The Hidden Stain Remover in Italian Restaurants

13 Nov

I’m a pretty clumsy person, so of course this is one of the things I discovered early on in my life here in Italy. Lots of restaurants in Italy keep a special stain removal system on hand for little “accidents” that might happen at the table.

Think about the Italian dinner table for a clumsy person like me: it’s really a minefield waiting to explode. Tomato sauce, olive oil, red wine… all the mortal enemies of a clean shirt.

I’ll never forget when I was in L’Aquila in the dead of winter one year. We stopped into a restaurant with some friends. I was wearing one of Ale’s huge wool sweaters, because I had just moved to Italy from Phoenix, Arizona and really didn’t own anything of that caliber. Sure enough, when I went to pick up the bottle of olive oil, it was slicked down pretty well on the sides and slipped right through my hands. Not only that… somehow nearly the ENTIRE CONTENTS of the bottle spilled all over this huge knit sweater. Needless to say, it was a real nightmare.

One of our friends stepped in on emergency stain duty and immediately asked a waiter for Viavà and a brush, and ushered me to the bathroom. Of course, a stain of that magnitude was pretty impossible to remedy, but this was my introduction to the hidden world of VIAVA’.

Viavà is a sort of powder in a can that you spray on stains. You let it dry, and then use a brush to remove it. I guess it’s supposed to take out all the tough stains you can acquire while eating Italian food.

Sometimes you’ll see it displayed somewhere in a storage rack in the restaurant, near the glasses and condiments and whatnot, and sometimes you’ll see it in the bathroom like I did in a restaurant the other night.

And sometimes folks, you just have to ask to see if they have it. I’ve found that 9 times out of 10, if you ask for it, they can dig it up from somewhere. That, and bicarbonato or Diger Selz (a sort of old-school Alka Seltzer, they just mix baking soda and water and you can drink it if you have indigestion) seem to be the two secret weapons hiding out in restaurants around here.

So now, if you have a little “incidente” the next time you’re in a restaurant here in Italy, look around to see if you can spot a bottle of Viavà somewhere on the premises, and you can try to get the stain out the Italian way.

Has anyone else ever had a run-in with this stuff? What are your proven stain-removal remedies? (I’m sure I can put them to good use.)


22 Responses to “The Hidden Stain Remover in Italian Restaurants”

  1. Robert November 13, 2007 at 10:12 am #

    That is really good to know. I am also clumsy and usually end up with some or other food stain on my clothes. My remedy is always to carry an extra t-shirt or jumper with me in my backpack just in case. Now at least in future I will know to ask for this stuff instead.

    As a bachelor my only tried and tested stain removal option is to buy a new shirt or send the old one home to mum to clean.

  2. Shelley, At Home in Rome November 13, 2007 at 12:42 pm #

    Robert: I like your stain removal method of sending the shirt home. You’d fit in just perfectly around here. LOL!

  3. Mrs.W November 13, 2007 at 2:19 pm #

    Oil or grease stain can be cleaned up with powder… cornstarch, talcum powder, etc., all absorb oils. So sprinkling, letting sit a moment to absorb, then removing and reapplying will work to soak up as much of that grease as possible.

    Then there are the old ladies who like an ice cube in a cloth napkin to remove grease stains–the idea is that the grease congeals and sticks to the cloth napkin instead of your clothes.

    Other good stain-proofing methods are:
    (a) carry a package of shout wipes with you in your bag;
    (b) a little hand soap from the ladies’ room soap dispenser rubbed into a new mess on your clothing should work to keep that stain from setting long enough for you to get home and pop it into the laundry;
    (c) do not wear white shirts out to eat;
    (d) sit as close to the table as possible; and
    (e) get extra napkins and use one for a bib whenever you can!

  4. Buda Baby November 13, 2007 at 2:49 pm #

    A mixture of liquid dish soap and hydrogen peroxide works wonders on getting red wine stains out. Unfortunately hydrogen peroxide seems to be some kind of controlled substance in Hungary (only certain pharmacies carry it, and even then… sigh). But in the US I used to keep a mix in a spray bottle for our frequent red-wine-on-white-carpet accidents. Dabbing white wine on a red wine spill also works; I’d use this if I spilled red wine on colored material.

  5. Buda Baby November 13, 2007 at 2:50 pm #

    Oh, and, an ENTIRE bottle of olive oil? That was quite an accident! 🙂

  6. Maryann@FindinLaDolceVita November 13, 2007 at 3:27 pm #

    I guess it would have to be club soda over here. Most restaurants have that. I loved your Italian movies post. Very interesting 🙂

  7. nyc/caribbean ragazza November 13, 2007 at 5:33 pm #

    An entire bottle? Wow. 🙂

    Shelley I am loving these helpful posts.

