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

I went to a family event this summer and took an extra tie with me (as I do). My brother forgot his (he’s not much for ties in the first place), so I gave him my extra. I was just doing some cleaning and found that the tie was in a side pocket of my suitcase; when I took it out, I noticed a discolored splotch near the bottom. I asked him what happened, and he said he spilled water on it—he didn’t think to mention it because he didn’t know water was the nemesis of silk. So now I have a tie (a very expensive and nice tie, at that) that has a water stain on it that has been sitting for about six months.

It’s May, which means that tie-wearing events like graduations and weddings are about to fill up your social calendars—and that makes this a great time to create a stained-tie primer of sorts for you natty gents.

This particular question is a good one for a reason that I hate to bring up, but am professionally obligated to address: The fact that the tie has been sitting, stained, for six months does not bode well. Silk is, as you are almost assuredly aware, a temperamental and difficult fabric. One of the ways in which silk likes to make our lives harder than need be is by demanding that if we stain it, we treat it as soon as possible. So, it may be that we can’t rescue that tie. Though we shall try!

There are a few general-purpose products that I want to introduce you to when it comes to the care and keeping of silk. Once we get through our discussion of those, we’ll talk about some very specific stains, like red wine and salad oil, that often end up on ties, and what you should do both at the time the staining occurs and afterwards.


Silk is, frustratingly, not a material on which most common stain removers can safely be used. That means that products like Carbona Stain Devils—which I love, what with their individual formulas for frequent stain offenders like coffee, ketchup, mustard, red wine, grease, etc.—are off the table. Boo hiss.

Fortunately, there are products on the market designed specifically for use on silk, and so, if you’re a regular tie-wearer (and -stainer), you should consider picking up one or both of these things: a) WinterSilks Spot Out, which is a spray stain remover, and b) Silk & Clean, which are individually wrapped stain-removing wipes. The latter is the perfect thing to stash in your weekend bag or Dopp kit for stain removal on the road.


And, of course, there’s always the dry cleaner. I always feel a little guilty when I suggest that, like it’s kind of a gut answer for a cleaning expert to give. But I also live in the real world with the rest of you and know that sometimes, dropping a stained tie off at the dry cleaners for someone else to deal with is the most realistic course of action.

There are, however, a few tips and tricks that are specific to certain kinds of stains that are worth bearing in mind when it comes to silk ties.


Oil & Grease Stains

When it happens: Blot as much of the grease or oil as you can with a paper or cloth napkin.

Post-event triage: Lay the tie flat and put a heaping pile of either cornstarch or talcum on the stain. Allow it to sit for 12-24 hours—during which time the powder will absorb the grease—before brushing off.


Anything else, Joles? They’re not necessarily ideal for use on delicate fabrics like silk, but generally speaking, when you’ve got an oil or grease stain in need of treating, Lestoil and Pine Sol are the go-to products. Dab a bit on the stain prior to laundering as usual.

Food, General

When it happens: Scrape the offending matter off the tie using a butter knife or spoon—that will allow you to get as much of the foodstuffs off without grinding it into the fabric. Then, blot at the stain using a cloth napkin dipped in a bit of water or club soda. Avoid paper napkins or towels if possible, because the pulp will make a disintegrate-y mess when it comes in contact with the water. But if paper products are all you’ve got, go for it.


Post-event triage: Treat using that WinterSilks Spot Out stuff or truck that tie right to the dry cleaners. Once the stain has been removed, dry the area to avoid a water ring by using a hair dryer on a low-heat setting.

Anything else, Joles? If you go the dry-cleaner route, make sure you tell them what the stain is. Similarly, if you’re treating it at home, consider what type of stain the food left (i.e. whether it’s a greasy stain or a tannin stain). That will help you determine the best course of action.


As my colleague Kyle Wagner wisely put it, “The sauces that are more likely to splash are a separate category, IMO. You get ketchup on you, you fucked up. But a drop of soy sauce can kamikaze in for no fucking reason and get your shit.”


It’s a good distinction to make, seeing as in the case of a blurt of ketchup or mustard, the first thing you want to do is to scoop as much of it as you can off your tie using a butter knife or spoon. Then you’ll treat the remaining stains in the same way you would food stains.

When it happens: Blot at the stain using a cloth napkin dipped in a bit of water or club soda. Dry the tie using a bathroom hand dryer to avoid water rings.

Post-event triage: Treat stains with WinterSilks Spot Out or head to the dry cleaners.


Anything else, Joles? Rubbing alcohol may work as a stain remover on splatter-y stains like soy sauce. Just make sure that you test that it’s safe on the fabric by dabbing a small amount on the back of the tie. If it is safe, use a sparing amount of the rubbing alcohol applied to a clean rag or cotton ball to dab at the stains.

Red Wine

When it happens: Lay the tie flat and put a heaping pile of table salt on the stain, which will absorb a lot of the wine.


Post-event triage: Treat remaining stains with Spot Out or take the item to the dry cleaners.

Anything else, Joles? Wine Away is a good product to know about, if you’re a big red-wine guy.

White Wine, Rosé, Water, etc.

When it happens: Head to the bathroom and stick the tie under the hand-dryer.

Post-event triage: Hopefully, the simple act of drying a light-colored liquid immediately upon spilling will be enough to prevent staining, but if not, treat remaining stains with Spot Out or hit the dry cleaners.


Anything else, Joles? Not that I can think of!

Cola, Coffee, Amber-Colored Liquors, Etc.

When it happens: Blot at the stain using a cloth napkin dipped in a bit of water or club soda, and a tiny bit of mild soap (like hand soap from a bathroom dispenser, or dish soap). Dry the tie using a bathroom hand-dryer to avoid water rings.


Post-event triage: Treat stains with WinterSilks Spot Out or head to the dry cleaners.

Anything else, Joles? Just like with soy sauce, rubbing alcohol may work as a stain remover for stains like coffee or tea.

Alrighty, then! Hopefully one of those tips will help our LW out. And if all else fails, he can always repurpose the tie by using it to strangle his brother.


Jolie Kerr is the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha (Plume); more of her cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found onTwitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

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