'm not kidding!) & the thing I like best about peroxide for carpets & upholstery is that it leaves no residue (like soap & cleaners do). We tried rug cleaners first, but the peroxide is what worked best!

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April 16, 20090 found this helpful

Good advice above. We use cloth napkins also and I made some for family use out of brightly colored cottons. You could do that and save the "good" napkins for company. (I also made coodrdinating placemats).

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April 16, 20090 found this helpful

I have two other suggestions. If you like white napkins, get cotton ones that you can bleach. This, along with all the other advice about stains should keep them stain free. Also, I use small tea towels for everyday napkins - large, colorful, and easy to clean. If they get too stained, I move then into the teatowel drawer. Cotton tea towels seem to let go of stains much easier than poly cotton napkins.

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April 23, 20090 found this helpful

Don't buy new napkins! Just buy fabric and hem them up for everyday use, in a speckled or floral pattern that won't show stains (you can imagine my aunt's 'spaghetti tablecloth'). I found a bunch of cloth napkins cheap at a thrift shop. New napkins are quite overpriced.

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July 18, 20090 found this helpful

I have found that water softener (used before you wash the item) removes most stains. I use HP for blood and other proteins, but if I don't know what the stain is, or if it's an oil, I use water softener, it's in the wash additives section of the soap aisle, the one I use is White King but I believe in other areas there are other brand names. costs about $3.50 - 4. a box and usually lasts me 6-12 months, as I only use it if the items are stained. As long as the color's set in the fabric, you can wash anything other than wool, silk or leather in it. It takes oil out and wool is very oily. Silk is just too fragile and should always be dry cleaned. it's that or toss it, because it will just get damaged.

The great thing is that it's so easy. I save the big 5 gallon buckets I buy some of my clothes soap in, and when they're empty I rinse them out, fill half-way with water, put in water softener until the water feels slippery, stirring until dissolved, (when you're finished rinse your hands and put hand lotion on, it'll dry them out) drop fabric in and leave it. Doesn't matter if you come back in 15 minutes or an hour or more.

I you smoke, it takes tobacco stains out beautifully. I'm allergic to smoke, but if I buy something made of fabric second hand with smoke in it, White King saves me every time. It also removes animal urine from fabric as well as body sweat, food stains, car oil, grass stains and who knows what else.

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4 More Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

December 19, 2009

I have antique linen napkins and place mats that are a natural linen color. They were stained many years ago. I would like to clean them and am concerned about damaging them. Any suggestions?

By FMJ from Takoma Park, MD


December 21, 20090 found this helpful

Soak them in cool water with enough water softener (White King is one brand) to make the water feel slick. Usually a tablespoon in a 5 gallon bucket works. Swirl the water until the water softener dissolves. It dissolves faster in hot water, but if you use hot water, let it cool down completely. Hot water alone can fix some stains. Just drop the items in, and make sure they go under the surface of the water. Do not agitate them. Some articles take just a few minutes, others may take an hour or overnight. I have got 95% of the stains out of vintage fabric with this simple method.

It's also great for fragile fabric. Do NOT use it on wool or fur, it will take the natural oils out of them and ruin them. Also, do not use it on leather for the same reason. When you remove the articles, either dip them and gently plunge them in a bucket of clear water, or simply run cool clear water through them. Squeeze them gently and check for stains. If they're clean, air tumble them in the drier, then dry them on heat for a short time. If they are still stained after rinsing, and it looks like nothing's come out at all, rub them a little between your hands, very gently but enough to scrub the item. If there's still no change, try using Woolite or hand wash only clothes washing soap, always being gentle with the item. Once it's set, it's tough to get out, but hopefully this will work.

With linens that are ecru/off-white, you may lose that color if you decide the only way to get the stains out is to bleach it. That can be hard on linen.

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December 22, 20090 found this helpful

Lots of professionals use Orvus. It's a non soap that does wonders for dedicates. Google measurements. Has saved several treasured articles for me.

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January 10, 20100 found this helpful

I buy and sell vintage linens. The best way to remove even 70+ year old stains is to use Biz powder. This is an enzyme cleaner that removes the coffee, gravy, etc, stains and does not damage the linen.

Trick is to soak overnight or longer, Biz will not hurt the linen. Fill a bucket with hot water, put in a generous scoop of Biz, and if very dirty and stained, add a scoop of Tide with bleach alternative. Let is soak as long as it takes, a day, a week if necessary.

If water looks tea colored, it is working, pour off water and add more hot water. If you do this a few times, add more Biz/Tide. Keep soaking until stains come out. If it is warm outside, put the bucket out in the sun. That helps the enzymes to work.

When the linens look clean, rinse rinse rinse to remove all the dirt and soap out. Then dry in the sun. Put outdoors on a sunny day, even in winter, and if brightly colored (like a printed tablecloth) just make sure to put it good side down. Don't leave out forever, just enough to dry them. I put on a garden bench or a folding chair.

I got these instructions from two collectors who own vintage linen stores and they work beautifully. Vintage linens can take a lot, but never rub, scrub, and never put in the dryer. Don't bother with spray on cleaners, chemicals etc. Enzyme cleaners work the best.

If there is a particularly tuff stain and the linen is white, you can soak spot in lemon juice, and put into the sun. The old fashioned way is to lay it on the grass to make the lemon work better. When stain lightens, wash, and dry again outside.

Old fashioned way is also to boil the dirty linens just like they did in the old days. I never have to, Biz cleans them sparkling again.

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January 10, 20100 found this helpful

PS never use bleach, it ruins the fabric and the linens will split into nothing. Eats away at them. Never put bleach anywhere near your vintage linens.

These enzyme cleaners are the best thing ever. They beat even the spray ons for recent stains. Trick is the long soak.

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January 10, 20100 found this helpful

See my other posts. Soak in Biz, hot water until the stain lifts, rinse well and dry in the sun.

If the stain is particularily smelly and odd (sort of smells like old gravy), it may be sick linen that is rotten. Soak it and see if the stain removes. Usually sick linen will just fall apart. I have only run into this stuff once in like 10 years. Think it is when linen is stored in damp basement and it rots.

Never use bleach, never bother with spray on cleaners. Never use your wash machine or dryer either. Soak in bucket, when stain comes out, dry naturally.

Don't iron to a fair-thee-well either. Don't ever iron folds into linen, it cracks the natural fiber and you will get splits in the fabric. Iron flat, then roll or hand in closet on padded hanger.

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April 4, 2015

Is it okay to wash linen napkins in washer that is use for soiled clothes? Is it sanitary?

By Daisy

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October 22, 2006

How do I launder linen napkins, yellowed with age?

Ro from Cape Canaveral, FL


By Sherri (Guest Post)
October 23, 20060 found this helpful


I inherited some linens from my Aunt and they were quite yellow. I was told to use Mrs. Stewart's Bluing. It comes in a blue bottle and is sold where the laundry detergent is in the grocery store. Just follow the directions and the napkins should turn out just fine.....Good luck.


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November 23, 20140 found this helpful

Be very careful about using commercial bleach products on your linens because most of them are too strong. They weaken the fibers, already weakened by acids in the food stains, and one day the fibers break and you'll have a hole. The best product I have found is Mama's Miracle Linen Soak. It is very gentle and can be used even on delicate vintage and antique linens, but it works wonders!

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March 26, 2013

I have bought a natural colored linen upholstered headboard and it has 3 small dirt spots on it. Is there a way to spot clean the dirt marks? I must return headboard to store by tomorrow if I can't get the dirt out. Dirt probably result of poor covering in moving van. Thanks for your help.

Maria C

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