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Let's say a few minutes before a meeting, you spill coffee on your shirt -- or worse, catsup. In addition to staining, dampness itself can be an issue; even if I only spill water, there's a huge discolored spot until it dries.

What's the best way to recover rapidly so you don't look like a total slob when going home to change is impractical?

  • Bring in a couple of extra shirts and store them in a drawer or closet? I wear black BDU pants because they help cover up the fact that I can't wash my hands without splashing my clothing, and because I wipe my hands on my pants legs if I have to keep my hands dry after washing them :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 25 '14 at 14:11
  • I once spilled super cold water on myself. Good thing I didn't have any meetings, and lunch was in a hour. I asked my manager and he said I could take an early lunch and get a new t-shirt. That's what I did. Still, having a shirt is always handy. I usually keep an extra pair of clothes in my car, for any emergency. – harsimranb Sep 25 '14 at 16:57
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    I am actually surprised no-one has suggested the straightforward reaction, if this really is about non-recoverable stains: Do "look like a total slob" and just explain what has happened. If the other persons taking part in the meeting are mature, they should be able to cope with that. Depending on the circumstances and the kind of the meeting, either a somewhat humorous or a merely descriptive mention of what happened may be more appropriate, but in any case, the problem shouldn't be made bigger than it is. – O. R. Mapper Sep 25 '14 at 17:56
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    First time heard the word 'catsup'. My first reaction - why on earth would someone eat cats in workplace? – user1023 Sep 26 '14 at 6:37
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    @Donaudampfschifffreizeitfahrt if you check the etymology of the word, the proper spelling is definitely ketchup. – MikeTheLiar Sep 26 '14 at 13:17
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Some people keep additional emergency clothes in their offices for just such occasions. These are generally people who have to deal with clients inthe course of the day and not just their regular co-workers. If you are a guy, sometimes just having a spare tie is all you need.

There are also stain remover sticks that you can keep in your desk. These can be used to help get the stain out at least somewhat as soon as you do it.

You could also refrain from eating things in the office that tend to stain like catsup. Or at least do so on days when you will have important meetings.

If you aren't someone who sees people outside your work group in the course of the day and you only do this occasionally, just mention it casually with a self-deprecating laugh at yourself at the start of the meeting.

Another thing to try is to dress in layers. If you spill something on the jacket or cardigan sweater or vest, you can take it off. If you spill something on the shirt, you can button the outer layer.

And remember that the problem is likely more noticeable to you than to others. I can really only specifically remember one time in my whole career when I truly noticed a stain on someone else which was after she spilled an entire cup of coffee on the skirt of a white suit just before (less than a minute) we went into a presentation that she was giving to a client we had not yet met. She just took off her jacket and held it in front of the skirt until she sat down and carried on as if nothing was the matter. Self confidence counts in these situations.

  • Super useful! any tips for dealing with dampness? I edited the question just now to call out discoloration due to dampness :/ – Yamikuronue Sep 25 '14 at 14:14
  • +1 for mentioning stain remover sticks. These have helped me out more than once. – Scraping Infinity Sep 25 '14 at 16:09
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    *spills coffee* *removes jacket* You have two lives remaining! – Thomas Sep 26 '14 at 4:32
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    Yamikuronue - best tip for dealing with dampness, is to forget about it - it'll dry fast enough. – S List Sep 26 '14 at 13:10
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My advice falls into two categories, Remediation, and Prevention:

Remediation:

  • Carefully blot it up, don't press the mess into your clothes.
  • If you can (the mess is small enough and the material allows it), use a little soapy water to dilute it to prevent staining.
  • Pat dry with paper towels.
  • Blow the remainder dry with a blow dryer if you have one available (and the material allows it).

Prevention:

  • Only use coffee mugs with a wide base, and prefer to underfill it with whatever you're drinking at your desk.
  • Be careful to eat over a surface, and put down a napkin to protect your lap.
  • Keep spares nearby. I always kept a spare tie in my desk when I was a financial advisor.
  • Work on your mindfulness, and take your time moving when physically near anything that could damage your clothing.

Accidents happen. If you're a mature adult, it should be very infrequent, but if it's not characteristic of you, your coworkers will forgive the faux pas.

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    And if it is characteristic of you, your coworkers will just laugh with you if you are able to laugh about it. I worked with this one guy, who could NOT drink coffee without spilling it on himself... Like every day! Still kinda funny. – Jared Sep 25 '14 at 15:21
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    @Jared Same thing with me and spaghetti with tomato sauce. It splats on my clothes just from holding it with my fork. Note to self: Don't eat it ... – MadTux Sep 25 '14 at 18:52
  • @Jared Why wouldn't he just stop drinking coffee?! – Mordred Sep 25 '14 at 22:37
  • and if you do keep spares, don't change into them in the office... Having once seen a coworker change his pants at..his...desk. No kidding. – Sirex Sep 26 '14 at 1:17
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    @Mordred Giving up a drug addiction isn't easy ;) – CodesInChaos Sep 26 '14 at 17:20
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What's the best way to recover rapidly so you don't look like a total slob when going home to change is impractical?

Due to the poor heating/air conditioning in my building, most folks have fleece jackets with the company logo.

If you have the same you could always throw one of those over your shirt. If not, you could keep an extra jacket around for just such an occasion, or borrow one from a friend who has one.

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    The ol' fleece coverup maneuver... – Aaron Hall Sep 25 '14 at 15:45

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