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tricks of the trade: how to get oil out of suede

how to get oil stains out of suede

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Who doesn’t love a good life hack? An honest-to-goodness, palm-to-forehead-thwacking solution to an everyday problem – I mean, that’s what bought Martha Stewart her first chicken coop, right? When it comes to a really successful life hack, I can’t get enough. And I know you’re with me, because the most popular story on this entire site (by a long shot, in fact) isn’t my trip to Paris or my foolproof packing lists, but “how to stretch the waistband of your jeans”.

So, here’s a genius little gem you should file away: how to get oil out of suede. Remember those jolie laide Birkenstock shearling clogs I picked up a while back? I know, I know…they’re UGGs with arch support. Don’t judge me too harshly.

Anyway. I’ve been wearing them more than is at all reasonable, including – regrettably – while cooking. The other night, I was putting the finishing touches on a lovely piece of olive oil-rubbed salmon when a piece leapt off the grill and onto my shoes. Which, as it turns out, was much more catastrophic than I could have anticipated. The oil seeped into the suede in a matter of nanoseconds, and left a dime-sized calling card right there on my Birkenstock-clad toe. Since it’s one thing to wear sensible shoes, but entirely another to wear oil-stained shoes smelling vaguely of fish, I knew drastic action was needed.

After trying every trick I knew without success (as a rule, Dawn dish soap is the mother’s milk of removing oil stains), I was nearing full-blown panic when I saw someone online recommending cornstarch. And as I considered it, it kind of made sense – cornstarch certainly inhales moisture in a hurry, but doesn’t get gloppy or pasty as other starches can. So, I tried it. And praise the shoe gods, it worked like a charm.

Since I’m desperately hoping I’m not the only person who does things like this (see e.g., “deep frying while wearing silk”…), I thought the least I could do was share this brilliant little hack with you.

The procedure is thus:

  • Heap a tablespoon or so of cornstarch on the soiled area* – be generous about it.
  • Use the back of the spoon to gently press the cornstarch into the stain, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
  • Dump off the cornstarch and lightly brush off the residue (I used the spoon again) to see how things are looking.
  • Repeat if necessary. (My first try loosened about 80% of the stain – the second try got me to 100%.)
  • Use a suede brush, or really any soft-bristled brush (I used the dry brush I’m supposed to be using to exfoliate my skin) to brush off the excess cornstarch and restore the nap of the suede.

* Note: you want to do this as soon as possible after tragedy strikes. If you do end up letting the oil stain dry, re-moisten the area before starting this procedure.

My hand to Chanel, that oil stain just vanished. I am one picky pants when it comes to stain removal, and I can’t even tell where it happened. (Also, this one is pretty reliable about tracking down food smells, and she’s not at all interested in these shoes. Very good sign.)

While I can’t say for sure, I’m pretty confident that the same process would work to remove a water stain from suede…but again, you want to get to it while it’s still wet.

Here’s hoping you’ll never have to use this little tidbit, but if you do, will you promise to report back?


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tricks of the trade: how to stretch the waistband on your jeans

how-to-stretch-your-jeans, via shopping's my cardioHere’s a trick I’ve been keeping under my hat for too long, friends: how to stretch the waistband on your jeans. I mean, you know the cardinal rule about buying denim: jeans should fit in the store like they were painted on by a sadistic corset-maker – that is, so tight you can barely breathe. Because, of course, they stretch like crazy, and those perfectly-fitting jeans turn into a saggy mess after a few months if you don’t.

It’s a sound policy with one flaw: the waistband. It’s the only part of the jeans that never, ever stretches, and you’re left with something that’s uncomfortable at best, pain-inducing muffin top at worst.

I got this tip from a salesperson years ago, and to be honest, I thought she was a liar. “She’s just trying to sell me a pair of jeans that doesn’t fit,” I thought. “I’ll show her – I’ll buy them now and return them when it doesn’t work.” Well, the jeans are still in my closet, and I now use this handy little trick all the time.

Here’s the drill: get out your ironing board and iron. (If you, like me, have thrown away your ironing board in a fit of “de-cluttering” your life, you can MacGyver this by using the back of an upholstered dining chair with a towel over it, or a wood cutting board.) Fill up the steam chamber, and turn everything up to the hottest, steamiest setting. Now, do up the zipper and button on the jeans, and slide the waistband over the ironing board. Steam the bejeezus out of the waistband, then pull down hard (Really. Your arm should hurt a little as you do this.) on the bottom of the waistband to stretch them around the board. Now, iron the waistband with one hand while you’re pulling with the other. And be tough about it – the idea is to dry that damp denim while the waistband is stretched. Go around the entire waistband doing this, but don’t go south of the stitching on the bottom of the waistband, or you’ll get some interesting bunching.

Make sure you try them on after going around once – if they’re not stretched enough, do it again. But once around almost always does the trick.

Miraculously, this even seems to stick after washing (of course, you’re never, ever drying your denim all the way, right?). It really does work wonders.

Let me know if you give this one a try!


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