Stitchqueries: Spot Cleaning Linen

stitching questionsThis week’s question came in the form of a lovely note I received in my email from Madeline. I won’t paste the whole note here, but her question was about spot cleaning linen …

What do you use on linen to spot clean it? I don’t intend to submerge the entire stitchery in water for fear of the colors running. What can I use to clean some of the soil that accumulated where the roll bars were? Is there something at Hobby Lobby that is specific to safely cleaning linen or do I just use very cold water with some Woolite and a little brush?

Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Always a good question. We’ve talked about cleaning finished stitching here before and it’s always a good topic to discuss in regards to stitching because there are so many different options and everyone has their own preferred way of cleaning their finished pieces and washing away any stains that might have occurred during the project.

For cleaning small spots like fingerprints around the edges I think I would first try just a bit of cold water and some gentle detergent like All Free and Clear or the Woolite that you mentioned. Those are easily accessible items that usually aren’t going to do any damage to your work. I would wait until I was finished stitching the entire piece and do then do the spot cleaning so that you’re getting the cleaning done all at one time.

If you haven’t used any hand-dyed threads or fabrics with warnings about not being colorfast and you find yourself with a lot of areas to clean then you can always toss the whole thing in a cold water soak, but I completely understand not wanting to do that and I think we’ve all experienced that fear that a single thread color might run (especially those pesky reds) and ruin all of our work in the process.

If you have used hand-dyed items or if the spots are particularly stubborn you can try using Orvus soap instead, you can usually find a small jar at a quilting shop or order one online. Orvus will generally get just about anything clean – I’ve used on more than one occasion when my clumsy self dropped my highlighter or dripped coffee onto my fabric.

I’ve heard and read that some stitchers use a little bit of OxiClean dissolved in water to clean up the little fingerprint smudges and hoop or scroll bar marks that occur on projects. I’ve never actually used that method myself so I can’t for sure that it works, but the concept makes total sense that it would be good for removing things like skin oil etc., since that’s what it’s used for in laundry.

Funny little side story;

Several years ago I did a blackwork piece and I found myself with horribly messy edges because I had done a large portion of the stitching “in-hand” while traveling and didn’t have my q-snap handy. I had stitched it on hand-dyed linen and used hand-dyed threads, so I was scared to death to wash the darn thing but I definitely had to do something and it was way back before I knew about using Orvus.

I first tried an ice bath with a drop of Ivory soap as is often suggested in forums, but it didn’t come clean. I’m not sure if I didn’t use enough soap or if there were just too many skin oils around the fabric from holding and re-positioning. I tried a bit of All Free and Clear and gently tried to scrub the edges, still wasn’t happy with the level of clean. I got a clean pillow case from the linen closet, put the stitched piece inside of that and tied it shut (like you might if you might do if washing a child’s stuffed animal) and – yes, I really tossed it in the washing machine on gentle with a bit of All Free and Clear.

I think I stood in the hallway waiting on the verge of panic the entire time thinking I’d have to start over and stitch the whole thing again, but the end result was a totally clean piece and no damage was done – thank goodness.

Do You Have a Tip for Spot Cleaning?

If you have a handy tip for spot cleaning or a story to share about cleaning your own pieces, please post in the comments below and let us know!

Happy Stitching!

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Some other discussions we’ve had about cleaning and washing cross stitch projects:

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About Loretta

Stitcher from a young age. Mom of four amazing boys. Wife to the comic book geek who makes me smile every day. Transcriptionist by trade. Gluten-free by necessity. Writer at heart. Dreamer of big colorful creative dreams.


  1. I use All Free & Clear too. It works great.

  2. Donna Furman says:

    Years ago there was a cross stitch shop that I visited quite often. The owner always recommended you wash your finished project with shampoo. I’ve used it ever since and really find it does a nice job.

  3. I use a bit of OxiClean, watered down just a little, and a toddler’s size toothbrush (these have super-soft bristles that won’t damage delicate fabric). I’ve used this method on colorfast linen, white Aida, and black/colored Aida, but never on hand-dyed fabrics. I’ve found that it’s been successful each time. I just dip the toothbrush in the OxiClean and water mixture and gently scrub the soiled area. When finished, I pat dry with a like-colored hand towel and let the piece air dry. Hope you find something that works for you!

  4. Depending on what the soil contains, I use a clean toothbrush and baby powder to absorb any oils. I never use oil-based cleaners.

  5. If I have something hat needs soap I use orvus. It was recommended by a quilt shop because it’s Midland rinses well so I won’t run the risk of soap residue that I’ve run into with woolite

  6. I use a brand called Soak. It takes very little but I love it.

  7. Thanks for the cleaning tips! I was always too scared to wash the work when completed … will have to get both cleaners to have on hand!

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