Tips

20 Food Stains—and How to Remove Them

Dirty kids shirt

By Sarah Kuta

Don’t let a spilled glass of red wine ruin your next party. We’ve got tips from cleaning experts on how to banish tough stains fast.

If you’ve ever knocked over a glass of red wine, a can of one of these 70 sodas (ranked by how toxic they are), or dropped an olive oil-coated veggie on your lap, you know that all stains are not created equal. Some come right out in the wash. Others are more stubborn, requiring all of your willpower and what feels like an entire chemistry set to remove.

The next time you spill something, don’t panic. There’s probably an easy way to remove the stain before it sets with handy products you already have around your house. From baby food to ketchup, we rounded up some of the most common food stains and talked with cleaning experts about the tried-and-true ways to get rid of them.

1
White Wine

Hey, we’ve all been there. While chatting with someone at a party, you gesture a little too excitedly and realize half of your white wine is on the sofa. First, blot the spot with a dry white towel, says Tricia Holderman, a cleaning expert and CEO of Elite Facility Systems. Then, make a paste with water and six ounces of fresh baking soda (don’t use the old box in the back of your fridge -- you’ll transfer bad smells, Holderman says). Dab the paste onto the stain and vacuum up the mixture once it’s dry.

2
Peanut butter

Peanut butter, one of the 50 Best Snacks for Rapid Weight Loss, will leave an oily, sticky stain on just about anything in its path, but that’s no reason to toss out this delicious and nutritious topping. If you get a spot of peanut butter on your shirt, pop it into the freezer or rub it with an ice pack. Scrape as much frozen peanut butter off the spot as you can, suggests Leslie Reichert, author of “The Joy of Green Cleaning.” Next, work some rubbing alcohol into the stain to break up the oil. Then, rub a bar of simple white soap into the stain. Rinse and repeat as necessary, then let air dry.

3
Cheeseburger

A cheeseburger is an example of a combination stain. “When you drop a cheeseburger on your lap, there is grease from the burger, cheese, ketchup and maybe mustard all in one stain,” said Dan Miller, founder and CEO of Mulberrys Garment Care. To remove this complex stain, you have to tackle each food individually. Start by dabbing the spot with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to break down the oils. Next, flush the rubbing alcohol from the stain and pour on some vinegar to break down the plant-based elements. Then, dab hydrogen peroxide on the spot with a cotton swab or a sponge and let sit for five minutes -- this removes the animal-based elements of the stain. Finish by rubbing a small amount of detergent on the stain, then wash as normal. If the stain is on a delicate or brightly colored fabric, consult with your local dry cleaner instead to avoid ruining the garment.

4
Grease

If you drop a greasy french fry on your pants at a restaurant, don’t panic. In a pinch, grab several artificial sweetener packets off the table and smother the stain, says Ashley Paul, the owner of interior design company Stella Interiors. “It helps absorb the oils,” Paul said. If you’re at home, break out the dishwashing soap. Dilute the soap with warm water before applying it to the stain, says Becca Napelbaum, a cleaning expert for Handy, an app for booking home cleaners. “Blot the stain until you have completely covered it with the solution and continue until the stain has disappeared,” Napelbaum said. “Repeat the process using cold water and then allow it to dry.”

5
Berries

Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and mulberries are all delicious, but things can get ugly when they touch your clothes, your furniture or your carpet. Napelbaum says it’s best to treat berry stains immediately, before they get a chance to permanently leave their mark. If possible, stretch the fabric as tight as you can and then pour water over it to remove the majority of the stain. Let the material soak in a mixture of water and white vinegar for at least an hour. Rinse and repeat until the stain disappears.

6
Cheese

A cheese stain is tricky from a stain removal standpoint because it contains protein and oils. If the stain is fresh and on your clothes, soak the spot with laundry detergent for 30 minutes, suggests Napelbaum. If the stain is on your upholstery, mix dish soap with cold water and dab the spot with a cloth, repeating until the stain disappears. “Make sure not to clean it in hot water as that will cook it, making it stick,” Napelbaum said.

7
Beer

We all know beer has a tendency to splosh out of your cup and onto your shirt (here’s looking at you, college beer pong days). The best way to remove a dried beer stain is to rub an ice cube on it for a few minutes, Napelbaum says. Once the ice has melted a bit, apply stain remover and wash normally. Want to know which beers won’t ruin your diet? Check out our list of the Best And Worst Beers For Weight Loss.

8
Spaghetti Sauce

If you’re eating spaghetti sauce with kids, there’s a pretty decent chance it’s going to end up all over them. To prevent the stain from setting, scrape as much sauce off the fabric as possible with a butter knife or a spoon, Napelbaum suggests. Run cold water over the stain to lift even more of the sauce. “Avoid using hot water, as that will cause tomato-based sauces to set even further,” Napelbaum said. Then, rub laundry detergent into the stain, working your way from the outside of the spot to the middle. Rinse and repeat this step until you remove the majority of the stain.

