Out, Out, Damn Spot!


I received a message via email from a beginning artist out of Pueblo, Colorado, looking for advice on stain removal:

“I became enthralled with pastels last April. Being a beginner, I had no idea that once pastel hit clothing (or practically anything else) it was pretty much there for good. So, several weeks after I converted a guest room to a studio, and after dropping two pastels (fuchsia and dark turquoise) and crushing another (the darkest purple) into the carpet with my studio chair, I have a concentration of brilliant color on my carpet! Vacuuming with the hose attachment brought up a lot of the loose chunks and dust. But now I’m afraid I’ll ruin the carpet if I try any liquid to remove the rest. And then what? Is tearing out the carpet my only solution?”

Every pastelist has felt like Lady Macbeth at some point. Lost in our world of painting, we overlook that shard of pastel that has fallen onto the floor or not noticed that smudge that has soiled our clothing, leading us to the desperate plea of the Scottish queen. The best way to avoid this is to protect the floor (especially carpeting) or our clothing in advance. Cleaning these pastel incidents can prove to be a chore. Pastel is almost pure pigment. Some are dyes and capable of intense staining. The first consideration is to pick up as much of the pastel as possible. A good vacuum will suffice. If one is not at hand, try using a strip of strong masking tape. Fold the tape over, sticky side out, and dab. The adhesive will lift a considerable amount of the dust. When using a vacuum, make sure it has a good filtration system; otherwise, the exhaust from the vacuum will blow the minute pastel particles back into the air, creating a health hazard. If the pastel is ground well into the surface, try gently brushing the area after lifting with the vacuum or tape. A fine soft toothbrush or even a paintbrush will work well. Once loosened, lift the dust again with whatever procedure you are using.

After working on the stain dry, a wet means of cleaning may have to be employed to further lift the stain. With clothing, this is a simple exercise. Be sure to read the fabric care label for precautions before treating anything valuable. Treat the affected area with a stain remover in advance of washing. The best I have found is Mona Lisa Pink Soap. I acquire this locally from an art supply store. It has removed almost all pigment- and paint-related stains. Wet the area and gently apply a liberal amount of the pink soap. Let this sit for a few minutes and then wash the garment before the soap has a chance to dry. Carpeting is a more complex issue. It is easy to permanently set the stain into the surface, requiring carpet replacement. It is best to employ a professional carpet cleaning service when dealing with carpeting. They are trained to deal with complex situations. If you wish to attempt the stain removal on your own, I recommend using a procedure similar to clothing. Wet the area and apply the pink soap, gently brushing to loosen the pigment. Blotting with a damp cotton rag or sponge. This may have to be repeated quite a few times before the stain starts to lift. Another option is to use a small wet/vac designed for carpet cleaning. Bissell makes a couple of units that are designed for small carpet stains, usually associated with pets (the Spot Lifter 2X and Spotbot Pet). These units work very well. The carpet cleaning solutions they employ are very efficient at lifting most stains. The nice feature of these units is they have the added effect of lifting with the vacuum power while wetting the area with cleaning solvents. There is no guarantee that the pastel will come out completely, but with a little precaution in advance and good stain removing skills, Lady Macbeth may be kept at bay.

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One thought on “Out, Out, Damn Spot!

  1. jmay

    If you are a serious pastel painter, I suggest #1 wear old clothes, an apron, or overalls. And no #2 Don’t sweat the rug….eventually it will be multicolored anyway and it will be beautiful like the apron I wear and smear and wipe my hands all over. Don’t waste your time on the small stuff, there is a picture to be painted after all! If you want people to think of you as a serious painter, your studio will (usually) be a mess, your face smudged with pastel, and your rug a work of art. jmay