Ask Marge

A New Friend Spilled Red Wine on My New Couch. Can I Ask Her to Pay for Cleaning?

published Aug 27, 2019
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Dear Marge,
I had a party and one of my guests — the newish girlfriend of a guy we’re friendly with — spilled red wine all over my brand new pale gray sofa. We cleaned it up as best we could, and while we were, she just said, “Oh my god, I feel like such a klutz. I am so embarrassed.” No apology and no offer to pay for cleaning. Is it wrong to ask her or our friend to chip in on getting it cleaned? 



Dear Stained,

Noooo! I know from experience that red wine spills can look notoriously brutal — like someone was murdered on your beautiful new couch. 

What awful manners your friend’s unapologetic girlfriend has! Not only did she not apologize, but she also made it about her embarrassment. That’s just gross. For the record, as someone who is a little accident-prone, the first thing I do when I break or spill is to apologize at least three times, and offer to pay to repair the damage. A good host, on the other hand, might demur — or postpone the answer until after the party. By that I mean that the host might say, “I appreciate your offer — let’s talk about this tomorrow.” That allows her or him time to think it through with more clarity than is possible when also putting food out, pouring drinks, introducing people, etc. It also allows the host the opportunity (when appropriate) to see if the damage can be repaired. 

Let’s get back to your main question, though, which really boils down to the following: “Is it right to ask a guest to pay for damages they caused?” This just isn’t like a driving accident where if you cause it, you pay. In fact, to some extent, your home becomes a “no-fault” zone when you invite guests over. Like it or not, unintended damage like this can be the “cost” of entertaining.

On the other hand, good manners also dictate that your friend or his girlfriend call the next day, thank you for the party, apologize, and offer to pay to have the sofa cleaned. In that case, you might suggest splitting it. If they don’t offer, as difficult as this is to swallow, the mannerly thing to do here is to just eat it. This isn’t about legal liability, it’s about manners and accidents — and, well, life.

Let’s say you and a friend decide to go ice skating. You are both newbies and cling to each other as you skate around the rink. Suddenly a loud whistle blows and startles her, she reflectively yanks her arm and you both fall down. She is fine, but her skate gouges a nasty stitch-requiring gash in your leg. Would you ask her to pay your medical costs? No, because you were in this together, holding on to each other by mutual agreement — and you can’t blame her for being startled, right? 

Clinging to each other as you shakily make your way around the rink is comparable to the tenuous unspoken agreement between host and guest. Spilling a drink is as much an accident as being startled by an unexpected noise. The spill is not bad manners or ill intention. It’s just life, which we all know is full of accidents. And in both these cases — the spilled red wine and the torn-up leg — you are the innocent victim of an accident. 

As much as that sucks, it doesn’t make it right for you to ask them to pay. I will suggest that before you call in a cleaner, you contact the manufacturer and ask them what they recommend for stain removal. Also, check out this useful article: How to Spot Clean Old or Set-in Upholstery Stains.

— Marge

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