The setting is a xianxia world — eastern high fantasy with gods, magic, and mythical creatures (you can read more here for general concepts).

All magic is based on the usage of 5 elements or their combinations: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Control over elements is achieved by qi manipulation. Qi is the inner energy that can be directed out of the body and condensed to manipulate objects in the material world. Everything in the world consists of these 5 elements. The law of conservation of energy holds true: Things cannot be 'vanished' or created out of nothing.

The Dirt Removal art has these specifications:

  • a low-level spell with minimal qi requirements (thus, teleportation and similar arts will not work as they are very high level and can be executed only by very advanced cultivators);
  • should not require precision in control (precise control is hard to achieve in xianxia);
  • removes any surface dirt from any surface, including living beings (it is a convenient way to bathe and do laundry);
  • advanced users can remove even very old stains from clothes;
  • should be usable on the go, e.g. a beautiful lady should be able to get rid of blood stains right after the fight;
  • [if possible] when used on clothing achieves a look of freshly ironed/pressed garments [*]

The Dirt Removal art is number one in popularity among beauties and nobility. Every cultivator (magic practitioner/martial artist) learns it and uses it at least occasionally.

Note on clothing: All clothes are made of natural materials (leather, silk, cotton, linen, wool, etc.). Magic materials do exist but they are not common and you can disregard them completely.

The clothing styles are rather simple: Mostly long robes and long skirts/trousers of simple construction. You can see some examples here.

Note on stains: Most common stains are blood, plant matter (grass/fruit juice/herbs), metallic powders, acids. The latter two are used in alchemy and forging.

My original idea for mechanics was related to water since we use it for washing anyway. It would also be perfect for achieving ironed/pressed effect similar to garment steamers. The problem is that water can stain many natural fabrics and/or dissolve some dyes (present in plants, food, alchemical ingredients, etc.) that would stain fabrics.

Now I am looking for something better than water element washing/steaming magic.

If you need clarifications and/or additional information, please, ask in the comments.

[*] De-wrinkling (as in a drying machine or using a de-wrinkling agent) is not the same as ironing and pressing. De-wrinkling removes creases caused by folding but does not straighten the fibres. Ironing and pressing do. According to Wikipedia:

Ironing works by loosening the bonds between the long-chain polymer molecules in the fibers of the material. While the molecules are hot, the fibers are straightened by the weight of the iron, and they hold their new shape as they cool.

Pressing is pretty much the same as ironing but without moving the hot plates. It is preferred for delicate (i.e. silk) and loose-weave fabrics as it avoids unnecessary stretching of fibres.

  • $\begingroup$ Water works fine if assume water magic can completely remove the water from the fabric, water stains are usually caused by allowing water to dry naturally leaving minerals or displaced materials (dirt) behind. keep in mind historic fabrics were basically always washed with water. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 7, 2021 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ @John Urine was often used as a washing aid to deal with stains. Water is often not enough to deal with blood stains which are the main concern in the xianxia setting, especially for beautiful ladies who tend to wear pure white. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Apr 7, 2021 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ Yes any chemical help is beneficial, aged urine was an easily available base which loosens oils, soap would be a huge help, of course if they can control water can the control the PH of the water, that would make for cleaning close to modern methods. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 7, 2021 at 14:23

3 Answers 3


Its not "removing dirt", its "returning dirt"

While the user is thinking about the spell from the perspective of the clothes that need to be cleaned, that's not the only view of the problem. The dirt isn't zapped out of existence when the spell is cast, the dirt is collected and transferred to a place where dirt goes (ie outside. In the garden fertilizing the crops).

Your spell is an earth-based spell about reuniting parts of the earth together.

Mud on your clothing is really dirt and water that need some magical help on their quest home.

Other stains in this time period are typically also naturally produced things that are good for the soil and came from it. Your not removing the feces stain from your shoes, your fertilizing the crops. The wine stain isnt just being removed from your shirt, it is reuniting the remains of the grapes back to the land of their birth. The juice from that steak you just ate that ran down your shirt? Returning part of the lamb to the place of its birth. The bread crumbs are returning to the field which grew the crops. Etc etc.

  • $\begingroup$ most "dirt" in clothes are bodily secretions and food particles. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 7, 2021 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ @John All of which are valuable fertilizers when separated from their cloth prison and returned to the soil. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Apr 7, 2021 at 3:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The trick is differentiating between a "stain" and a "dye" (which is arguably just a "stain with fashion intent"). The argument makes sense in broad terms though. $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2021 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good solution for dust and similar type of particulate dirt. How will this work for dyes that bond chemically with fibres? Typical staining will come from blood, herbs/grass, metallic powders. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Apr 7, 2021 at 5:09

It is a Training Spell for Fusion Magic:

Grass stains, sweat stains, stains dried on by heat, saltwater stains, blood stains, and yes, good old fashioned dirt stains. Stains are a ubiquitous and hated problem that are so diverse as to not easily fit into any single convenient category. This one spell is unique in that a single spell can take inputs from any element. To get out most complicated stains, multiple elements need to be used in combination or in sequence. Every magic user knows this spell, because it was created specifically to teach them how to develop these skills. A user who can't master this basic set of skills will be forever limited in their abilities, so getting out stains is a simple way to assess the competency of any mage.

