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A successful dinner party is at once a rush and a sigh of relief—the food came out on time, your guests got along, and no one talked opposing politics. If you set out your favorite table runner or tablecloth—plus some candles for ambience—it’s probably also true that you’ve experienced the aftermath of such an elegant setup: candle wax melted over onto the fabric.
Instead of relegating your wax-stained tablecloths to your linen closet, a few straightforward steps can get your cloth back in business. We asked Becky Rapinchuk—author of Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home and the cleaning expert behind the blog Clean Mama—for her go-to method. These steps apply to any wax-on-fabric emergency, as Rapinchuk says “whether this is your grandmother’s lace tablecloth or just a plain linen one, you’re still going to follow the same guideline.” The key to your success? Don’t rush things. Let the wax harden and then scrape it off.
Consider this to be your most immediate task: Wait until the candle wax has cooled and hardened on the fabric before you begin the wax removal process. To hasten the cooling process, you can ice the waxy area on the cloth with ice cubes in a plastic bag that’s placed right on top of the stain. “You can also fold up the tablecloth with the waxy section exposed on top and pop it in the freezer for a few minutes,” Rapinchuk adds.
Once the wax has hardened and cooled, you’ll have an easier time breaking it up so it either crumbles or slides off the fabric—instead of spreading and making an even bigger stain. Hold on tight to the soiled section of fabric, and with your other hand, use a butter knife or credit card to make a quick scoop of the accumulated wax.
If there’s still wax remaining on the fabric, use heat to remove it. You can either pour hot water on the stain or use a hair dryer or iron to heat the area. Just make sure the iron isn’t too hot as you don’t want to burn the cloth. “I always use parchment paper or a paper bag on top of the stain while ironing it,” Rapinchuk recommends, “the goal is to re-melt the remainder of the wax and get it to peel off and stick onto the paper itself.”
If your cloth is light-colored and there’s still residue remaining from the candle’s oil, which is likely since candle wax is an oil-based stain, consider spreading sea salt on the stained area. “Avoid using Kosher salt as it may be too abrasive and might end up breaking up the fibers of a tablecloth, especially if this is a fine cloth,” Rapinchuk says. Instead, use a finer grind, like table salt.
Simply toss the cloth in the wash. Just don’t forget to follow the cleaning instructions on the label.