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Q: How can I keep my trusty winter coats from suffering after I put them through everything from snowstorms to coffee spills? — Olivia, Chicago, IL
A: Right now, coats are wardrobe MVPs. They barely get a break each night before hitting streets full of snow and blistering winds. I, for one, also do a lot of indoor coat wearing as I wait for my body to defrost. This inevitably leads to lapels full of crumbs and unidentified liquid stains. But winter coats are often huge financial investments. In addition to storing them properly during warmer months and taking them a regularly as you can afford to the dry cleaner, it is essential to maintain outerwear on a day-to-day basis.
For advice on how to give winter coats some TLC, I turned to Madame Paulette, an elite specialty dry cleaner in New York that even handles everything from white silk blouses to haute couture. Over e-mail, President John Mahdessian sent his expert advice, which I've broken down below based on fabric type. The biggest takeaways? Never use a dryer or any direct heat. Act as fast as possible on stains. Blotting is usually better than rubbing. And when in doubt, seek professional assistance.
Read below for advice on to remove stains and properly dry wool, suede, shearling, tweed, fur, faux fur and cashmere.
WOOLTo remove a stain: If it is a water-based or oil-based stain, blot the stain with a dry or damp rag to absorb as much of the stain as possible. If needed, blot it with a small amount of very gentle detergent. Rinse the rag and blot more until the soap and stain comes out.
To dry: "Let it air out if you can accelerate the drying process by keeping it in a warm or heated temperature room," says Mahdessian. "Do not tumble dry in the dryer for it will shrink."
SUEDETo remove a stain: "Rub the surface area with a clean towel to bring up the nap in the suede," says Mahdessian, adding that you should avoid chemical stain removers completely as they spot easily. "Carefully apply a pencil eraser or piece of sandpaper to dry stains to remove top-level dirt. Brush the suede gently with a bristle suede brush. Be sure not to use a metal suede brush as it will scratch the surface."
To dry: "It is important to raise the nap with a soft brush, as this will eliminate some of the possibilities of water stains and water rings that leave that impression when the nap pile gets crush with wetness," says Mahdessian.
SHEARLINGTo remove a stain: Mahdessian advises the same treatment as for suede: brush gently and get all up in the nap of the fur. Stains should brush out.
To dry: Let it dry at room temperature and then brush out any remaining stains.
TWEEDTo remove a stain: "Remove excess stain with a cloth and if necessary rinse with water," says Mahdessian. Tweed is a woven fabric, so if necessary you can use a small amount of very gentle detergent.
To dry: Let it dry at room temperature. "It will shrink when direct heat is applied to entire garment," he says.
FURTo remove a stain: Mahdessian advises the same treatment as suede: brush gently and get all up in the nap of the fur. You can also shake briskly to remove salt and dirt.
To dry: "Fur can take water but you don't want to let the water dry out the material," says Mahdessian. Hang it to dry in the an open area at room temperature. If it gets really wet, a fur specialist needs to moisturize it, just like normal skin, to ensure it doesn't crack or break.
FAUX FURTo remove a stain: Faux fur can actually be hand-washed like any other delicate item if the lining is also machine washable. "Remove excess residue first," says Mahdessian. "Apply the proper stain solution to remove said stain and hang dry." Do not, under any circumstances, put it in the dryer.
To dry: "It's the same process as fur, with the exception being that faux fur is less susceptible to shrinking than actual fur or skin," says Mahdessian. So once again, hang to dry in an open area at room temperature.
CASHMERETo remove a stain: "Cashmere is a loosely woven fabric and can't take all stain removal processes," says Mahdessian. "Be gentle when rubbing out the affected stain area." Use an extremely gentle detergent or cashmere-specific liquid to spot clean with only cold water. "Dry only with cool air." Again, definitely don't use the dryer and don't apply any direct heat.
To dry: "Since loosely woven fibers are more susceptible to stretching, it's best to lay the garment down to dry properly without stretching," says Mahdessian. If you have a flat drying rack, put a mesh mat (or two) over it for an ideal drying surface.
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