Church Linens (followup!)

Would just plain alcohol or peroxide do?

Sorry to hear that. I used a pre-wash stain remover that works really well, but it is also heavily scented. This is not a problem in France, Land of the Heavily-Perfumed Everything, but obviously isn’t an option in your case.

It helps that the Precious Blood is only offered to the laity once a year in this parish, and then only by intinction (by the priest). The only time lipstick on the purificator is an issue is on Good Friday, for the Veneration of the Holy Cross. So that’s one purificator per year that risks coming in contact with lipstick.

A surprising amount comes out just soaking but there is some that alcohol doesn’t seem to touch. I had some luck with the peroxide/ammonia mixture suggested by Almy, but that sometimes leaves a yellow stain that has to be removed itself (and again sometimes isn’t apparent until the ironed piece is folded to six layers of whiteness).

Lipstick is made up of oils, waxes and mineral pigments, and I think it is the pigments in some 24 hour lipstick that is getting me; at least. it seems to be the same shade that makes that last stand!I’ve heard that adding Dawn to the soak might help (because it is very good at removing the wax/oil part), but those are the ones that I have soaking now. Stay tuned on that.


Oh, if it were only once a year! This is every Sunday.

It does give me a good weekly meditation on the temporal effects of venial sin, though. I consider it my penance for all the unintentional harm I’ve left in my wake in my lifetime, lol!!

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One thing I’m curious about: any linen that has come into contact with the Blessed Sacrament or the Precious Blood should be rinsed in a sacrarium or in a basin of clean water before washing. Would there be any point to doing this with linen that has Holy Chrism on it? Water won’t flush that out, but at the same time Chrism is blessed and shouldn’t be tossed into a washing machine and subsequently rinsed down a conventional drain.

Actually, it is not necessary that Holy Oils and the soap necessary to remove them from a durable object (such as a bottle, cruet or cloth towel) be disposed of in a sacrarium and there is some good reason not to do so:

Washing things that have had Holy Chrism on them isn’t at the same level as washing corporals, purificators or vessels that have held or touched the Blessed Sacrament, since the Blessed Sacrament is not just a holy thing but the very Lord Himself. Although things that have sacramentals like holy water or holy oils on them don’t require the same ritual-level of care required when it is possible a small fragment of the Blessed Sacrament might be present, the cleaning still ought to be done “reverently and carefully as opposed to casually.” I was taught to take this to mean that these things ought to be washed separately from everyday items, kept separately from everyday items, handled at all times with mindfulness that they are liturgical items–the way one would treat a rosary differently than a necklace–and burned (reverently and carefully) when their condition is no longer suitable for liturgical uses. When it comes time to burn any sacramental, consult your pastor. If for whatever reason you need help other than from your own priest, your diocese will also have an office of divine worship that can handle your questions and may even offer to take care of disposing of these items.

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If it is only once or twice per year then I would suggest using older well used purificators for those occasions. If they don’t get clean when washed then I would be prepared to burn them.

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I consider it a penance to soak and wash the 3 metre long altar cloth. Especially if there was red wine used for the Eucharist. Salt does sometimes help to get the stains out but it is a big heavy cloth to wring when I am alone.

It seems like bleach is the only fluid/detergent that gets spots out of white fabric. Smells strongly but purificators can be washed an extra time. It is important that bleach not gets close to embroidery done in colour. Those who wear lipstick could volunteer in the sacristy and help with doing laundry.

I totally understand why white wine is used in the parishes around my greater area.

That’s a great idea. We didn’t have any purificators that were that close to being worthy of the incinerator, though. New linens, including a healthy supply of purificators, were donated to the church early in my tenure and they looked exactly the same when I stepped down as they did on the day we received them. :grimacing:

On the other hand, I’ve been told by numerous textile experts that using chlorine bleach on linen fabrics could ruin them. It weakens the fibers. If your altar linens have any linen fiber content, I wouldn’t take the chance.

Most of the time, bleach is fine for cotton.

As far as the altar cloths go, I delegated those to someone else :wink:

Non starched linens get dampened down with water and then ironed both sides with the steam set to the lowest, usually 1, but the heat set to linen or the highest. They do turn out lovely.

Resin-based sizing is another good suggestion, though I hadn’t realized that the bugs weren’t attracted to it.

You’ve stated some very good and useful ways/ideas/recommendations/advice in caring for the altar linens, so thank you for sharing with us your knowledge gained from experience.

I too have noticed the wear through the creases over time, and yes after some time the creases do not always come out in the wash. Ironing creases does wear the threads in those areas.

I think some priests do like the creases to be extra sharp and don’t mind a bit higher linen turnover. As you’ve pointed out, some also want the particular qualities that require starch to achieve while others want only sizing or nothing at all.
It all depends on what Father wants!

You are so right about embroidery. I had some embroidery transfer from one part of a corporal to another one. It took far longer to get that stain out than to get the original stain, and I felt very lucky that the piece wasn’t ruined entirely. I haven’t been doing this for many years, but I feel as if I’ve made 75% of the possible mistakes.

That reminds me I was also warned to use only oxygen bleach (like Oxi Clean) but never chlorine bleach on linen, because it will turn linen yellow. I tried the peroxide-and-Dawn method and got a yellow stain that I never could get out (but I think my peroxide was over a year old. Never use expired hydrogen peroxide!)

