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When Candles Attack: How to Remove Spilled Wax or Drips From Fabric

Candles? Sexy. Lingerie? Sexy. Candles all over your lingerie? Less sexy.

Photo: An Aruni Photography/Getty Images

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Wax Season is upon us, making this the perfect time to talk about what to do when you end up with a wax disaster on your hands, either because you've knocked a candle over and sprayed wax all over your jeans, or a pair of wax lips abandoned after Halloween melted onto your dresser, or the lovely tapers you set out to decorate your holiday table left drips all over candlesticks and tablecloths.

Oh, you're not familiar with Wax Season? That stands to reason, since it's something I'm pretty sure I made up all on my very own! Here's why I invented the term: The period from October 15th to February 15th is when we tend to get all candle-y, beginning with the tea lights we use in Halloween jack-o'-lanterns, then into the holiday season when candles are both an important part of religious observances and a special occasion decoration used to create a festive atmosphere. And then, of course, there's Valentine's Day, what with its romantical candlelit dinners and bathtub experiences. There's a lot of wax going on in those four months! So as we reach Peak Wax, here's a primer on what to do when candles attack.

Removing Wax From Launderable Items

True story: A few years ago, I knocked over a candle and melted wax landed all over the clothes I was wearing, my kitchen walls, floors, windowsills, and all up on my curtains. The curtains were a heavy woven material and I was just like, "Oh man, that's going to be a real pain to get out." Bear in mind that I'm a cleaning expert, so if I'm saying that to myself, you know it's bad.

But actually, it turned out that I was totally wrong: All those curtains (and my clothes, for that matter) needed was a spin in the washing machine. I used hot water and regular detergent, and those curtains came out looking brand new. Hurrah! So, if you've spilled wax on a launderable item, your first step should be to get it right into the wash. However, I would strongly suggest that you skip the dryer and let the waxed item air dry instead — that way, if there's any lingering staining caused by the wax itself or pigments used to give the candle a lovely hue, you can treat it and launder it again (heat will set a stain, which is why you should skip the dryer).

Getting Wax Off of Things You Can't Machine Wash

If you've gotten wax on something that you can't chuck in the washing machine, or if it's just an inconvenient time to head out to do laundry, there are other ways to remove wax from clothes and other textiles like curtains, upholstery, or carpeting.

The first method involves an iron and a sheet of the kind of brown paper used to make grocery and lunch bags. The idea is that you'll use the iron to heat the wax, and by placing the brown paper between the iron and the fabric, the paper will absorb the wax as it begins to melt. Start with the iron on the lowest heat setting and adjust up as needed — and check under the paper as you work. You may also find that you need to rotate the paper as sections become saturated with wax.

If you spilled colored wax, it's likely that there will still be a residual stain even after you've lifted the wax itself. Those stains can be treated with a laundry pretreatment product or an upholstery cleaner; rubbing alcohol is also great to dab on errant dye stains.

The other way to easily remove wax from fabric is to go in the opposite direction and use ice, rather than heat. This is a great option for fabrics that are embellished or otherwise shouldn't be exposed to the heat of an iron. It's also a slightly less labor-intensive method in that it doesn't require that you haul out the iron and ironing board.

To freeze wax, you can either use ice cubes or toss the waxed garment in the freezer for a few hours. When wax freezes, it shrinks, which will make it super easy to pop off; using a butter knife to get under a blob of hardened wax will also help with ease of removal.

Dealing With Wax Spills on Hard Surfaces

Let's say you did a real number, as I once did, and knocked a candle over, sending wax all over not just your clothes, but your home as well. Since I have you here, let's veer away from our fashions right quick and talk about what to do when wax flies everywhere.

The good news is that removing wax from hard surfaces is a much easier proposition than getting it off of fabrics. If you catch it as a wax spill or drip happens, use a paper towel to wipe soft wax away, and then follow by using a damp sponge and a small amount of dish soap to remove remaining waxy residue. If a colorful candle has left a pigment stain behind, a small amount of rubbing alcohol or a Magic Eraser will take care of the problem.

Hardened wax is just as easy to remove; use a butter knife or scraper tool to gently coax hardened wax off of surfaces like floors, walls, or countertops. Then, use an all-purpose cleaner to wipe away any residue. Easy peasy! Now go light every candle in your home in celebration of the advent of Wax Season.