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Chewing Gum: The Biggest Enemy

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 23 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Chewing Gum Bubble Gum Gum Stains

There is nothing worse than finding a disgusting blob of chewing gum stuck to your clothes, shoes or fingers. At least with your hands, a quick wash will usually solve the problem but chewing gum on clothes or other household items, such as linen, upholstery or carpets can be a trickier matter.

So what is this stuff?

Modern chewing gum is made of a form of synthetic rubber, which is softer than ordinary rubber and quickly softens when warmed and hardens when frozen. It is mixed with sugar and other flavourings to make it "chewing gum", with the rubber releasing the flavourings into your mouth as you chew it.

Research shows that chewing gum is the world's most common habit with an estimated 100,000 tons of it consumed every year. It is also one of the most offensive environmental contaminants and is considered one of the UK's biggest public cleansing problems, with reports in 2005 showing that local authorities pay some £150m a year to clean the streets of chewing gum.

How do I get it off my clothes?

The old myth of applying ice to chewing gum actually works: if possible, place the item of clothing in the freezer for a few hours and the chewing gum can usually be "cracked off". Any fragments of remaining gum can be gently removed by a bit of lighter fluid on a clean cloth (always test in a small inconspicuous area first) or dry-cleaning fluid.

Take extra care when removing gum from synthetic or natural fur – follow the steps for freezing the main portion and then use a dry sponge or brush to gently remove any remaining gum. You can also use a soft cloth or sponge dampened with the suds of a mild detergent and wiping it in the direction of the nap to remove any residue, but be very careful not to over-wet the pelt. Let the item of clothing air dry. Follow a similar procedure for removing gum from leather.

Leather

After freezing and scraping off excess gum, use the suds from a solution of mild soap and lukewarm water to gently sponge and scrub away any remaining material. Follow with a leather conditioner.

Felt

Felt Is another fabric that requires special care – because it is not woven but fused, chunks of felt may come off if gum is removed in too vigorous a manner. Freeze and remove the main portion as above, then gently brush the remainder with a sponge or fine-bristled brush (e.g. toothbrush). If some fragments still persist, you can very carefully rub a razor blade along the nap. This should remove any stubborn gum pieces but will also probably remove some of the felt fibres. If a stain is left on the fabric, cover it with a paste of cornmeal and water, allow to dry and then carefully brush off with the nap.

Suede

Chewing gum on suede can be a nightmare. First carefully remove the excess using the freezing method and then rub an artgum eraser over the remaining stain. Finally, if the stain still persists, run an emery board or extra fine sandpaper over the area. Unfortunately, you will undoubtedly remove a fine layer of the hide as well, so work very carefully and slowly to minimise the damage.

Chewing Gum Around the House

For most surfaces, freeze the gum until it is hard enough to gently scrape off and then wipe with a clean cloth dipped in warm, soapy water until all traces of gum have been removed. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and then wipe dry. Certain surfaces, such as fibreglass, will retain a stain even when the main chunk of gum is removed. In this case, flush the area with dry cleaning solvent, rinse and blot dry. You may need to repeat this several times if the stain is stubborn.

For gum on vinyl or linoleum, freeze and then use a metal spatula (non-sharp tool) to scrape the brittle gum off without gouging the surface. For any remaining residue, rub an extra-fine steel wool over the area, then wash and wax when dry. With wooden materials, take particular care when removing gum that you do not remove any of the finish. Wipe gently with a cloth dipped in sudsy warm water and then rinse with clear water. Finally, wipe dry and polish or wax as recommended.

Unfortunately, it is very hard to remove gum from porous surfaces such as pavements. Unless you call in specialist commercial cleaners, the only thing you can do is manual scraping and even that will not remove all gum particles.

Oh no – I've Got Gum on the Carpet!

Try to scrape away as much of the gum as possible, using a spatula or spoon. Next, vacuum or brush up any loose pieces left. If there is still some gum clinging to the carpet fibres, rub a plastic bag filled with ice cubes over the area, until the gum fragments freeze. Now you can chip them gently away using a spatula or spoon again.

You can dissolve any final traces by dabbing with dry-cleaning fluid and then blotting dry, followed by a solution of ¼ tsp mild washing up detergent and 1 cup water, before rinsing thoroughly. If you are really having trouble, don't panic. Any commercial carpet cleaner with a hot water extraction unit (steam cleaner) will be able to remove the gum, even if it is an old stain – you can always call on them as a last resort.

Help! There's Gum Stuck in my Hair!

The best way to remove chewing gum that's stuck in hair, without damaging the hair, is to use peanut butter, believe it or not. Either smooth or crunchy will do, just rub well into the gum and it should slide off easily. You can also try vegetable oil, mayonnaise, hand cream or other oily substance to lubricate the gum. Follow with a normal shampoo to remove any oily residue. However, in some cases, particularly if gum has spread extensively through hair, then unfortunately the best solution is to cut it off.

While chewing gum can seem to be nothing better than a great nuisance, it does actually have some good points. For example, chewing sugar-free gum after meals can be beneficial for teeth and the act of chewing can also aid concentration. Just remember to dispose of any used gum carefully and in the proper place!

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