Muddy spring a mean season for clean clothes

May 05, 1994|By Denise Cowie | Denise Cowie,Knight-Ridder News Service

You know that old rhyme about March winds and April showers bringing forth May's flowers? With all the snow accumulation this year, what they are likely to bring forth around here is mud.

Which may be a problem if you happen to be wearing pale linen shoes as part of your spring splurge.

In a season when hats, bags and shoes all seem to be white, light or natural, keeping clean may become the first order of business. So we checked with some obvious sources to see what they recommend.

Surprisingly few of the people we called on in our limited and unscientific survey had much practical advice to offer -- and we called all kinds of places, from the store on the corner to manufacturers' associations.

(The Federal Trade Commission's Care Label Rule -- which requires manufacturers to list at least one safe method of caring for a garment -- excludes footwear, gloves and hats. So the makers of those things don't have to tell you how to clean them.)

Among those who did have ideas, however, prevention was right up there: Before you wear your new acquisitions -- whether shoes, bags or hats -- spray them with Scotchgard or a similar stain-resisting shield.

Not even an old favorite like Scotchgard is completely risk-free. The consumer people at 3M Co., which makes it, say that "with most materials you'll probably be just fine." But they strongly recommend that you follow the test information on the can. Sometimes the colors of imported materials bleed because of the dyes used; and sizing (a kind of glaze) on some foreign-made products, especially in white canvas, may resist treatment with the spray.

The Bass store at King of Prussia, Pa., sells its own Rain & Stain Protector. According to the can, it helps to waterproof and stainproof all leathers, suedes, canvas and fabrics. Bass also says it can be used on a wide variety of footwear, clothing and accessories.

But remember, you should do this before you wear the items. Often, these sprays require more than one application over a period of hours. Don't let it slide until five minutes before a hot date.

Oh, OK, so you've already blown it, and your new espadrilles are spotted with mud. What to do?

Several shoe stores and handbag retailers suggest taking the damaged item to your favorite shoe repairer. So does the John Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia. If it's not a canvas shoe that comes with washing instructions, they say, take it to a good shoe-repair store and ask the experts. And a number of shoe-repair stores back up that advice: Bring it in, they say; we have lots of cleaning products, but we need to see the stain before we can match it with the appropriate cleaner.

Some offer more immediate help (and here's where we say, loud and clear: "Try any of the following at your own risk").

The shoe department at Bloomingdale's recommends Afta, a fabric cleaner you can buy in the supermarket.

The customer-service people at Ralph Lauren Footwear and Phil Jones, an employee at the Happy Cobbler shoe-repair store in the Penn Center Concourse in Philadelphia, have very similar advice: A little Woolite, a little water and a little elbow grease. Or, say the Ralph Lauren people, you could use a little white toothpaste.

Use a soft bristle brush, such as a soft toothbrush. Wet it, dip it in Woolite (or toothpaste), and gently brush the dirty spot. Then rinse the brush thoroughly and gently brush the spot again to get rid of the cleaner.

Mr. Jones said it works on straw handbags, too. But please, don't saturate the material.

Peter Kalin, general manager of the Bally store on Fifth Avenue in New York, says that Scotchgard and the like may not be a panacea for preventing all stains. If you soil a straw or raffia handbag (or hat), try rubbing it gently with a damp cloth dipped in warm water. If the stain is stubborn, use a little mild soap on the cloth, he says. Again, don't use too much water. Although the texture of raffia or the color of straw may change a bit during cleaning, it should dry all right.

Let us repeat: Before you apply any of this advice, remember the usual cautions.

Don't try it if you can't afford to risk the item.

But if you do, try it on an inconspicuous area first.

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