How to Clean the Most Common (and Stubborn) Food Stains

Updated: Apr. 19, 2024

Learn how to get stains out of clothes for good with our tried-and-true cleaning techniques.

Woman Cleaning Stained Shirt In Bathroom SinkCASARSAGURU/GETTY IMAGES

The Stain-Fighting Tools You Need

You spilled red wine on a new pair of jeans, dribbled ketchup on an upholstered kitchen chair or found grease splattered on your shirt? This kind of discovery can turn even the most laid-back cooking session into a total bummer!

For a stress-free cleanup that’ll get rid of food stains once and for all, here are the cleaning products to keep handy:

  • White vinegar
  • Club soda
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Prewash stain remover
  • Dish detergent
  • Laundry detergent
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Acetone
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Tomato sauce
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Tomato Sauce

It’s hard to pass up homemade tomato sauce, but tomato-based stains are some of the most challenging to get rid of. To clean a tomato sauce stain on your clothing, scrape away any solid remains and blot wet sauce with a cloth. Soak the stain in cold water for five minutes, and with a spare toothbrush, scrub it gently with laundry detergent (we have found powdered Tide to be the most effective). Use hot water to wash the garment, then air-dry.

Removing tomato sauce from the carpet requires a different technique. First, combine dish detergent with water. Using a towel, start on the outer edges of the stain, then soak with the solution moving toward the middle. Finally, dab the remains with water and blot dry.

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Pepperoni pizza on paper plate
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Pizza Grease

You can remove stains from pizza grease using items that are already in your kitchen cupboard. As soon as the spill happens, use a generous amount of baking soda or cornstarch to cover and absorb the stain. (Check out all the other clever ways you can clean with baking soda.) Let the powder sit for three minutes, then discard. Then place a small drop of dish soap on the affected area and gently dab with a wet paper towel. Repeat until the grease stain is no longer visible. Pizza night is saved!

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Squashed Strawberries And Stain
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Nothing beats white vinegar when it comes to removing leftover berry juice or residue. Discovered a berry stain on your clothing? Turn the garment inside out and carefully pour boiling water over the stain. Make sure that the fabric is pulled taut, so that every part of the stain gets treated.

Once it has dried for a few hours, soak the stain in vinegar. Vinegar helps because it’s a weak acid. This makes it safe to counteract even the most difficult berry stains. Rinse the fabric and allow it to air-dry. See what else you can clean with vinegar.

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Coffee Stain On A Shirt
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We’ve all been there. It’s a busy morning and you spill cold brew coffee on your shirt, or worse, hot coffee. Fortunately, two common beverages can help. To treat stained cloth, use club soda to soak the area. Then blot with a clean rag until the stain is gone.

Similarly, if your cup o’ joe has made its way onto the carpet, blot it up with cloth or paper towel, then pour a small amount of beer on top and blot again lightly. Rinse with clean water and blot again to get rid of the beer residue. So long, coffee stains!

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Peanut butter in bowl and peanuts
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Peanut Butter

The protein-packed snack is found in some of our favorite dessert recipes, but removing oily peanut butter residue can be tough. When the stain is on your clothing, remove any excess and treat it with a prewash stain remover. Then, wash the stained shirt or pants using the hottest water setting possible.

If the peanut butter stain is on your carpet, you’ll need to get a stain remover solution like acetone (that’s right: nail polish remover). Use an eye dropper to apply a tiny bit of acetone and blot immediately. This is a test to make sure it won’t hurt the rug. If it’s all good, sponge the stain with a cloth dipped in the solvent and blot until the majority of the peanut butter is absorbed. Rinse with water and pat dry.

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ketchap stain white shirt accident
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It’s hard to get ketchup out of a glass bottle. Just one shake too many and you’re left with a mess! Remove ketchup from clothes and furniture fast by scraping the stain with a butter knife. Soak the stain in cold water, and coat it in liquid laundry detergent. Next, use a sponge to apply hydrogen peroxide to the area, and watch the stain disappear completely.

