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Food Stain Removal: Your Ultimate Guide for Common Meal Mishaps

Close up of person attempting DIY Stain removal methods on a gray shirt

We’ve all been there. One moment, you’re enjoying your email, and the next, you’re watching in dismay as a drop of red wine or splash of pasta sauce ruins your favorite outfit.

Food stains can be some of the most stubborn and frustrating stains to remove. But not all food stains are created equal, and knowing how to tackle the stain removal process can save your favorite clothes from permanent damage.

How to Remove Wine Stains

Wine, especially red, can be a daunting stain, but quick action can significantly improve your chances of removal.

DIY Method

When a wine stain happens, immediately blot up as much of the excess out of your clothes using a clean cloth. It’s important to blot, not rub, so that the stain doesn’t spread further.

Lay out the stained item and generously cover the wine stain with salt. The salt can absorb the wine, harmlessly removing it and the stain.

Brush off the salt, then apply a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and dish soap, and blot until the stain lifts.

When to Call Stain Removal Pros

If the wine stain dried before you were able to take action, it’s too far gone for DIY methods.

You should also skip DIY methods and go straight to dry cleaners who specialize in stain removal if the affected item is a delicate or expensive fabric, like silk, wool, and cashmere. Home methods risk damaging these delicate fabrics past the point of repair.

red wine stain on a blue shirt needing professional stain removal

How to Remove Coffee Stains

The bane of office workers everywhere, coffee stains are super common, and need to be acted upon quickly to prevent them from setting in the fabric.

DIY Method

When coffee stains happen, quickly blot up as much of the excess as possible. Next, rinse the stained area under cold water – but there’s a trick to this!

Rinse from the BACK of the stain, so that you push the coffee out instead of further into the fabric.

Finally, apply liquid laundry detergent directly to the now wet stained area and gently rub it in.

When to Call Stain Removal Pros

If your coffee had cream or sugar, these ingredients can make stain removal more complicated. The fats from the creamer especially may make the area more resistant to DIY stain removal methods and need the hand of a pro.

If the fabric is particularly fragile or valuable, like silk or cashmere, don’t risk letting it set while you try to remove the stain at home, and instead take it directly to the dry cleaners.

White tshirt with coffee stain on it

How to Remove Oil and Grease Stains

Greasy food spills from foods like pizza and burgers can leave stubborn stains that penetrate fabric quickly.

DIY Method

Unlike other common food stains, where rinsing in water helps, the water-repellent nature of grease and oil require a different approach.

Immediately lay the fabric flat and sprinkle cornstarch or baby powder over the stain to absorb the grease. After 30 minutes, brush off the powder and apply dish soap to the area, working it in. Dish soap is formulated to cut through grease and oil, and the oil on your clothes is no exception.

Finally, throw the item in your washing machine and let it run.

When to Call Stain Removal Pros

If after washing (but ideally before drying!) the stained item, you notice that there’s still a grease or oil spot, call the pros!

You should also skip attempting DIY methods on fabrics that are non-washable, like suede or silk, as well as clothes that are dry clean only. 

grease stain on fabric

How to Remove Chocolate Stains

Chocolate stains contain both oil and dye, making them particularly challenging to remove.

DIY Method

Scrape off any excess chocolate, being extra careful not to further rub it in or spread it around. Then, immediately place the stained item into cold water and let it soak for at least half an hour. Finally, remove it from the water and gently work laundry detergent onto the stained area.

When to Call Stain Removal Pros

If chocolate has melted deeply into the fabric before you get a chance to treat it, DIY Stain Removal methods probably won’t be very effective.

If after your initial treatment, a shadow of the chocolate stain remains, dry cleaners who specialize in stain removal may be able to get it the rest of the way out.

And as always, if you have a delicate material like silk or cashmere, don’t risk damaging it by attempting DIY methods – instead, go straight to the pros.

How to Remove Tomato Sauce Stains

Ketchup, spaghetti sauce, enchilada sauce, and more – Tomato-based  stains are tricky due to their bright color and acidic nature.

DIY Method

Immediately remove excess sauce by blotting – not rubbing! – the fabric. Pre-treat the stain by directly applying laundry detergent, and let it sit and soak for 5 minutes before rinsing.

Finally, generously use white vinegar to blot and flush the area before throwing it in the wash.

When to Call Stain Removal Pros

If the stain isn’t budging after trying laundry detergent and vinegar, it may need the hands of a pro. Also, fabrics that either can’t be washed or are particularly delicate may not be suitable for DIY methods, and attempting them could potentially further damage the item.

How to Remove Mustard Stains

Mustard contains turmeric, which is commonly used as a natural dye, and makes stain removal tricky!

DIY Method

Gently scrape off any excess mustard, taking care to not push it deeper into the fabric or spread it. Apply glycerin to the stain to loosen the dye that has taken hold, then rinse with cold water. Finally, gently work a combination of dish soap and vinegar into the affected area, then run it through the wash.

When to Call Stain Removal Pros

As mustard can be particularly stubborn, you should call the pros if it’s set to deeply to budge using home methods of stain removal. Any water resistant fabrics, like suede and silk, or delicate fabrics like wool, should also only go to a dry cleaner for stain removal, since home methods may damage them.

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