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

Learn how to remove the most common food stains for good with these easy cleaning techniques.

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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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Portrait Of Little Girl With Smeared Face Eating PastaWestend61/Getty Images

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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Slices Of Pepperoni Pizza With Grease In BoxJustin Smith/Getty Images

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 Stainjeangill/Getty Images

Berries

Nothing beats white vinegar when it comes to removing leftover berry juice or residue, regardless of where it’s lingering. 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 Shirtcirano83/Getty Images

Coffee

We’ve all been there. It’s a busy morning and you spill delicious cold brew coffee on your shirt. 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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Girl Making Peanut Butter Sandwich, Licking FingersElizabethsalleebauer/Getty Images

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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Ketchup Stain Close Upjimd_stock/Getty Images

Ketchup

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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Pouring Vinaigrettedrewhadley/Getty Images

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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Fun RecipeRainStar/Getty Images

Chocolate

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.

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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Directly Above Shot Of Butter And Knife On Wooden TableStephen Gibson / EyeEm/Getty Images

Butter

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! Don’t miss our list of the top-reviewed stain removers.

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Spilled Red WineLauriPatterson/Getty Images

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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Caucasian Boy Pouring Syrup On Sister's PancakesJose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

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.Alexthq/Getty Images

Cheese

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 (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.

Erica Young
Erica is a freelance lifestyle writer with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. Her favorite recipes are quick, easy and something her kids will actually eat. When she's not writing you'll find her organizing a closet, roaming the aisles at Target or nursing her third Diet Coke of the day.
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