Perhaps you’ve read the news: There’s a dark side to drinking. No, not cirrhosis of the liver. Spillage.
Few household stains are more noxious than red wine—to the point where an entire industry has sprung up around helping consumers who want to remove red wine stains from their linens.
Do these products actually work? I acquired five of the most popular names in wine-stain removal and put them to the test. Specifically, I applied a controlled amount of red wine on various points of an otherwise clean cotton towel. With the stains still wet, I followed the manufacturers’ instructions on treating each stain (typically of the spray-then-rub-then-wash variety), then washed the towel with other garments. As a control, an additional stain was treated with a mixture of standard laundry detergent and white vinegar, a commonly advised wine stain removal tactic. A final stain was not treated at all.
I repeated the process for a second test on a different towel, but this time let the wine sit for 48 hours to measure the products’ effectiveness with old, well-set stains. Finally, I tested these products with materials that you can’t launder, including carpet and furniture fabrics, again testing both fresh and old wine stains. This would test each product’s effectiveness on its own, without the aid of a water and soap bath after treatment.
For this analysis, I obtained five cleaning products designed for cleaning wine stains. They include (while size options vary, prices are representative of common availability options):
Wine Away ($18.50 for two 8-ounce spray bottles)
This product is pretty much ubiquitous in wine catalogs, tasting rooms, and wine shops. The active ingredient is methylcyclohexene, an organic solvent. The company also markets the product for use on blood stains, in case your party gets really rowdy.
Wine Off ($12.85 for two 4-ounce spray bottles)
The company behind Wine Off specializes in a product that removes urine stains; this is a sort of side project. Wine Off uses “friendly bacteria and enzymes” to remove staining. While most of these products are fairly neutral (or citrus-smelling), this one has a bit of a pungent smell to it.
The Amazing Whip-It ($15 for one 32-ounce spray bottle)
A multipurpose cleaner; wine stain removal is just one of the suggested uses. The product claims to be green-friendly, made from “high grade eucalyptus oil combined with a powerful blend of naturally derived plant-based ingredients such as citrus, corn, salt and non-ionic surfactants.” Concentrated versions are available that you dilute at home.
Chateau Spill ($8 for one 4-ounce spray bottle)
The company says this product was originally designed to remove the stains lab workers get on their hands from staining microscope slides. No word on active ingredients, just a claim that microscopic technology was used to work out “how to break that stain down at the cellular level.”
Gonzo Wine Out ($6 for one 14-ounce spray bottle)
No active ingredient information is available. Like Wine Off, Gonzo has a somewhat pungent, industrial odor.
Detergent and Vinegar. One commonly suggested household tip directs you to mix laundry detergent and white vinegar together in equal parts and use as a pretreatment on stains or on carpet stains. I tried this as a comparative.
Nothing. As a control in laundering-based tests, I did no pretreatment at all and simply washed the garment normally.
Testing on Washables
First, the good news. On a fresh fabric stain—just a few minutes after a spill, followed by a treatment and laundering in a washing machine—all the products removed every trace of the wine. That said, so did using no product at all. If you can get a wine-stained garment into the laundry immediately, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting the stain out even if you simply use regular detergent.
With a stain that had set for two days, I experienced significantly different results. While all the products were effective at lightening the stain, some did a much better job than others. At the top of the heap, by a solid margin, was Chateau Spill. After treating and washing the test garment, only a very faint stain remained—almost invisible. Wine Off took second prize, leaving a faint but still visible stain behind. The mix of pretreatment with standard detergent and vinegar did a solid job too, taking third place. None of the other products—Wine Away, Gonzo Wine Out, and Amazing Whip It—were any more effective than not treating the stain at all before washing. But at least they didn’t do any additional harm to the fabric.
Testing on Non-Washable Fabrics
Again, these tests were performed on fabrics and materials that could not be easily washed, simulating a stain on your couch or that irreplaceable Persian rug.
With a bamboo-based upholstery fabric and no laundering, Chateau Spill again had the best results by a wide margin. After just one treatment, the stain was still noticeable, but just barely. With repeated treatments it faded to nearly indiscernible. Again taking a solid second place, Wine Off was moderately effective at lightening the stain’s color, but not quite to the degree of Chateau Spill.
None of the other products did a credible job at cleaning this stain. Wine Away lightened the color of the wine a bit, but not enough to make it worthwhile. The stain remained clearly visible, just pinkish instead of reddish, even after multiple treatments. Both Amazing Whip-It and Gonzo Wine Out seemed to do more harm than good. Rather than a red blotch where the spill was, with these two products I was left with a gray-and-purple scar that was more visible than the original stain.
Results testing on carpet found some clear winners, but broader efficacy among the crowd. Again, with just one treatment, Chateau Spill almost eliminated an old, dry wine stain, and Wine Off did a very good (but second-place) job at the same task, with just a few spritzes of its spray. The remaining three products all turned in better-than-expected results on the carpet test, particularly with multiple treatments and lots of soaking. With enough time and patience, I was able to almost completely remove wine stains using Gonzo Wine Out, Amazing Whip-It, and Wine Away. The detergent and vinegar solution, however, was largely ineffective. Ultimately, all five products handled this task well, but Chateau Spill and Wine Off were the quickest at removing stains.
The Final Drop
It’s rare to see unequivocal results, but they were indisputable in my testing. No matter what the type of fabric you’ve spilled on or how long the stain has been there, Chateau Spill is easily the best at cleaning it up (though it is also the most expensive product of the bunch). Wine Off is a moderately distant second choice, but none of the other commercial products I tested worked well enough to merit buying.