Martha Stewart’s Elaborate 6-Step Method Is the Best for Removing Red Wine Stains

published Dec 18, 2019
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Morgan Smith

Martha Stewart is known for so many things—and she’s good at every single one of them. Why is everything she touches absolute perfection? Because Martha isn’t just a person, she’s a trusted brand, and her name equates to “perfection.” So when I set out to test the most popular red wine stain removal methods, I knew she had to be on the list.

As I skimmed over her process for removing red wine stains from fabric in the 2006 book “Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook,” I noticed that there were SIX cleaning agents I needed to have on hand to test. I’d anticipated a pretty thorough process, but this seemed over the top—even for Martha! Nevertheless, I piled all the recommended cleaning agents into my cart and headed home to my laboratory… er, laundry room to see how her test fared.

The Martha Stewart Method: How To Remove a Red Wine Stain 

1. Spray diluted dishwashing-soap solution (1 tablespoon of dye-free liquid soap and 10 ounces of water) on the stain; tamp with a soft-bristled brush. The first step of the removal process seemed simple enough, I filled my spray bottle with exactly 10 ounces of water and measured out 1 tablespoon of Pure + Clear Palmolive and sprayed the solution onto the stain. I then flushed with water and surveyed the stain: I was not impressed. The stain had lightened, turning a darker purple, less pink color, but it was obvious I’d be doing a lot more than spritzing water and soap to get the stain out.

Credit: Ashley Poskin/Apartment Therapy
The stained napkin after the soap-and-water bath.

2. Apply vinegar, and tamp; let stand for several minutes, and flush again. This next step was a bit of a head scratcher. I’ve used vinegar to remove odors from fabric, and also used vinegar to set the color when dyeing fabric. But Martha told me to, so I proceeded. I let the vinegar soak into the fabric for 20 minutes and then flushed with water. It seemed to make the stain brighter, taking it back to a fuchsia color. I was definitely going to need to proceed to the next step. 

Credit: Ashley Poskin/Apartment Therapy
The stained napkin after a vinegar soak.

3. If the stain persists, apply hydrogen peroxide and let stand. Whew, I knew hydrogen peroxide meant business. I had faith in hydrogen peroxide (and Martha) so I placed the stained fabric back in the shallow dish and poured out just enough peroxide so that it covered the stain entirely. I let it sit for 15 minutes (which might be 10 minutes too long if you’re dealing with a finer fabric) and then flushed the stained area with water, removing all the peroxide from the fabric. The stain was still there, though it was much lighter. I was going to have to go on to the next step: Ammonia. Ick. I did not want to have to do this.

Credit: Ashley Poskin/Apartment Therapy
The stained napkin after some hydrogen peroxide—much lighter but still visible.

4. If the stain persists, apply 1 or 2 drops of ammonia to wetted area. Flush with water. As I dropped the ammonia onto the stain it went from a shadowy purple color to a green, then light yellow, and eventually faded almost completely. There was a sort of shadowy fuschia stain, but I could tell at this point the stain was well on its way to disappearing. Yes! Queen Martha! From here on out it was basic laundry 101.

Credit: Ashley Poskin/Apartment Therapy
The stain after ammonia—almost gone!

5. Treat with an enzyme detergent; launder. I had to google “enzyme detergent” because I assumed it was something special, something my generic detergent wasn’t, and I was right—sort of. Not all detergents are equally ambitious, some have enzymes some don’t. I found that Persil contained the enzymes “lipases,” and “proteases.” Lipases help to break down fats and oils, while proteases break down protein chains, making them the perfect enzymes to fight stains. If you aren’t sure whether or not your detergent contains enzymes, just check the label, some labels are super basic and just say “enzymes”. So I poured the liquid detergent over the stains (both the overnight stain and the fresh stain) and let it sit for about 15 minutes until I could get it down to the washing machine, where I washed it in cold water with no extra laundry detergent.

Credit: Ashley Poskin/Apartment Therapy
Treating with Persil liquid detergent.

When the towel came out of the washing machine it was so bright it actually irritated my eyes to look at it. I had to bring it back upstairs and look at it in natural light so I could see if the stain had come out—and as far as my eyes could see, it had!

Credit: Ashley Poskin/Apartment Therapy
All gone!

6. If color remains after washing, apply a powdered non chlorinated color-safe bleach such as sodium percarbonate; and rewash.

I didn’t need this last step, but I figured you should know about it. I wasn’t really all that surprised that the stain would come out sometime before the final step—it was Martha’s method of course—but I was so satisfied that I had pulled it off. I felt like a magician.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Morgan Smith

My Honest Review of Martha Stewart’s Method for Removing Red Wine Stains

This test was intense and will henceforth be known by me as “The Kitchen Sink Method.” I appreciated that she provided what seemed like every possible solution you could throw at your stain. Just reading through the steps made me fairly confident that something along the way would work. The attention to detail was impressive as well; left to my own devices I would have absolutely scrubbed the stain with a toothbrush instead of tamping it out as instructed, and probably wouldn’t have ever been able to successfully remove the stain. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Morgan Smith

I gave this method a really high score because simply put: it works. When I stare at the dishcloth looking for the stains (both old and new) I can’t see them at all. The photo is a bit of a different story, I was surprised to find when editing the photos that you actually can see the faintest shadow, I think? Either way, this method yielded amazing results and will be my go-to method for white fabric that can handle vinegar, peroxide, and ammonia.  

Overall rating: 9/10