Ask a Clean Person: Autumnal Cleaning Conundrums

It’s that time of year, brrr, and I’m cleaning all our fall coats. I notice that both my boyfriend’s raincoat and mine have big DRY CLEAN ONLY labels, but are both made of polyester/nylon, so the ‘dry clean only’ seems a crock (I always prefer to hand or machine wash when possible, because we have a washing machine at home, and I am both lazy and cheap, and dislike extra chemicals). Given the material, it seems like I should be able to do this at home EXCEPT!: Does the raincoat have some sort of coating which boosts its magical raincoat waterproofness, such that machine washing would ruin it? I am confused. Help! And thank you!

This is a great question, and you’re right to worry about the outer fabric having a coating that shouldn’t be washed. Since the care tag only mentions nylon and poly, it’s safe to assume there is no special coating on the raincoat, which means absolutely you can go on and hand- or machine-wash it.

What you don’t want to do is expose it to heat, in the event there is a slight coating or treatment on the material. Use cold water and a mild detergent, and, if you’re machine-washing, select the gentle cycle. Any light coating that there is will be fine in cold water (I mean, they’re raincoats, they’re used to water!), it’s just the dryer that might be a problem, so play it safe and let them drip dry. For bigger/bulkier items like coats, I find putting them on a plastic hanger — not metal or wood please! The water from the coat will cause them to stain the inner lining and we don’t want that. Also: [NO WIRE HANGERS! joke goes here] — and hanging them to drip dry in the shower.

If you do have a wax-coated raincoat, such as a Barbour, it will need to be specially handled. This is a really neat piece about a professional Barbour restorer that I love love love and have been dying for an opportunity to share with you. And here is that opportunity! Hurrah!

I got some lovely black Hunter boots for Christmas last year. Given that it was a pretty mild and rain-free winter and spring, I hadn’t gotten much use out of them. In fact, I wore them in March when it was a light snow/slush type situation, and put them in my closet, and haven’t had the opportunity to wear them since.

Well, I was cleaning the other day, and went to move them and noticed terrible salt stains all over the boots. Awful. I tried cleaning them using the recommended instructions: dish soap, but this did little to remove the stains. What’s a girl to do? Is it too late? Did I wait too long to rinse the salt off and ruin my beautiful boots?

I don’t think it’s too late, no! But before I get into the (super easy, I promise!) details of how to clean salt stains off rubber boots, it’s worth mentioning that it’s a good idea to wipe down your boots when you take them off after coming in from a storm. One, it will help to keep the storm detritus from getting all over your home, and two, it will extend the life and look of your boots. Just wiping them down with a rag is all you’ll need to do!

But back to your salt stains: in general, dish soap and warm water will do the trick to get and/or keep your rubber boots clean. But in the event there’s staining — particularly from salt — that the soap doesn’t touch, go ahead and add a half- to full-cup of white vinegar to your soap and water. Dip a rag in the solution and wipe the boots down with it. If you don’t have white vinegar on hand who are you and what are you doing here you can use Windex or any other kind of glass cleaner as a substitute.

How do I keep my dresses (cotton, linen, silk, pollys and esthers, as my grandmother used to say) from sticking and bunching on my tights when I walk? Is the only solution to wear a front-facing bustle? I presume such a thing exists. I’ve seen other girls have this problem, so I’m 99% sure its not the shape of my knees.

I love your grandmother and will be quoting her often. Just darling.

Okay but onto the very timely seasonal question at hand! There are a few different options you have in terms of preventing static cling:

1. Use Static Guard, which is a spray you spray on your clothes and/or tights to keep static from occurring. One nice thing about Static Guard is that they make small sized cans that can be tossed into a purse or a desk drawer for easy access.

2. Hairspray (aerosol) (I know, sorry!) has the same effect, but can be a little stickier than Static Guard. It’s also another thing you can get in a small size, which is nice.

3. Lotion! It’s super weird, but if you put a little bit of lotion on your hands, rub it in a bit, and then run your slightly lotion-y hands down your tights it will make a little coating that prevents static. This also works on your hair, but I bet you already knew that.

4. Dryer sheets rubbed on your tights has the same effect.

5. When you wash your tights and nylons and such, add a little white vinegar (about a half a cup oughta do it), which serves as a natural fabric softener and will help cut down on static in those items. It also has the added benefit of helping to take out smells, which unfortunately sometimes our hosiery develops, particularly in the crotchal area. (Sorry, real talk.)