9
Red Wine

If you spill a glass of red wine, don’t panic. Grab a dry towel and dab -- don’t rub -- the stain to remove as much excess liquid as possible, Napelbaum says. Try pouring either salt or baking soda on the stain if the spot is on your carpet or furniture, then vacuum up the excess. You can do the same thing with clothing, then pre-treat with detergent and wash as you normally would. Now that you know how to get rid of a red wine stain, order a glass of one of these 16 Wines For Weight Loss with your next dinner.

10
Coffee

Mornings can be frenzied, especially if you’re trying to get kids off to school on time. If you swish your coffee mug a little too vigorously, don’t worry-- your favorite blouse isn’t ruined. Try to blot the fabric to remove as much liquid as you can. Then hand wash the stain with dishwashing liquid and warm water. RInse with cold water, says Napelbaum.

11
Gum

Though gum isn’t technically a stain, it’s just as annoying to remove. Your first step should be to rub some ice cubes or an ice pack on the spot to try to harden the gum, says Michelle Wall of Custom Curtains. After 10 to 15 minutes, try and scrape the solid gum off with a blunt knife, but be careful not to damage the fabric, she said. Soak the spot with white wine vinegar to break down the remaining gum residue, then wash as you normally would.

12
Baby Food

No surprises here: If you’re feeding a little one, some of the food is probably going to miss the baby’s mouth. Luckily, baby food stains aren’t too hard to get out. Simply scrape off the excess solids, then rinse the fabric with cold water, says Lauren Haynes, a cleaning expert at Star Domestic Cleaners. Gently rub some detergent onto the spot and let it sit. Rinse again, then wash as normal.

13
Raw Meat

That red juice oozing from your steak isn’t actually blood, it’s myoglobin, a protein that creates a reddish pink liquid when it’s mixed with water. Still, this stuff is pretty gross and can stain your clothes. While it’s fresh, blot the spot with a clean cloth to remove excess liquid. Then, let the fabric soak in cold water and agitate it once in a while to loosen the stain, says Haynes. If that doesn’t do the trick, soak the fabric again in a solution of salt and water. Wash in cold water.

14
Butter

If you accidentally drop a pat of butter on your clothes, carefully scrape away as much as you can, Haynes says. Rub the spot with dishwashing soap and rinse thoroughly. Pretreat the stain with your go-to laundry stain remover, then wash at the hottest temperature allowed for that type of fabric. To add other healthy fats to your diet, check out The 20 Best Full Fat Foods For Weight Loss.

15
Ketchup

With its bright red coloring, ketchup is a particularly unfriendly condiment when it lands on your clothes. Not to worry, though, you can get a ketchup stain out. Remove as much excess ketchup as you can, then blot the stain with a clean white cloth, Haynes advises. Next, mix two cups of cold water with a tablespoon of liquid dishwashing detergent and apply the solution to the stain with a white cloth. Blot the spot until all of the liquid is absorbed, then repeat this process as necessary.

16
Chocolate

Indulging in some dark chocolate every now and then has been shown to relieve stress and can even help you lose weight. But if you accidentally miss your mouth, you’ll want to act quickly to prevent staining. Haynes suggests rubbing the chocolate spot with ice cubes or an ice pack. Once the chocolate has hardened a bit, mix dish soap and cold water, then blot the area with this solution. If the stain is still visible, you can absorb the rest with a little cornmeal.

17
Salad Dressing

To remove a small spot of salad dressing from your clothing, simply saturate the area with your favorite laundry stain remover. If the stain is stubborn, rub the spot with liquid detergent and wash as normal, according to the University of Missouri’s textile and apparel management department. If the stain is super heavy, apply dry-cleaning fluid to the back of the fabric and let it dry before washing.

18
Maple Syrup

If Sunday brunch gets the best of you, don’t give up on pancakes just yet. To remove maple syrup from fabric, soak the item for 15 minutes in a solution of lukewarm water, dish soap and white vinegar, then rinse. Dib a sponge into rubbing alcohol, then dab the spot lightly working from the center to the edge of the stain, suggests the University of Missouri’s textile and apparel management department.

19
Baby Formula

If you have kids, a baby formula stain is pretty much inevitable. To start, scrape as much excess material off the fabric as you can. Mix a solution of lukewarm water, dish soap and ammonia. If you can soak, the fabric in the solution for 15 minutes, according to the University of Missouri’s textile and apparel management department. Rub the back of the spot gently to loosen the stain, then soak for another 15 minutes and rinse. Wash as normal.

20
Eggnog

File this tip away for your next holiday party. If you or one of your party guests spills eggnog, don’t worry, no one will end up on Santa’s naughty list. To get rid of an eggnog stain, Holderman says there’s nothing better than OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover. Simply follow the directions and you’ll be back to belting “Deck the Halls” in no time.