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The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Makeup Off Your Shit

Say goodbye to lipstick stains forever — or at least until the next time someone sleeps over

A smear of lipstick from a goodnight kiss is the traditional mark of a successful first date. Lipstick on the collar, meanwhile, is the classic telltale sign of an unfaithful partner. Either way, a makeup stain is almost always a sign of intimacy — not counting enthusiastic hugs from foundation-caked grandmothers — and one that, for many reasons, you probably want to avoid (especially if you’ve finally got your bed looking date-friendly and don’t want mascara rubbed all over it).

While the number of male makeup wearers is on the rise, they’re still far outpaced by female makeup wearers, who by one account include at least half the female U.S. population. This means that at some point, chances are, if you’re a man who dates women, you’re going to get makeup on your clothes, bed sheets, or who knows, maybe your stair carpet, if that’s how your night goes.

But what can you do about it?

A lot, it turns out.

Like myself, most of my friends have been wearing makeup for decades. For us, this is common knowledge, but for the men who don’t know, we have some good news: Most makeup stains can be removed with fairly common cleaning products.

For the women I talked to, the general makeup stain solution is, in most cases, the common-sense one: Just throw whatever it is in the washer. But be forewarned: You’ll definitely want to double-check that the stain’s gone before tossing anything in the dryer, as heat will make those mascara smudges on your white towels permanent.

If you need to get more specific, effective cleaning methods depend on two factors: The composition of the thing that made the stain, and the material of the stained object itself. If the fabric is machine washable, a quick laundering works well for most foundation and powder-based stains (say, the loose face powder or eyeshadow that floats off your girlfriend’s brush and onto the edge of the sink, where it can then transfer to your clothes).

Since you want to deal with stains quickly so they don’t have time to set, pretreating is always a good way to go. If you try to brush it off, chances are you’ll end up rubbing it in, so instead, try wetting a clean rag or sponge, adding a little dish soap and squeezing until it’s bubbly, then very gently massaging the soapy cloth into the stain to remove it. (As I’ve learned from internet Clean Person Jolie Kerr, dish soap works wonders on lots of things besides dishes.) If you’re in a hurry or on the go, my friend Stefani recommends Shout wipes as an alternative.

Dish soap or Shout wipes also should work for spot-cleaning powder or foundation stains on upholstery and other difficult-to-wash objects, too. That said, Stefani suggests baby wipes as a solid alternative — according to Kerr’s book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag, baby wipes can be good for delicate fabrics as well because they have soap, but comparatively little moisture. Again, though, remember to make sure the fabric is washable first.

For a very delicate, water-unfriendly fabric like silk, Kerr recommends using a barely wet (i.e., practically dry) white cloth and blotting very, very gently until the stain is gone. For heavier non-washables like wool, my go-to is to use an old toothbrush to brush off what I can. This is usually pretty effective, especially for darker fabrics, but if you need more cleaning power, Woolmark recommends rubbing gently with turpentine.

For leather (think your car seats, steering wheel or favorite jacket), use a makeup or baby wipe and follow it with leather cleaner/conditioner to keep it from drying out. And for suede, you have some options before you need to go to a leather-cleaner: Cornstarch or talcum powder for oily stains; careful blotting and brushing for wet stains; or pencil eraser and suede brush for dried stains.

Depending on the material, you might want something different for stains from oil-heavy products like mascara and lipstick, which tend to be both stubborn and highly visible. My friend Mandy most often finds these kinds of stains on washcloths, pillowcases and towels — the fabrics makeup wearers are most likely to come in direct contact with after a night either boozy or long enough to make face washing unlikely.

Before washing these stains, Kerr recommends using a solvent like Pine-Sol or Shout to spot-clean. You can also try rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, but again: Dab, don’t scrub. And for lipstick dried onto glassware, wine experts recommend denture cleaner or diluted Oxyclean if warm, soapy water doesn’t work.

Finally: If you’re looking for a preventive measure, my friend Pennie recommends a setting spray (Skindinavia’s Makeup Finishing Spray is her go-to). If your girlfriend uses it to set her makeup before heading out, the chances of her look accidentally becoming yours over the course of the evening are much smaller.