Help! I stained my bathroom! Okay, here’s what happened: I used one of those temporary spray dyes for Halloween to dye my hair red. (Pippi Longstocking. It was a hit!) It got all over my tile shower walls. I was running late so I left the cleanup till the morning; I see now this was a rookie mistake. Anyway, the dye came off the tile, but the grout is still this weird dark pink color.

What do I do?? Scrubbing Bubbles has no effect. Bleach seems like the answer, but it’s sliding down the wall too quickly to really change things. Do they make … stickier bleach? I don’t know. I am out of my league here.

Bleach is liquid, so it will drip — that’s okay! If you have a spray bottle or a bleach-based product that comes in a spray bottle things will be easier. What you’ll do is spray the solution on the walls and then let it marinate for 15–30 minutes. OPEN A WINDOW PLEASE. The stink will be horrible. Also you absolutely must wear rubber gloves, both while spraying and while cleaning, because bleach is very harsh.

After you’ve let it sit, get a scrub brush, something like this (toothbrushes will just make you crazy, a bigger brush makes things go faster), wet it thoroughly and chh-chh-chh all over the walls. Then wipe everything down with a wet sponge or rag, and that should do it! If there’s a little red residue don’t worry. As the tile and grout dries it will lighten up back to white.

If you’re really against the notion of dripping bleach, you could opt for a cream product that contains bleach, like Soft Scrub. Apply it to the scrub brush, chh-chh-chh it all over the grout, let it sit there for 20–30 minutes and then rinse off. The last thing worth mentioning is that sometimes with dye stain situations you need to do more than one pass at it. That’s A-OK. Take a first crack at it, let it dry and then assess if it needs another going over.

Also your costume sounds adorable!

How do you clean or maintain wigs? Especially cheap ones. (That is my Halloween question.)

Sure thing, I can help with that! But it’s worth mentioning that oftentimes the cheap, Halloween-ish wigs aren’t really worth cleaning or maintaining, and actually sometimes they’ll just utterly fall apart if you try to make them clean. But! I admire your spirit, and with that here are the basics for maintaining wigs, cheap and otherwise.


  • You can use a soft-bristled hairbrush to style a straight wig; if the wig is curly, use the finger-comb method. And don’t pull! We don’t need your wig hollering, Ouch ouch you’re hurting me, Mom! at you.
  • In addition, you can use any kind of styling product you’d use on real hair — same goes for accessories. But also plain old hand lotion is a great thing for smoothing a wig down. Put a little bit in your palm, rub it in well, and then smoooooooooooooooth. A dryer sheet can also be used for this purpose.
  • The one thing that you cannot do to your wig is use any kind of heat-based styling products. Your wig will melt.
  • Please don’t come crying to me when you’ve got melted wig all over your curling iron. I will laugh and not help you because I am mean and also because I warned you!
  • If your wig has gone kinky while being stored, make a joke about how kinky it is and buy it a whip! And then hang it up in your bathroom while you shower to help loosen the kinks.
  • Also you can trim your wig! As the fibers settle into the wig cap some may turn out to be longer than others — just snip them with haircutting shears the same way your would real hair. Except that I know you’re not cutting your own hair because Jane would be upset with you for doing so and we don’t want to upset Jane.


If you need or want to wash your wig, you can totally do so — just use cool water and a very small amount of shampoo. Fill up your sink basin with water, add the shampoo and let the wig soak for about five minutes before rinsing well. Shake off excess water and hang or lay flat on a towel to dry. Try not to rub or agitate the fibers too much so it doesn’t tangle. Because if it tangles then you’ll have to brush it and then it will yell at you for hurting it and why is your wig talking to you? Have you sought help for that?


You know those styrofoam heads? Please get one and store your wig on it, just so people think you’re really glamorous and eccentric. Also it’s the best way to store a wig, for serious.

But since that’s not super practical, two other options, depending on what kind of wig you have:

1. If it’s a straight wig, you can put it back in the bag it came in. (Of course that’s provided that you saved the bag so, um, save the bag I guess?)

2. If your wig is curly, store it in a plastic grocery bag, which will give it more space to just be.

Previously: Something Winter This Way Comes, Part 1 and Part 2.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you curious to know if she’s answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?

Image via Flickr/jimshooz7