I’ve used a 2-3 day cold water soak to get out rose wine stains with no other treatment, but those are purificators stained within the last 10 days. I found this out by accident; I intended to soak them a few hours and was distracted. Overnight usually does it; the main thing is that fabric soaking in water must be 100% submerged without air trapped. (Where there is both water and air, you’re asking for mildew.) I’ve seen wet fabrics start to show mildew in 2 days or so, but I’ve submerged something literally for weeks and had no mildew. (Borax is a great way to kill mildew and its spores, if you have that problem. It helps get out the stains, too, but mildew stains are a pain to get out and weaken the fabric even if you can get it white again.)

I have also heard sodium lauryl sulfate produces some amazing results, with the advantage that it is neutral and safer for old or fragile fabrics. It is sold as quilt detergent or horse shampoo. I haven’t been able to get any yet, but I’ve ordered some.

The main thing with stains is to avoid getting the stain both dry and hot at the same time. That sets them.

@HeDa , our High Altar cloth is also 3 metres long - so I empathize. And yes, those altar boys when pouring the red wine into the chalice for Father aren’t always careful - hence spots. These aren’t the Precious Blood because of the location - closer to the Epistle end of the altar rather than the middle.

Bleach in my opinion is too harsh and as someone else noted can leave behind yellow marks, and should never be used near embroidery (colored that is).

Has anyone tried Resolve which is an oxygen-based bleaching agent, or if this brand is not available where you are, perhaps there is an oxygen-based bleaching agent under a different label? I find it gets out the red wine stains easily and completely, including old stains e.g. up to a week. The active ingredient is sodium percarbonate 330g/kg. It also doesn’t fade the red embroidery on the linens, and I soak them for approx 24hrs before washing in the washing machine.

I think there has only been maybe 3 occasions in all the years I’ve been using it, that’s I’ve had to re-soak items to get the stain completely out.

I also soak the altar cloths in the same and they come up brilliantly.

For removing wax stains left by candles on the altar linens, after removing the surface wax (gently scrape off using fingernails or a blunt knife to lift it off), and soaking as I said above, there is usually a wax stain left. I have found after trying numerous methods the one that works for me easily and every time is to wet the spot with mineral turpentine and then wash in warm/hot water with usual washing detergent. Sometimes when there has been a lot of wax stain to be removed I can still smell the mineral turpentine, but after drying the smell has gone.

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I can vouch for everything you’ve said except the turpentine, which I have heard about but haven’t used yet, and on theory that ought to work very well. Thanks!

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I tried dry cleaning fluid, mineral spirits, white spirits, acetone, graffiti remover, whatever stain remover pre-wash I could find, but the mineral turpentine is the only one that I’ve found that removes it completely.

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Has anyone made a oversized ironing board to use in place of a standard ironing board? I keep promising myself to do it. but haven’t yet. Any tips or feedback you have would be most welcome!!
(In spite of the caption, there is no sewing involved.)

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That is so true!

As to the oversized ironing board, no it hasn’t occurred to me. But many decades ago, I believe for such large items a blanket folded up and placed on the usual kitchen table with a sheet over the blanket was used to iron large items like bedsheets.

I can’t remember now when this was, but I have tried this and it did work. When starching and ironing the altar cloths I just use my usual ironing board (such a pain), ironing first one side and then once started ironing the other I place a suitable sized cardboard roll on the end and as I’m ironing I roll the linen onto the cardboard roll. This keeps the altar cloth wrinkle free as it isn’t folded and really doesn’t take up much room in a sacristy drawer.

Edited to add:-

Thanks @PetraG for that link - that would certainly make ironing altar cloths much easier!

This is from; these can be made as a tabletop:

I cannot find where she says it, but I believe her altar guild had tables like these and made money by ironing tablecloths for parishioners around the holidays!

At any rate. there are lots of DIY videos on making tabletops and even making one that fits on top of a standard ironing board.

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I always heard that you could get wax off cloth by putting clean paper (something like blank newsprint or paper towels) on the stain on the dirty side, on underneath, and then ironing it from the other side. The wax drips off the cloth and melts onto the paper. I think that was how servants used to deal with candles at dinner dripping onto tablecloths.

But check a better source than me!!

EDIT: From other websites, I guess the safer way to do it is to have a sacrificial cotton towel to pick up the wax, or to sit between the paper and the ironing board and absorb heat, so nothing catches fire.

Or you can iron paper towels, brown paper bag paper, etc., placed on top of the wax.

It is a WARM iron, not a hot one, and no steam. Some people use a hair dryer.

Some people just put the stained cloth in boiling water with baking soda, but I do not think linen gets boiled. Cotton might be okay.

You’re right. I forgot to mention that step, so thank you for mentioning it. After scraping the dried wax off, I then place some plain brown paper under the cloth and another piece on top over the wax area and go over it with a warm/hot iron (actually I don’t change the setting on my iron but then this is for linen.) Whilst this does remove any remaining surface wax (the brown paper absorbs the melted wax), there is still a ‘wax’ stain left behind.

You can see this if you hold the item up to the light - it’s very visible compared to the surrounding white linen, almost looking like a wet spot.
Sometimes I don’t see that I missed a spot until I am ironing it and then it is also really visible.

So that is where the mineral turpentine works in removing the last part of the stain.

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