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Salad Dressing on a spoon
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Salad Dressing

Though salad dressings like homemade vinaigrette pair well fresh greens, their oil-based composition means food stains don’t seem to budge. Apply a stain remover like this to treat stained cloth. Rinse the treated area with hot water, and rub liquid detergent into the stain. Let the fabric sit for roughly five minutes, then send the material through the washing machine’s hottest setting.

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Chocolate Stain
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Everyone loves chocolate—until it causes a stubborn stain. Clean up any remaining chunks of chocolate with a spoon, but don’t peel or scrape it, because that will leave you with even more of a mess. Once the chocolate is removed, use cold water to rinse the stain. Then rub liquid laundry detergent or dish soap into the area. Find out how to get chocolate out of your clothes.

Allow the fabric to sit for a moment or two, then soak it in cold water for 15 minutes. Loosen up the stain by rubbing it with your finger every five minutes, and rinse until the stain is no longer there.

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Stain of butter on white cloth


We all know the key ingredient in almost every comfort food recipe is butter (and lots of it). Luckily, lifting a stain left from butter is simple. Use liquid dish soap to clean up the stain and rinse it well. Then use a dab of stain remover and wash the fabric in hot water. Just be sure that the stain is completely gone before you dry it. If not, the butter stain may set permanently!

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Close up of spoiled red wine on white background
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Red Wine

Unlike its white counterpart, red wine creates a tough stain to clean. For shirts or linens, soak up any excess wine by dabbing it gently with a clean cloth. Then cover a bowl with the stained fabric, making sure it’s pulled tight. Cover the stain in salt and slowly pour boiling water over the entire stain area. Wash the clothing or linen in the hottest setting your washing machine offers.

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Maple syrup pouring onto pancakes. Shallow DOF with focus on syrup and butter.
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Maple Syrup

If you accidentally spill maple syrup, don’t let it ruin your pancake breakfast. Pretreat a syrup stain on clothes with liquid laundry detergent and let it set for a few minutes. Then, rinse and treat the stain again with white vinegar. Repeat as needed.

If you discover maple syrup on your carpet, try ammonia. Mix 1 tablespoon of ammonia with 1/2 cup of warm water. Apply the solution to the syrup stain, then blot away with a clean cloth until it’s gone.

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Mexican crispy snack, nachos chips and cheese sauce on neutral background.
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To remove a cheese or cheese sauce stain from your clothes, carefully remove any cheese that comes up easily. Then apply liquid laundry detergent to the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes. (Yes, cheese stains are stubborn.) After the stain has been treated, run the garment through the washing machine using hot water.

For carpet cheese stains, dish soap to the rescue again! Mix a tablespoon of dish soap with two cups of cool water. Use a soft brush to apply the mixture to the stain and scrub. Blot with a clean cloth until the stain disappears.

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High angle view of olive oil pouring in bowl on table
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Cooking Oil

Oil stains are easy to miss as they start off mostly clear, then gradually darken over time. If you’re in the cooking zone, you might not notice until much later. But don’t lose hope! You can remove oil stains with a variety of methods.

Apply baking soda to the affected area, then scrub with an unused toothbrush and let sit for 30 minutes to an hour to allow the baking soda to absorb the oil. Similarly, applying baby powder and wiping it away with a spoon can have the same result.

The most tried-and-true method uses laundry detergent. Take a dull knife or spoon and wipe away any excess oil. Then, apply laundry detergent to the area and make sure it soaks completely through the fabric. Allow the clothing item to sit in hot water for up to 10 minutes and give it a rinse.

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Soy sauce poured on a small white plate
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Soy Sauce

Like cooking oil, you want to get as much of the soy sauce out of your clothes as you can without rubbing it in. Blot the clothes with a paper towel or soft cloth. But unlike oil, you should then run the material under cold water. Then apply laundry detergent to the area with your fingers or a scrub brush and allow it to set for up to 10 minutes. Finally, wash as normal.