Brown spots on a stored linen tablecloth :(

I unearthed from the back of a closet an embroidered natural Irish linen tablecloth that’s been there for years. It has dark brown spots all over it. It may have been used once and just put away without laundering. Or they might just be those mysterious age spots I’ve found on other items - milk, tea, food, wine spills that aren’t noticed at the time and turn dark after just being stuck away on a shelf… If you have had the same problem, tell me, should I try to clean this tablecloth myself with various products or home remedies, or would it be best to take it to a dry cleaner?

I’ve had similar from old dresser drawers. I think it is tannins in the wood migrating to the cloth (I have NO idea if that is factually correct). The washing machine didn’t clear it all away.

You might take it to a pro.

Cockroach droppings? (Sorry if that grosses you out but they do leave brown spots on things)

Try a solution of Oxy-Clean. It is safe, and removes a lot of organic stains.

Another option would be an enzyme stain remover like Nature’s Miracle.

You should test both on a small area first.

I have a lovely Irish handkerchief linen tablecloth that had those brown spots you mentioned. I couldn’t get them out (used Oxy-clean, dishwashing soap, bleach, all kinds of suggestions), and ended up dying the whole thing with a strong solution of tea, so that the cloth came out a lovely tan shade and hid the spots. If you can’t get them out, try doing that, or if you need a darker shade, use coffee to dye it. What have you got to lose?

It may be foxing, which is generally associated with paper, but which may also appear on cloth. It’s not really known what causes it, but here’s a definition:

I’ve no idea if this is helpful, but in case it is:
What my grandmother did with linens, was once a year, take them out, wash them, and spread them in the bright sunshine. She claimed that the sunlight would cause the linens to bleach back out to white without bleach (bleach, she said, would damage linen fiber).

Thanks for the suggestions. I may try Oxyclean, or setting it out in the sun.

All I need is some SUN!

Dipping in tea is a good suggestion, too, but it’s not white linen, it’s sort of a pale gray and I don’t know what color tea would make it, though the cutwork and embroidery are brown/tan.

My mother buys a lot of old linens from estate sales, cleans them up, and sells them on eBay. OxyClean is always where she starts, and drying in the sun is also a frequent tactic. I think she has even boiled things on occasion. Good luck!

So will the sun. This method isn’t bad for something that isn’t valuable but if it’s antique or otherwise irreplaceable linen then sunlight is bad.

I believe you, about the sun damaging them, but it must take a while. She was still using the same linens after about 60 years, and they were still in one piece. They kept getting softer and nicer.

And of course she only did this whole sun-bleach thing once a year or so.

My aunt’s got them now.

My sister was in the antique linen business for years. I’m just pulling things out to sell online and have the tiny brown spots. It could be spit, a sugar crystal, creamer, anything that dries white and is inconspicuous. Why launder an antique if you don’t have to? But this is what happens over time–brown spots.

Pros probably won’t get it out and it might set forever. It’s cotton. It doesn’t need chemicals. Never use chlorine bleach but Biz is fantastic for crusty old brown linens. Add Biz to a 5 gallon bucket and soak using hot water to get out overall yellowing/browning. When the water is yellow rinse and repeat if necessary.

The brown spots are to be dealt with before an overall soak. Biz or Oxy won’t get them out right away and washing the entire piece every time is wearing. Get together Qtips and a solution of Biz, vinegar, and/or Oxyclean. Load the Qtip with the Biz or Oxy solution and dab, dab, dab. I used all 3 alternately above so far on a very thin antique linen runner. After I dab, I hang it up for at least an hour, then pull the linen tight and flush with warm water over that spot. Repeat, repeat, repeat until it’s gone. It’s down to very pale yellow but will still probably need 2-3 more tries. I wish it was summer but might still put it on my door to get sun to beat on it for awhile.

About the sun. It won’t hurt cotton. Women hung cotton and linen on lines in the sun in the past. Remember this stuff has been around for decades in who knows what conditions. I have really good success with the sun. I’ve got spots from dark stained glass paint out of white pants using the sun. The trick is to get the spot down to that still noticeable yellow. The sun will get rid of the last of it. Just don’t put chlorine bleach on anything and put it in the sun. I don’t put ANYTHING on it while in the sun. Oxy or Biz might oxidize too much and weaken the fibers so that’s it. The brown spots will come out with patience. Without the patience and repeats you chance to ruin the entire piece with a hole.

It’s been two years since the rest of the thread, so either the clothes are now clean or they are not, but in any case it’s not cotton. The title and the OP both refer to linen: linen and cotton are, and you actually know it, not the same thing.

I’ve ironed enough of both to know…