How to Remove Wax Stains

How to Remove Wax Stains 29Mar

In Orthodox worship practice, candles are an essential attribute. Inevitably, drops of liquid wax from these candles will find their way to the vestments, and cloth coverings of the altar, lecterns and other objects.

With help from Nun Agrippina our team has tested some of the most common methods of wax stain removal from the surfaces of different fabrics. Here are some results, with comments from Nun Agrippina.

Looking ahead, some stains will need to be removed by washing, but that will depend on the result of the less radical methods.

No two stains are the same

In choosing a method, we need to consider several factors. The first among them is the composition of the wax. Varieties with higher contents of bee wax typically melt at higher temperatures, and the greater the temperature, the more persistent the stain. Furthermore, wax darkens the detergent mix, making the stains even more lasting on white fabrics. Coloured candles may leave permanent stains, which cannot be removed without damaging the fabric.

The type of fabric also matters. Black inner cassocks are the easiest to clean. Thick patterned fabrics with colour contrasts can usually be cleaned with few traces. Stains on lighter fabrics, by contrast, can leave visible permanent traces.

The rule of thumb is to remove the stains as early as possible to prevent lasting damage to the colour and texture of the fabric. We also recommend inspecting your vestments and fabrics thoroughly before washing and ironing. That way, you can notice and remove thick wax stains and achieve better results. Any wax that remains after the washing will melt again when ironed, and the wax stain will reappear.

Stain removal methods

1. Mechanical (scraping it off)

Wax may not penetrate deep if its temperature is low enough and it drops on a smooth surface. If that is the case, crumble the fabric gently without touching the stain. If the stain begins to peel off, you may have success at removing it manually from the edges.

If not, try another method. But be careful: never remove a wax stain manually on velvet and other worsted fabrics. It is seldom possible to get rid of the stains without damaging the fabric. For instructions on removing wax stains from velvet, scroll down to the end of this material.

2. Ethyl alcohol

Mother Agrippina heard about this method but has not used it very much: in many monasteries, cologne and alcohol are rare, and their use is discouraged. Having tested this method on different fabrics, we recommend that you always keep a small flask of cologne on reserve in your altar. Alcohol is even more effective than cologne: the latter may leave a stain from the substances dissolved in it.

Alcohol is perhaps the easiest and quickest method to remove a wax stain, or at least to make it less visible. Apply the alcohol (or an alcohol-containing fluid) on the stain, and rub the fabric on itself, as in hand-washing. Alternatively, use a piece of cotton soaked in alcohol. Both options will cause the wax to flake off. At a minimum, your stain will become less visible. The method is very effective for black fabrics.

However, we also found that alcohol rarely removes a stain completely - some residues will remain in the fabric. You can get rid of them by ironing over a paper towel or a piece of cloth. For other fabrics, first decide how soon you will wash them. If the washing can still wait, put the iron aside. The wax flakes will melt under it and leave oily stains, possibly more visible than before the ironing. If the stain is still fresh or washing your garment is still a long time away, try alcohol to make it more visible.

how to remove wax stainsBefore and after using alcohol

3. Ironing over a paper towel

If alcohol is not within reach, or your need to wash your garment immediately, removing the wax becomes the priority. You can do so by ironing over any kind of absorptive material. Blotting paper, a paper towel, or toilet paper will do well. Nun Aggripina recommends fine, single-layered paper with good soaking properties (paper quality may vary). Fine paper is more effective at conducting heat and gives you more control over the process that separates the wax from the fabric and does not allow the stains to grow while keeping the fabric under and around the stain intact.

Put one piece of paper under the fabric and another over the stain. Gently apply the front part of the iron to the stain over the paper (do not let the back part touch the fabric under any circumstances). That will cause the wax to melt and soak into the paper. Move the paper to a clean section, and apply the iron again. Repeat several times, and check if the paper under the fabric has absorbed any wax. If yes, move to a clean section immediately. Do not press on the iron: you may speed up your progress, but the stain may grow in size, and the fabric may deform. You can press harder only after the paper has almost stopped absorbing any new wax.

If washing is imminent, here is another tip from Nun Agrippina. Mark the stain with some coloured thread different from the colour of the fabric. Check that the dye of the thread will not seep into the fabric of the garment during washing. We use marking to track the location of the stain, which may become invisible on a wet surface. That will allows you to pre-wash the area more thoroughly or apply some extra detergent to it.

Handling velvet safely

Velvet is beautiful, but also delicate.

Always resist the urge to scrape a wax stain off the velvet.

It does not seem to respond well to alcohol: it releases the dye and damages the pile, causing visible defects.

Ironing works much better, but only if you iron it from the seamy side.

If your iron has a steam function, turn it on for better results. Put the velvet face down on a paper towel (if possible, use several layers), cover it with a single layer of paper and apply the front end of the iron to the stained area. Check and move the paper on both sides to a clean section. You may press on the stained area with the tip of the iron at the end of the process. However, be careful not to put your iron over any other area of the velvet. Velvet is delicate. Handle with care.

wax stain on velvet

If you still have any questions or just want to suggest a new topic - you are welcome! We read the OCC group on Facebook regularly.

Protodeacon Oleg Tarasevich