It's the season to bring out those heirloom linen tablecloths and napkins for holiday entertaining, and it's also the time to watch out for such hazards as melted candle wax, spilled wine and grease, and damage to delicate cutwork.

"When you have an accident, except for wine spills, less is more," advises Liz Barbatelli of Linens Limited, a national specialized laundry care service. "Most of the time, too many operations and cleaning agents are tried in the home, which only make the situation more difficult."A survey done by the company indicated that the holidays are the No. 1 period for linen usage, with 71.4 of the respondents saying they always use fine linens for the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays, and 80.4 percent saying they use fine linens frequently during this time.

Of those polled, 68.4 percent said they always use fine table linens for Thanksgiving and 76.8 percent said they use them frequently or always.

Although cleaning stains from fine linens is not a project for the do-it-yourselfer, Barbatelli offers the following precautions for linen owners should damage occur:

- Candle wax. Allow it to harden. Do not scrape, as this will damage the fabric. Dyes in some candle wax will penetrate and stain the fibers. both can removed only through professional laundering, since the chemicals required to remove stains and wax are available only to commercial operations. Water will not stop the stain action.

- Spilled wine. Soak tablecloths or napkins immediately in cold water; this releases the stain so it will not set. Have the linen professionally laundered as soon as possible.

- Grease. This is the toughest of all stains so don't try to treat it at home. Grease-stained fabric must be handled by trained professionals. The procedure involves boiling the fabric in copper kettles.

- Damaged cutwork. Items such as tablecloths, napkins and runners with cutwork usually are family heirlooms and may require professional repair and restoration. Remove any damaged items immediately to avoid additional tearing.

"Linens require care and cleaning unlike any other fabric - hand care, stretching, blocking and air drying all preserve the fibers and restore the fabric's original size, shape and beauty," said Barbatelli.

"Providing linens the proper care as soon as possible is the best hedge against permanent stains and damage."

For more information on linen care services, send a postcard to: Linens Limited Inc., 240 N. Milwaukee St., Milwaukee WI 53202.