You know that one shirt you think you can’t wear because of a stain that won’t come out? According to the experts at the Blue Man Group, you might be able to save it.
Cirque du Soleil’s Blue Man Group (BMG), known internationally for their wild, wordless performances by men covered in shiny blue paint, have smeared blue on pretty much every surface you can imagine, according to their wardrobe and makeup supervisors, who’ve become laundry experts out of necessity. From chef Wolfgang Puck’s forehead, to the hoof of Thummer the pig, the Los Angeles County Fair mascot, the Blue Men have a tendency to leave a trail of the substance—which is actually a specially formulated, blue foundation—in their wake.
Blue Man paint is probably one of the toughest stains to get out of fabric, says Meagan Bellao, senior wardrobe and makeup supervisor of BMG in Boston. “People are always surprised how thick the makeup is. It’s very much like peanut butter, maybe thicker than that, but with oil,” she says. You’re “fighting the thickness and cakiness of the product, but also the grease and oil stains you’d get from something like pizza. And you’re fighting the pigment as well.”
Belinda Hodsden, BMG’s head of wardrobe in Las Vegas, advises us to think of stain removal as basic chemistry. ‘The important part is to research the organic or inorganic thing you’re trying to remove. In a way, you’re playing with science,” she says, whether it’s food, blood, makeup, or anything else.
Read on for their tips, which they say will work even on stained clothing that has been in the dryer:
Step one: Don’t wear anything “dry-clean only” if you’re going to be around grease
Bellao and Hodsden are pros, but prevention is their first line of defense. “Everything we have in the show is washable...everything in our space, we know how to deal with,” Bellao says. “We’re always nervous when we take them out of the safety of our theater and our parameters. You never know what you’re going to run into.”
Her worst nightmare? A white silk gown. Dry-clean only clothing is dangerous, because some techniques for stain removal require submerging clothing in water. If you can’t wash the fabric, you’re out of luck.
Step two: If it’s dry, first pick out what you can
Try to attack the stain while it’s still wet, Bellao says, but if you don’t make it, no need to worry. You can pick off any dried parts with a toothpick or with your nails if none is available. Luckily for BMG, their paint is formulated to stay shiny and consistent through a lot of movement, which means it’s super greasy and mostly stays wet.
That said, it’s also the reason why it’s difficult not to accidentally touch a wet blue spot if you enter a BMG theater. Employees have reported blue paint sightings on groceries, in old books, and even on their pets—years after contact with the paint.
Step three: Use hot water to melt what you can’t pick off
Hodsden says she uses “really hot water for our costumes. It basically melts the existing layer of grease.” Bellao agrees. In fact, being based in a standalone theater in Boston enables BMG to increase the temperature of its hot water to help with the process, whereas in Las Vegas, their venue shares water with hotel rooms and they can’t raise the temperature too much.
Step four: Scrub it with Dawn
Still using hot water, put Dawn on it. “Pour the Dawn directly on it,” Hodsden says. “If you think about it, Dawn dish soap is formulated to remove grease, and the makeup is grease-based. It stands to reason that it would remove it.”
She was there when the paint got on Thummer, despite the Blue Men’s best efforts not to stain the fur pile of the mascot’s costume. Hodsden assure Thummer’s team that Dawn would do the trick. Even with just a spot of blue paint, it’s “something you might have fought with for a while...if you didn’t know what product to use,” she says.
Step five: Keep scrubbing! And maybe try a toothbrush
The scrubbing process may take a few tries, so don't get discouraged. “Take a toothbrush and spot treat it before washing it,” Hodsden says. Scrubbing opens the fibers in the fabric “to get that grease remover to work.”
Step six: Put it in the washing machine (and get the right one, if grease is a habit)
“I also am really good at buying washing machines,” Bellao says. She recommends Speed Queen washers, an American-made brand sold in smaller appliance stores.
Speed Clean washers are heavy-duty machines that can withstand the grease that would often confuse the computers on other machines and break them. “Our repair people compare us to massage parlors, because they put a lot of oils into machines, and the amount of laundry they would do with all their towels,” she says.
Step seven: After a really dirty job, clean the grease out of your washer, too
“We clean our machines every day,” Bellao says. “The grease will go into the machine and it doesn’t show up in the middle, but it goes in the walls of the barrel so it will seep back into the water. You will see that oily residue if there’s grease in your machine.”
“But grease breaks grease, so oddly enough, I run hot water through my washing machine with olive oil,” she says. She runs it empty, as if there were a load in it, or throw in some washcloths that the Blue Men use to remove their makeup, so the oil can break the pigment out of the wash clothes, too.
Step eight: Use Puracy on any residual oil stain
Sometimes you can get the pigment of a stain out, but there’s a residual oil stain. Hodsden has a fix even for that: Puracy stain remover. It works even on grease spots that have been through the dryer.
“Spray Puracy on it, let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes, and just wash it again,” she says. “You may have to do it twice, but it will come off.”
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