You’ve just been given a beautiful bouquet of flowers and you’re delighted until you notice the bright orange stains on your shirt and in the carpet. What’s going on? Then you realise with a sinking heart that they are pollen stains and you wonder if your clothes and carpet will ever come clean again.
What Causes Pollen Stains?
Pollen is actually composed of tiny, microscopic grains that transport male gamete (male DNA material) into the female part of the flower for reproduction. A pinch of pollen powder can contain thousands of grains and the grains themselves can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the species of the plant.
The colour in the pollen is usually a range of pigments, from the water-soluble flavonoids (e.g. the blue and red anthocyanin pigments found in delphiniums and fuchsias) to the fat soluble yellow and orange carotenoids found in flowers like lilies. It is these strong pigments that cause the stains and the most dreaded ones of all are those found in lily pollen.
Should I Try to Rub it Off?
No! This is absolutely the worst thing you can do. Rubbing or even brushing hard will simply push the pigments deeper into the fabric and spread the stain even further. In addition, if you use your fingers, the oils from your skin will actually set the stain. Instead, shake out the clothing very gently to remove as much pollen powder as possible (do this outside so as not to get pollen onto your carpets or transferred onto your upholstery).
Alternatively, you can use a piece of tape and gently lift up as much of the pollen as possible with the sticky side. As long as the pollen is still sitting on the surface of the clothing, it is still relatively easy to remove.
What About Rubbing the Stain With a Wet Cloth?
Again, a terrible idea as this will spread and set the stain even more. You can try rinsing the stained area with cold water from the back but be careful as water will often spread the stain.
So How Can I Remove the Stain?
Try soaking the garment in cold water for half an hour and then rinse it thoroughly, repeating these two steps until most of the stain has been removed. Then apply a spot stain remover to the area and wash the garment in the hottest temperature possible if it is a washable fabric, otherwise rinse as before.
Check the area again before drying the garment – in many cases, you will have to repeat the stain remover and wash treatments several times before the stain completely disappears.
Can I Use an Enzymatic Detergent?
Yes, if your garment is washable then an enzymatic detergent may work well on pollen stains.
What About Another Kind of Solvent?
Reddish pollen stains can often be removed by pouring some 99% Isopropanol (Isopropyl Alcohol) – which can be obtained from pharmacists or hardware stores – over the area and then blotting up the resulting yellow liquid with paper towels. This may be a good idea for non-washable items, like carpets. Regular rubbing alcohol (70% Isopropyl Alcohol) probably won’t work because of its higher water content. Another alternative to try is to blot from the outside of the stain inwards with dry-cleaning fluid.
What About the Dry Cleaner?
If you are unsure about how to treat the stain, it may be best to leave it to the professionals. Try to gently remove as much excess pollen as possible through shaking or using sticky tape, and then take the garment to a good dry cleaner as soon as possible. In many cases, they will be more effective than many home-based cleaning methods.
Will Sunlight Bleach Out Pollen Stains?
Yes, this unconventional treatment does seem to work. Once you have gently shaken off or lifted the excess pollen with sticky tape, you can try laying the garment out in direct sunlight for a few hours – in many cases, the pollen stain will disappear.
How To Enjoy Lilies Without Pollen Nightmares
It is possible to enjoy lilies in the house if you take some precautions first. Make sure you cut off the anthers (the long stalks bearing the pollen) as soon as the flowers open enough for you to get access to them. Bouquets from professional florists will often have this done on the open flowers, before you take them home.
Alternatively, you can also “stick” the pollen to the flowers by giving the anthers a quick spritz with hair spray but this is really only suitable for flowers that are to be used to for a short time (e.g. wedding bouquet).