How to Remove Coffee Stains from Clothing

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You might not be able to prevent an accidental coffee spill, but you can save your clothes from becoming permanently stained.

If you are one of the millions of people who depend on a daily hot, caffeinated cup of coffee every—and according to the National Coffee Association that’s 62 percent of Americans—it is likely you have experienced the ugly side of being a coffee drinker: those oh-so-dreaded spills. You’ll want to know how to remove coffee stains from clothing.

In the scheme of stains, those stemming from coffee tend to be some of the worst culprits. After all, coffee is brown, one of the darker shades on the color wheel. “Coffee is considered a tannin, a naturally occurring vegetable dye found in many plants,” explains Kathleen Razmus, director of store profitability, ZIPS Dry Cleaners. And, while coffee does stain clothes if left untreated, coffee stains don’t have to be permanent—even when it comes to your crisp white shirts and bright white jeans. In fact, according to Razmus, 95 percent of coffee stains on clothing are totally treatable. And, you probably have everything you need to remove a coffee stain in your laundry room or kitchen. Find out how to remove coffee stains from everything else.

What you will need:

  • A microfiber cloth
  • Cold water
  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • White vinegar
  • OxyClean
  • Chlorine bleach
  • A branded stain solution

How to get fresh coffee stains out of clothing

  1. Carefully blot the stain: Using a dry microfiber cloth or rag, blot the soiled area to remove as much of the stain as you can, advises Razmus. Pat, don’t rub it. “Rubbing can be too abrasive and you risk breaking fibers and leaving a rough spot behind—especially with delicate fibers like silk,” she says.
  2. Check the laundry label: Before you progress to the following steps, make sure to check if your clothing item is dry clean only. If it is, then promptly bring it in for professional cleaning. If not, continue to step three.
  3. Rinse with cold water: If the garment is washable, Razmus suggests rinsing it with cold water to get as much of the stain out as possible. If that doesn’t work, move on to step four.
  4. Make a solution: While there are many chemicals that can be used to treat a stain, Razmus explains that because coffee is a tannin stain, it requires a mild acid and white vinegar is the safest one to use. Make a homemade stain removal solution that’s one part white vinegar to one part liquid laundry detergent. “Place on the stain and let it set for a while. Rinse,” she instructs. If the coffee stain hasn’t lightened, repeat.
  5. When the stain is almost out, you can then throw it in the washing machine and wash as you normally would. Check it after the wash. If the spot is still there, hold off on tossing it in the dryer and try to remove the coffee stain again. “If you put a garment with a stain into the dryer, the stain will likely set,” she explains.
  6. If you want to try a different route, such as using a branded stain product, Lindsey Boyd, co-founder of The Laundress suggests applying it directly to the stain. Then, give it a boost by sprinkling a capful of The Laundress All-Purpose Bleach Alternative (a chlorine-free, fragrance-free bleach alternative that’s gentler to clothing) on top of the solution and rubbing it in with hot water. “This will create a powerful paste to help lift the coffee stain,” Boyd says. Then, let the item soak for 30 minutes to an hour in hot water mixed with the same bleach solution. Repeat until the stain has lifted and then launder the item as normal.

How to get an old coffee stain out of clothing

If you are attempting to treat a coffee stain that has already set in, start by soaking the garment in a solution made out of 1/4-cup bleach to one gallon of water for a white shirt or white jeans, or, for a colored garment, use an oxygen bleach—such as OxiClean. After soaking, you can place it in the washing machine. If the coffee stain is removed, you can then place the item in the dryer. If the stain is still there, move on to the vinegar as outline in “How to get fresh coffee stains out of clothing.” above.

remove coffee stains from clothingAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.comAvoid these mistakes

Over the years, Razmus has witnessed a number of stain removal disasters and could write a book on how not to get a coffee stain out of clothing. Avoid the following:

  • Using lemon juice: While you might have heard that lemon juice can effectively remove stains, Razmus does not recommend using it, because lemon juice has sugar, so it can leave a stain behind.
  • Applying bleach directly on a stain, even on white clothes. “Straight bleach can damage the fabric as it can cause the whiteners in the fabric to become damaged, turning the spot yellow. “
  • Using the wrong type of bleach: It is important to avoid using chlorine bleach on colored fabric. Not only will you remove the stain, but also the color.
  • Applying baking soda: While baking soda might be an effective cleaning agent for many stains, it isn’t going to work well with coffee. “For tannins, you need something acidic and baking soda is an alkaline,” she points out.

It’s not just your clothes that coffee can stain, find out how to clean your coffee cup, too.

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Leah Groth
Leah is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, mother and product junkie. Her obsessions include old houses, home design, fashion, beauty, books and anything that makes her life — which includes working full-time and taking care of two "spirited" children and a Vizsla puppy — a little bit easier. Her work has appeared on a variety of publications and websites, including Glamour, Prevention, Business Insider, Livestrong, Mindbodygreen, Fatherly, Scary Mommy, Wonderwall and Cosmopolitan.