In my experience, there are really only three skills a good host really needs to master: greeting everyone at the door with a smile, making a good punch, and removing a red wine stain.
This article is about that last skill.
There are three common cures for a red wine spill: water, water and salt, and club soda. Figuring that a good host should know which of these works (if any), I decided to conduct an experiment in the Epi test kitchen. For guidance, I called Wayne Edelman, owner of Meurice Garment Care in NYC and an expert in stain removing. (Martha’s a fan.)
The first thing Edelman told me to keep in mind is that not all stains are created equal. Protein stains, like spilled yogurt or milk, are fundamentally different in structure from wine stains. Tannin stains, like wine or coffee, come from a dye found in solids like grape skins or bark. The type of stain can help you decide the best remover.
“You want to use something that’s acidic to render stains soluble,” said Edelman. I didn’t quite know what he meant, so I purposefully poured some red wine on some fresh, white towels and started experimenting.
WATER WITH SALT
I’d read that when handling salt for stains, it’s important to not be shy: a lot of salt comes in handy. You want to completely cover that spilled wine and draw out as much moisture as possible.
A saltwater solution on the wine spill removed the stain better than regular water did, but even after an overnight soak, the red wine was still pretty prominent on the linens I tested.
CLUB SODA WITH SALT
This method was dubbed “the Larry David method” after an episode of his show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. In one segment, a cup of coffee spills across a white couch, and Larry David’s mind is blown as a mysterious man practically sweeps away the stain using club soda and salt. How did it play out IRL? My test worked in removing the stain, but considering that club soda alone also worked (see below), the salt probably isn’t necessary.
There’s no scientific evidence confirming club soda as a more effective stain remover than regular water. However, of the four methods I tried, this one worked the best in breaking down the wine’s dyes. After pouring on club soda and letting it sit overnight, there was practically no trace of the stain left.
Club soda goes through some chemical add-ons during its artificial carbonation (the distinguishing characteristic between club soda and seltzer), which makes it slightly more acidic than tap water. That could be the key to its effectiveness. But personally, I don’t really care why it works; I just know a good host needs to keep several bottles on hands, for low-alcohol mixed drinks and spill-prone friends alike.