EXAMPLES: The control of qi is supposed to be poor, so lets assume the person can't control what they can't see. Qi can 'animate' the stain, based on what the stain is, but can't just dance the stain out. So wood might animate a grass stain, metal might animate salts (like from sweat or sea water) and earth might animate dirt, but without control, how do you get it out? Water might flush it off, and this would work for dirt, but grass might dissolve in the water and stain things worse. So adding a burst of fire to blast the animated matter out (like steaming) is fast and gets rid of the grass stain, but risks damaging delicate fabrics. Perhaps for silk, a cleaner must reverse the effects of fire (make cold) to allow water to both solubilize the stain and remove it without spreading the stain. Maybe wool requires you to move water through the fabric over and over (great practice) and metal is then applied to hold the wool in place as it dries so it doesn't shrink.

So for the hardest stains, you might need to use wood, water, AND fire in a reverse aspect all at the same time. If you had a combination stain with old, dried-on muddy kelp in silk, a true master could animate wood, earth, and metal while manipulating temperature (fire) and water to remove the stain and dry the material rapidly and safely afterwards. All this without even being able to see the molecules you are influencing. What better training can you get than that?

Stain removal is followed by drying (animating water and using fire), ironing (animating metal and applying fire), or pressing (animating water, and metal {but specifically to NOT move} while applying fire) and all other aspects of laundering. It also means that a mage can leave the tedious task of doing the laundry to his apprentices, who will likely inevitably burn the mystic "iron" shape into his best robe by an over-application of fire and metal elements.

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  • $\begingroup$ Qi is a type of energy. Cannot be multiple :) (Qi is used to control elements.) But I do get your idea. It is a good explanation of art's usage (and I actually love it! I can easily picture poor disciples with mountains of dirty garments). However, it says little about mechanics which is the most important part, especially since you propose the art as an element fusion training. Please let me know if you have any ideas. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Apr 7, 2021 at 5:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin Is this more what you had in mind? I had left the specifics open to allow the answer to apply to many stains, but it sounds like you wanted some more concrete examples of how it would work. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Apr 7, 2021 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much for brightening my mood. I laughed a lot. I wish I had a talent in comedy :) I now understand your idea much better, thank you for the examples. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Apr 7, 2021 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin: why can't Qi have multiple forms? Pure qi could be like white light, and different elements could be like colored objects in reverse, absorbing only one kind of qi. (Wood absorbs Earth qi, for example.) Then mixed strains would be like secondary or tertiary colors! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 8, 2021 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias Because inner Qi is one and the same for a given person: It is a type of energy that is produced by refining (converting) energy absorbed from outside (it gets a bit more complicated at later stages of cultivation but it's the gist of it). The other type of Qi is the spiritual energy of heaven and earth. It can be differentiated into types or not depending on the specific setting. In a generic xianxia, Qi is usually treated as unspecific energy, the life force of all living things. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Apr 8, 2021 at 7:10

If you are borrowing eastern concepts such as Qi, borrow more.

We westerns see Feng Shui as apartment redecoration, but it is much more than that. Everything in the universe has energy lines, just line the energy flows in the human body which are studied in acupunture.

Illness in humans is seen as either a blockage or overflow in such lines. Acupunture seeks to correct that by working on specific nodes that regulate flow. Much the same, Feng Shui aims to maintain a flow of Qi through spaces, which is why rooms are organized to allow a flow of air and minimize dust and bad Qi collection. This applies not only to rooms - it is unwise to have a house with a door that opens to a threeway road intersection because the house will collect all the dust from the streets and be dirty.

Apply that to your world. Stains are a blockage of proper Qi flow. Your spell uses all the five elements st a very low level in order to unspool fabric (whether it is satin, silk, linen, wool etc), expel the foreign particles and then spool the fabric again. If you don't want a visible effect, make the action microscopic. The dirt may be moved around the fabric until it exits through an edge.

A separate, transmutation spell could be used for hard surfaces and human skin. The five elements have three transmutation cycles. The most basic one is the creative one: earth produces metal, which produced water, which produces wood, and then finally fire which produces earth again. Notice that fire is not necessarily flames, but also spicy things or red things or even blood for example. Just as well water can be any liquid and wood may be something flexible.

You could transmutate dirt and stain material from one form into another that is easier to remove, then work on that manually. I.e.: if you have wine on cashmere, you can transmutate it into straw (water -> wood) and then remove it manually if you are a beginner, or use further magic to extract it if you are an experienced caster.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am not sure that Qi flow is applicable to inanimate man-made objects in the way you describe it. It is still a very interesting idea. Transmutation cannot be used, unfortunately, since it is a skill way beyond basics. Perhaps refining (aka expelling impurities) would be a more appropriate technique. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Apr 7, 2021 at 21:41

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