In today’s mailbox:

“We have soot on the White fair linen. There are approximately 4 spots. I am tasked to clean this and am fearful of leaving a ring around any spot that I may attempt to remove. We would appreciate knowing what product to use and how to use it. Thank you very much. This web site has been most useful.  Blessings, Patricia Collins Larkspur CO”

Next to lily pollen, soot has to be the next worst thing to remove.  Of course the best thing is prevention. Keep your candle wicks trimmed, and the candle burn -well free of debris.  Use a glass or brass candle follower.  In some cases bobeches can catch waxy soot before it hits the linen. ALWAYS use 51% pure beeswax candles for the altar. They burn cleaner, drip less and smoke less.  Keep the INSIDE of your candle “snuffer” bell SPOTLESSLY clean.  After cleaning it out, give it a light spray of PAM and wipe out residue. If the candle snuffer bell is clean inside when it goes over the candle, there is less chance of sooty drips falling onto the linen. If there is a heavy build up inside the bell, soften it by using a blow dryer to heat it up, wipe out with a paper towel. Repeat until clean.  Teach the acolytes to merely hold the bell over the flame to extinguish it. They do not have to cram the snuffer over the flaming candle. The idea is to deprive the flame of oxygen by “smothering it”, not mashing the flaming wick into the brass. (This happens more than you would guess and it makes such a sooty mess inside the snuffer).  Use a fair linen protector at ALL times when an altar is not being used for a serviceThis will save your linen! Fair linens are so expensive.  Pale blue is the usual traditional color for protectors in Episcopal churches, and they may be made out of plain cotton , even a twin -sized bed sheet works beautifully when cut and hemmed to fit. An embroidered cross is not needed on the protector.

All that being said- the damage is done and there is an ugly black spot on that snowy white linen. Before laundering it, treat that spot!  Once soot has been washed into the linen, it is harder than ever to get it out. Treat as soon as possible.  First thing is to vacuum up as much as possible. If it is just carbon, and powdery from a candle wick, vacuuming should get most of it out.  Then try a soft toothbrush. Flick in short, one-way strokes.  If there is still some residue on the spot, cover it with baking soda and let that sit for an hour.  Dump off the residue and try the flick method with the soft tooth brush  to get all of the baking soda out.  Be patient and work slowly. You have now exhausted the “dry method”.

There are several remedies to try using the “wet method” when all else fails.  Take a white hanky, cotton ball or cloth and dab it into rubbing alcohol.  With a blotting  motion, up and down, apply to the spot.  You may wish to put a paper towel behind the spot.  More of the soot should come up. Rinse out with cold water. Still seeing a spot?  Now bring on the big guns!  Sadly, soot frequently has wax mixed in it. If you can actually see the wax sitting on top of the linen, you may be able to gently scrap it off before you start to treat the soot stain. I have had luck using the edge of a credit card, pushing in one direction in short strokes. You do not want to break the threads, so knives can be risky. If the wax is too soft, pop the linen in a plastic bag and put it in a freezer for awhile until the wax gets hard and easy to scrape away.

Finally, if you have exhausted all of the above tips.  Try a laundry stain remover (liquid) on the spot.  Be sure to rinse it out.  I have had some luck using  a solution of two cups cool water and one tablespoon dishwashing liquid(I like DAWN).  And finally, give a tough case an overnight soak.  I am a big fan of TIDE or BIZ.  Launder as usual.  Sometimes you may have to go to a professional cleaner’s when you have done your best.  Let me know how it turned out!!

*  On Ash Wednesday, keep a piece of soft French bread ready for the priest to wipe ashes off the fingers. After wiping the soot on the bread, a cleansing of the fingers across a slice of lemon will then leave the fingers pristine and spare your purificator!  This little preparation looks dainty in an attractive glass saucer handy nearby on the credence table.