How To: Remove a Chili Stain


John D. Johnson has manned the line at Camp Washington Chili for more than 60 years. He’s turned the reins over to his daughter, Maria Papakirk, but the 78-year-old still cooks the chili—and he does it in a white shirt. “I asked him why,” Papakirk says. “He said, ‘Because white always looks clean.’ ”

That is until you inevitably splosh chili all over yourself. Then what? First try dabbing it with some soda water. That’s what they’ll offer you at Camp Washington Chili, anyway. Or just check your pride at the door and preempt that stain with a bib. “I try to tell these business and media execs who come for lunch that all it takes is one little spot to ruin a crisp white shirt,” Papakirk says. “The worst is when their tie gets a stain. That’s a lost cause.” And hot sauce? Don’t even think about it. “Even when it spills on the table it’s hard to scrub off, let alone an article of clothing.”

Johnson sends his chili-stained whites over to Dick Zahneis of Parkway Cleaners. Zahneis starts with a pre-treat and a soak. “Pre-treat with a mild washing detergent, cold water, and if the fabric is sturdy enough, like cotton or polyester, a soft-bristled brush before you throw it in the wash,” Zahneis says. “Grease won’t come out without it.” In a pinch, he recommends Dawn dish detergent; “It’s one of the best for grease.” And really make sure you attack that spot before you throw your shirt in the dryer. After that, “it’s set,” Zahneis warns. But the real moral of the story, according to Papakirk, is this: “You assume the risk when you don’t wear a bib.” Fair enough.

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