There it is- a nasty orange-red spot right on the neck band of an otherwise snowy alb. How did it get there? How can you get it out? Rust around a sink drain is one thing- tough chemicals and scrubbing can be applied- but textiles are a tricky business. The best thing of course is to remove the CAUSE of rust on fabric which is metal + moisture in close proximity to fabric. A second’s worth of prevention can prevent an hour’s work later on. Safety pins or common pins, corsage pins from weddings, sewing needles and the like must never be left in a garment. Keep them dry and away from cloth in a closed plastic box in a drawer away from moisture. If possible, try to control humidity in the sacristy with a dehumidifier in summer months, or air-conditioning or circulating the air- a conservation tip for textiles in general. Avoid those big zip-up heavy plastic clothing storage bags like the plague- they make their own mini-environment inside, complete with moisture in humid months. Metal morses and chains (neckline closures) on copes, snaps, hooks, pins, etc. will merrily rust inside these things. Want to keep out light which fades and dust? Cheap cotton or unbleached muslin bags, which take about 5 minutes to run up on a machine are a much better and actually cheaper safe option.
Pins should not be used to keep garments from falling off hangers. Wooden or plastic clothespins with metal springs should not be used to hang up any textile. Wire hangers which are old and losing their coating should be thrown away. In fact any garment or textile hung up should have padding around a wire coat hanger, especially in the shoulders and neckline. The best storage for chasubles and vestments is flat storage in a roomy clothes press, for this method puts no stress on shoulders and necklines- but many newer sacristies do not have these so sacristans opt to hang vestments vertically in closets on hangers. Plastic-coated hangers or resin hangers which have great sloped, natural-shaped shoulder contours are available from Almy’s catalogue and many other church supplies catalogues for a reasonable price. Copes and chasubles benefit greatly from this style of hanger. Those in the photos above come from Vanpoulles (UK) and Slabbinck.
Perhaps one of the oldest rust remedies is lemon juice and a little sunlight- and it will often work on whites. Carbona is a product which has also been around for a long time, as has white vinegar and oxalic acid powder. What these things have in common is that they contain a type of acid which will dissolve the rust. What is rust? Rust is a general term for a series of iron oxides, usually red oxides, formed by the reaction of iron or its alloys such as steel with oxygen in the presence of water or air moisture.
Two products which I have used with success are Rust Out and Whink- both are safe for fabrics. Always read the label if there is any doubt- not all rust removers are made for use on fabrics. Lay out your item to be cleaned flat on a white towel. You may need to place a buffer cloth between the stain and the back of a garment so the product and water does not seep through to an under layer of fabric. Using a Q-tip or cotton swab, wet the affected area with a drop of cold water, then apply a little of the product to the rust stain with the Q-tip. Be sure to read the product label carefully even if you feel sure you know what you’re doing before you begin. A little patience is needed- work small and carefully. In a very short time, the rust will begin to dissolve and the red-orange color will fade away. Blot up the residue product with a clean white cloth, then be sure to remove all traces of the product with cold water. Leave the now rustfree item out to dry completely before putting it back in the drawer or closet. My favorite cure for rust is Whink-and it seems the easiest to find in most supermarkets or hardware stores. If there is the slightest doubt, you may wish to try a tiny pinpoint of the product in a seam or unseen place to see how the product will react on that particular textile before going after the rust spot.