Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Check the Squalor Archive for assistance. Are you still dirty? Email her.

Halloween means big business for candy manufacturers, purveyors of sexy costumes and, oddly enough (or not so oddly when you stop to think about it), for Clean People. That’s because Halloween is a damned mess. A wonderful, sexy costumed, damned mess. I love everything about it.

And so, before the most magical day of the year comes and goes, it’s time to present to you this, a Halloween Mess Primer for all of your Halloween mess needs. I’ve done my best to anticipate the cleaning problems you might encounter come November 1st though, of course, you will assuredly delight me by asking how to undo all manner of creative disasters you engineered for yourself this Halloween. Bring it—this is what I live for.

Costume Mishaps

This is not, as you might imagine, my first Halloween clean-up rodeo and so I have a pretty good idea of what types of messes you might find yourself facing come All Saints’ Day. Let’s get right to them.


Colored Hairspray

If I may, I’d like to make a prediction: This year will be a banner year for colored hairspray stains caused by Halloween costumes. “Why?” you ask. Because you’ll all be wearing your clever Sexy Donald Trump costumes, complete with orange hairspray, you’ll get loaded on orange Jell-O shots, then you’ll pass out and your marvelous coiffure will leave its mark on your pillows, bedsheets, couches, area rugs, shrubbery, or on whatever other surface on which you wind up laying your weary Sexy Donald Trump head.

Anyway! If the colored hairspray has stained a machine washable material, like your pillowcases or bedsheets, flush the stain with cold running water to push out as much of the stuff as you can before treating with a product. It might actually all just come out! That’s unlikely to happen, but entirely possible. One tip is to run the water through the backside of the stained material—that way, the stain will be pushed away from the fabric by the force of the running water rather than through the material. After flushing the stain with water, go ahead and apply a laundry pre-treatment product. If you don’t have one of those on hand, rubbing alcohol is also a good option for removing these types of stains—that’s also the thing to bear in mind if your Sexy Donald Trump hairspray winds up on the couch or another non-launderable item. Use a cotton ball or a rag to apply the rubbing alcohol to the stain and repeat as needed until it is no longer visible.


For hard surfaces like bathtubs, showers, sinks or walls (from the spraying, you see) an abrasive cream cleanser like Soft Scrub and a scrub brush will make short work of clean-up, as will Magic Erasers. If you go the eraser route, just be sure to test it out on an inconspicuous spot to be sure it won’t damage the finish of whatever surface you’re cleaning.

Theatrical Make-up & Fake Blood

Just like with colored hairspray, rubbing alcohol is the thing to use for costume make-up that’s gotten smeared on clothes, bedding or furniture. So fret not about that orange Sexy Donald Trump tan you gave yourself to match your orange Sexy Donald Trump hair.


For those of you who’ll be going the Sexy Zombie Donald Trump route, here’s what you need to know about fake blood stains. Fake blood is made with a combination of corn syrup and dye, and it’s really the dye part that creates the stain. Given that, you can go ahead and use that same rubbing alcohol that you’d use on make-up stains, since they’re both pigment-based. Bonus: The rubbing alcohol will help to cut through the stickiness of the fake blood, making clean-up prettttty easy.

Synthetic Wigs

Perhaps you’ll choose to wear a wig for your Sexy Donald Trump costume, rather than to spray and tease your own locks. Totally fair choice. But what if your Sexy Donald Trump wig becomes soiled? Well, I’ll tell you what!


The thing about wigs, even the synthetic ones, is that you can wash them pretty much the way you wash your hair: With shampoo. There are some small differences in technique to bear in mind: use cool water; soak, rather than scrub, the wig in a combination of water and a small amount of shampoo to avoid causing tangles; rinse in cool water by holding the wig under the tap and rotating it, letting the water run down in one direction, which will also help to prevent tangling. When it’s time to dry the wig, gently shake off as much water as you can and then lay it flat on a towel to air dry.

If you want to hedge your bets and save that wig to wear again in the event that Donald Trump actually wins this election (I fainted while typing that), store it in a plastic grocery store bag. Unless you have one of those wig mannequin heads just hanging around the house, in which case by all means use that for storage purposes. Also: If you have one of those wig mannequin heads just hanging around the house, I’d like to meet you for friendship and money-making purposes.

Fur Suits

Fur suits and other furry costume elements like ears or tails or boots, can be washed similarly to how wigs are handled — you’re basically washing synthetic hair, after all. So: Shampoo and cool water are all you need. Unlike wigs, fur suits can be dried by rolling them up in towels to absorb as much water as possible before being air dried. If the fur becomes matted after washing, wait until it is only barely damp and then dry it using the cool setting on a hair dryer (the use of high heat can cause melting, so be careful of that). A slicker brush, like the kinds used to keep dogs and cats looking very attractive, can also be used to comb out matted patches.


And, as long as we’re on the subject of fur suits ...

With that fur suit interlude behind us, it’s now time to turn our attention to other cleaning matters.


Party Mishaps

Halloween, of course, is not just about the costumes—it’s also about the parties! “Halloween parties are fun, to be sure, but they can also be a wicked mess,” said the witch from Boston. So let’s talk about how to clean up after a few messes that are commonly made during All Hallows’ Eve parties.

Chocolate Stains

Shout, I’ve discovered, is excellent for getting chocolate stains out of fabric. (Yes, fine, I was eating chocolate in bed, fine, you caught me.) Spray a small amount on the stain and, if possible, rub the fabric against itself. The chocolate should come right out. If the chocolate has landed on something like a couch cushion, use a damp rag or sponge to gently scrub at the stain while working the Shout into the fabric. Once the stain is gone, wipe away any remaining Shout with a clean, damp sponge or rag.


Candy Ground into Rugs and Floorboards

Shout, or a carpet stain remover like Resolve, can be used to treat stains from candy that gets dropped and ground into rugs. If candy gets stuck between floorboards (it happens), using a strong vacuum with a hose attachment will probably do the trick (or treat), but if not, try using a scraper tool to, well, scrape the candy out.

Jell-O Shot Stains

Jell-O will leave behind a dye stain on clothing, so the same principles that you’d consider for the removal of fake blood stains can be applied to Jell-O shots. Which means that rubbing alcohol is the thing to reach for. Alternately, any number of those laundry pre-treatment products that I like to bang on about will work; apply then launder as usual.


Real Blood

I wrote a monster post about blood stain removal that you can check out if you feel really passionately about the subject. If you don’t and you’re sitting here like, “God, Jolie, just tell us the damned answer,” sure: The answer is hydrogen peroxide. There are other answers too, though! Which is why I mention that monster post. Also it’s Halloween, so monsters are sort of charmingly thematic.


Puke will happen on Halloween. If it happens to you (or on you, or near you), begin by picking up as much of the barf with paper towels. Then, try to absorb as much remaining moisture (bleeeerrrrgggg) with more paper towels. Next, treat staining with an enzymatic cleaner like Zout or Nature’s Miracle. Got a problem with lingering odor? Sprinkle a liberal amount of baking soda on the spot where the ralphing took place and allow it to sit and do its deodorizing thing for an hour or so before vacuuming it up.


Pumpkin Leakage

This is an old favorite, and I’m a save-the-best-for-last kind of gal, so I’m trotting it out again and wishing you all a very happy and spoOoOOoOoky Halloween!


Jolie Kerr is Deadspin’s resident cleaning expert and the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha (Plume). Follow her on Twitter, or email her:

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.