  8. L Michelle November 13, 2007 at 7:03 pm #

    Shelley, the next time you’re in the States, pick up a few Tide To Go sticks. (Not sure if it’s sold in Europe.) I’m never without one. It’s small enough to fit in your purse, about the size of an ink pen and very convenient for small stains. You just remove excess residue from the stain, press the Tide to Go tip onto the stain several times to release some stain remover on the stain and rub the tip gently across the stain to remove it. It doesn’t do much on grease but just about everything else, tomato sauce/juice, coffee, wine, etc. Even with the grease, I find if you use the Tide stick on it immediately, the spot will usually come out in the wash. I have the perfect “shelf” for food to fall on so I am always dropping spots of something on me no matter how close I sit to the table. Even with a napkin covering my “shelf,” it still manages to fall on the spot the napkin is not covering which truly amuses my husband. The Tide stick totally erases them away, leaving no spots.

    I watched the commercials skeptically for about six months before I finally broke down and bought one, thinking for sure it wouldn’t work, but I was wrong. There is more info at (No, I don’t work for Tide but I sure love that stain remover!)

  9. Shelley, At Home in Rome November 13, 2007 at 7:47 pm #

    Wow, lots of great tips here! Grazie! I am sure these will come in handy the next time I (or Ale, as he is equally clumsy, we tag team at dinner and things are knocked over on a regular basis) have a little olive oil malfunction at the dinner table. And yes, it was a whole bottle, or at least almost a whole bottle. It was one of those glass dispenser bottles they use in restaurants. My only defense was that it was super slippery on the outside. I can’t remember if the top fell off but I think it must have because it totally gushed out in a huge waterfall of olive oil. (Sounds quite dramatic, doesn’t it?) I was so embarrassed and even though Ale didn’t really ever wear that sweater, every winter he still reminds me of the great olive oil spilling event. HA! As if he hasn’t had some memorable mishaps of his own!!

  10. romerican November 13, 2007 at 9:00 pm #

    I love that spray stain-remover!
    My only advice is: USE WITH CAUTION. I once went a little trigger happy with it and nearly choked on the cloud of spray dust! And let me tell you, it doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth )=

  11. Jeff November 13, 2007 at 11:04 pm #

    Ahh the slippery olive oil bottle. It will get you soon or later. In the caffeteria at work they have borotalco. How do I know this? That’s obvious. Then I immediately went out and bought a little bottle for home use.


  12. Brendan November 14, 2007 at 2:50 am #

    It’s one of those things that I’ve never noticed, but now that I know about it I’ll notice it all the time.

  13. lorraine@italianfoodies November 16, 2007 at 12:14 am #

    There is always a bottle of this in the family restaurant, we get it shipped over!! I can’t count how many times it has been used and saved a really bad situation, mostly involving expensive clothes and red wine!! I once dropped a fork on a customer while clearing his plate and it stained his tie a little and I offered to use this on it. He refused and returned a week later with a bill for the dry cleaning of his tie which cost €2.50 and asked to be reimbursed!! I couldn’t believe it!!!

  14. Anne February 4, 2008 at 1:55 am #

    Has anyone found a place to buy Viava in the US? We experienced this miracle in Milan and want to use it at home.

  15. Chip July 4, 2008 at 9:25 am #

    I stay in Asia, I have seen a product called oil-removing powder from Italy. It looks like white powder detergent. It works wonder when mixed with hot water to remove grease from cooker hook filter. Anyone knows of such product in italy?

  16. Tracy September 1, 2008 at 2:19 am #

    I just took a trip to Italy and went to a wedding. My dress got oil on it and they hotel used Vaiva. It ws amazing. How can I get order it here in the u.s.

  17. Donna September 10, 2008 at 2:49 am #

    I was just in Italy, and 8 out of 8 restaurants had viava, I know because we had to use it every night. It worked great. I want to know why we don’t have it here in the states.

  18. denise November 30, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    Had a similar mishap. When in Rome the waiter was clearing the table and spilled a whole dish of oil on my white suite…

    I jumped up and said you’ve ruined my suit and the waiter just laughed on me.

    Well the more he laughed the more upset I got. He then went in the back and came out with a can of Viava. Exactly the same thing. He sprayed it all over the stain and said don’t toucha. After dinner he told me to brush it off…. Gone! Amazing!

    Now if I travel to Italy or know someone going to Italy, I always ask them to bring back a can or two for me.

    It is made by Johnston wax… surly there must be a product similar here???

  19. Noelle June 4, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    I was just eating mussels in white sauce when the last one was slippery and splashed white sauce all over my Ralph Lauren white striped shirt!!! The bartender whipped out a can of Viava, sprayed it all over my chest, and within minutes I was able to brush it all off and not a spot remained. I have to get this for myself in the US!

  20. William Frisella September 24, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    have you found a place in the U.S. to buy Viava yet. If so please let me know. I love the stuff and brought back a couple of cans but they are now gone.

    Thank you

  21. William Frisella September 24, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    has anyone found a place to buy Viava in the States, yet? Please let me know if you have. The stuff is just amazing.

  22. omerta March 8, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    two years later and still haven’t found a place to buy VIAVA. Please help. my email address is


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