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Have no fear: Heloise's hints will keep you looking good

Michael Quintanilla
Express-News Staff Writer

(William Luther/Express-News)

Have no fear: Heloise's hints will keep you looking good

I have come to the House of Heloise, the high priestess of household hints, the queen of clean, the diva of dirt removal — you get the sordid picture — because women across San Antonio are driving me nuts.

Mea culpa. You see, all spring — and as we head into summer, only 13 days away — I've been touting white as the white hot look for the season of heat: white lacy dresses, white shirts, white girly tops, white jackets, suits, shorts, cropped pants, purses, sandals, hats, swimsuits... it's endless. White is everywhere in department stores and specialty boutiques, on the pages of high-fashion magazines and online shopping Web sites, even celebs on Jay Leno's couch are decked out in bright white.

But many women, it seems, are afraid to wear the color that is so... well... white now because the shade of milk, the hue of pure snow, the tint of eggshell shows off every speck of dirt and dust, every smudge and every dreadful stain.

This is where household advice author Heloise (below) — she of the gorgeous signature silver hair (don't you dare call it white!), who has appeared on Oprah's and David Letterman's shows, who gets roughly 2,000 e-mails a day and consults on a regular basis with gurus at the International Fabric Care Institute and the Soap and Detergent Association — comes in.

Heloise is San Antonio's legendary syndicated columnist featured in nearly 500 newspapers (including the Express-News) across the United States. And if anyone can stamp out a stain (ketchup, oil, grease, blood, mud, crud), it's Heloise, who has been doling out advice for almost 30 years (her mother, Eloise Bowles, wrote the first Hints from Heloise column for 18 years) and madly researches a remedy before giving it her seal of approval.

Even now, as we talk about wearing white, as well as keeping it clean, Heloise demonstrates the virtues of artificial sweetener as a superpower agent of stain removal. Who knew that the stuff, whether it's packaged in yellow, pink or blue, could miraculously get rid of a spot of coffee?

"See this?" Heloise asks as she rips open a packet of Splenda (my choice and a good one because "it's extra powdery," she explains) and sprinkles it on a napkin spotted with garlic oil.

Immediately, the powder (like any fine powder including cornstarch, baby powder or talcum powder, she says) absorbs the oil.

"Here's the Heloise update and we love this one," she says. "Artificial sweetener works for anything oily or greasy such as spaghetti sauce, salad dressing or gravy."

"The old hint was that if you spilled gravy on the tablecloth, you would scrape it off and pour salt on it or take flour from the kitchen, pat it in and it would work like a poultice. Nowadays, there's artificial sweetener on every table. Because it's a fine powder it helps absorb the stain. I love updates."

Q. I'm interested in your take on wearing white and why, as you say, you've been resistant to wearing it.

A. White makes you look bigger. Black is slimming. All women deal with this. If you want to look big on the top you wear a white blouse; if you want to look slimmer on bottom you wear black. And then there's the issue of maintaining white. Keeping it white. Not getting it stained. But it's fashion and I understand that.

Q. So, how do you keep it clean?

A. I hear my mother's voice telling me, "When you go shopping, dear, read the care label. Read the care label. I don't care how much you love it or if it's on sale. But if that label says dry clean only, are you willing to take care of that? If that label says hand wash, are you going to hand wash it? If that label says line dry, are you going to take it out of the washing machine and line dry it?" And she would finally say, "If it wasn't on sale, would you pay full price for it?"

Q. What's the number one question about keeping white clean?

A. Underarms stains. How do I clean yellow underarm stains on my white shirt? That has been consistent for 45 years of the column. And it's even more pronounced with whites today because of synthetics and synthetic blends. In the old days, cotton was all cotton, everything was made with natural fibers. You could treat a white stain with chlorine bleach.

Q. Can you still do that today?

A. With blends you have to be very careful because so many whites have spandex in them and you can't use chlorine with that. The things that can affect these garments are sunlight, fluorescent light and chlorine bleach, and sometimes anything that contains alcohol such as mouthwash, hairspray and the obvious, a glass of wine. These all can turn the fabric yellow. You have to read those labels.

Q. What's a white-washing myth you can bust?

A. There's the old fashion hint about taking a lemon and salt to get a stain off of something white by sprinkling salt on the stain and squeezing lemon juice on it and then setting it out in the sun because lemon juice acts as a bleaching agent. That was fine for pure cotton with no blends, no whiteners. Today if you do that, it's going to make it yellow. Don't do this. The other is that chlorine bleach can be used on all whites. Wrong. Read the labels.

Q. Here's a scenario: You're a businesswoman in a white suit eating spaghetti. It spills. What now?

A. Ay, ay, ay! You know that is one of the worst stains — anything that is red. The first thing I would do is take a spoon and scrape off whatever's there. Now take a cloth and slip it under the stain and with another wet cloth — use tap water or water from your glass — dab just a little bit and it may start lifting off. Anything red is kind of difficult and that's the best you can do sitting there.

Q. You get home and there's doggie drama. Suddenly, your pooch has got mud on your white trouser legs. Now what?

A. Let the mud or dirt dry and harden. Same thing goes with candle wax if you get it on a garment. Your inclination is to wipe it with water, but that spreads the stain. So let it dry and, if you can use a soft brush like an old toothbrush, gently brush it off. Even a terry towel would work. Then continue with the usual cleaning steps: presoaking and launder. If you just throw it into the washer that surface dirt remains there, so it's better to brush it away first.

Q. What's the best way to pre-spot a spot?

A. With liquid detergent. Apply it to the back of the garment and rub it in so it will soak through. Let it sit for a few minutes before putting it into the laundry.

Q. Say you're at work and you get a dangerous paper cut and drops of blood on your white coat.

A. If the garment is washable even though it's white, soak it for 20 minutes in cold water or go to the bathroom and turn on the cold water, let it soak and rub the stain with your fingers. If it's fresh, that will probably get it out right away. I have a rule that I call the three S's: get to it soon, work at it slowly and it may take several times. Every nurse knows this, especially back in the day when they wore white uniforms. Hydrogen peroxide that you buy at the drugstore will remove bloodstains.

Q. You're sipping wine at a wedding and you're bumped. Is your white summer dress a goner?

A. That's why you only drink white wine. But do this: Get a wet towel and dab the stain with cold water. Dab, dab, dab, particularly on delicate fibers like silk, knits and linen. If you rub, that breaks the fibers and so the stain may be gone but the fabric looks different because the fibers are sticking up.

Q. Why not dab with hot water?

A. Generally, always go with cold water. If you have a tea or coffee stain, then use hot water because usually if something is served hot then you use hot water on the stain. With coffee stains there are caveats: Did it have sugar? Did it have cream? Did it have cream and sugar in it, because if it had sugar then you have to use hot water to dissolve the sugar; if it had cream then you'd have to use a different detergent that will break down fat.

Q. What about makeup stains?

A. That's a big one, particularly around the collar area or, say, you get makeup on your blouse from hugging another woman. Ann Richards had on white when I first met her and she said "How do I get makeup off of this?" I said "Ann, what takes makeup off your face?" And she said "Soap and water." And I said "There you go." If it's washable, a little soap and water will normally take it off. Rubbing alcohol works on some makeups — again, if it's washable.

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