Home Hacks

This Is the Best Way to Get Rid of a Coffee Stain

Because no matter how careful you are, you'll definitely spill some.

June 15, 2022

Coffee stains are a fact of life if you weren’t born with the balance of a gymnast. Since I drink coffee almost every day and have no sense of balance to speak of, the number of times I’ve spilled coffee on myself, or something in my immediate environment, numbers in the thousands, if not more.

And since these coffee stains usually happen to me in the wild—on the train, in the middle of a restaurant meal, or en route to run errands—I usually don’t have the option of tossing something in the washing machine until the end of my day. Not to mention, if stain removal were just a matter of doing a load of laundry, none of us would need hacks on how to remove them.

According to Jolie Kerr, cleaning expert and advice columnist: “When a drink stain happens, whether it's red wine, dark beer, coffee, colorful cocktails, or fruit juice, you always want to deal with the stain as it happens.” And that right there is the first line of defense: prompt action.

How to remove coffee stains

There are several ideas out there on what you should do immediately after you spill your coffee, but generally, here's what you should do.

  1. Blot your stain with cold water and a damp towel. If the spill just happened, this might be enough to tide you over until you can launder your clothes.
  2. Otherwise, sprinkle baking soda, salt, baby powder, or liquid dish soap over the area and let it seep in.
  3. Gently rub it away with cold water or vinegar, and a towel or cloth, and then launder as soon as you can.

I have, through trial and error, arrived at what works best for me. For coffee stains, I find that the best thing to do—it's also Kerr-recommended—is to first flush the stain with cold running water, as heat will set the stain into the fabric. I wash out as much of the stain as possible, and then lather up with liquid dish detergent. I rinse with white vinegar and water, and usually, at this point, the stain is gone. Per the University of Illinois, which has a whole section of its website dedicated to stain removal (I don’t know why, but we could probably use all of it), you can also soak your stained items for 15 minutes in a mixture of dish detergent, white vinegar, and water, but I find applying my cleaning “ingredients” one by one to be more effective.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Don’t use hot water on a coloured berry stain. (It will probably get rid of the red and leave a blue mark set for life.) At home, I generally follow the steps as stated by one of the people who has contributed with the dish detergent/vinegar etc method. I confess, I like the results from Shout, tho’. It works well.”
— GigiR

If you’ve got a more serious coffee spill on your hands, your work isn’t done. Use a sponge to apply rubbing alcohol to the stain, working outward from the center. Then, soak the stain in at least a quart of water with a tablespoon of an enzyme cleaner, and then wash as you normally would.

This post was updated June 2022 because it's iced coffee season and you know what that means...more spills.

Got an even better way to wash out a coffee stain? We're all ears.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • malipdx
  • Robert Franklin
    Robert Franklin
  • Alisa Quint
    Alisa Quint
  • GigiR
  • Marilyn Taylor
    Marilyn Taylor
Karen Lo

Written by: Karen Lo

lunch lady


malipdx September 13, 2021
Coffee is tannin stain. Wine Away works wonders on it. I used it on 5 yr old coffee stains behind a chair on the carpet and it removed the stain like magic.
Robert F. August 30, 2020
Hydrogen peroxide 3% applied ASAP works very well.
Alisa Q. August 24, 2020
I made an espresso and my husband accidentally bumped my hand and espresso all over my white T-Shirt.

Tried all the oxiclean sticks, baking soda etc.

I sprayed Tilex on the stain and gone!!! No fiber damage, shirt is as good as new. Not eco friendly but it worked.
GigiR July 31, 2020
Hi. The day I didn’t spill something on my front in a restaurant my husband said “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?” Bad spiller/dropper.
Right away, I dip my table napkin in my ice and water glass (it’s an emergency) and carefully touch/blot out the food or bev mark. It usually works. If there is a solid bit, get rid of that first before you blot. I’ve even got rid of a red raspberry juice mark that way.
Don’t use hot water on a coloured berry stain. (It will probably get rid of the red and leave a blue mark set for life.)
At home, I generally follow the steps as stated by one of the people who has contributed with the dish detergent/vinegar etc method. I confess, I like the results from Shout, tho’. It works well.
Marilyn T. September 15, 2019
For any stain that involves any kind of oil, I use 1 part laundry detergent, 1 part water, and several drops of lemon oil - oil dissolves oil. I use a squeeze bottle and cover the stain, then next time I do the laundry, it goes in with everything else. This also works really well for sweat stains, which I normally treat as above as I'm putting shirts into the washer.
janet V. September 15, 2019
Even old sweat stains? If so, count me in!
janet V. September 15, 2019
I often use white banquet tablecloths for catering meetings and events. There's always that coffee spiller present! As soon as possible, (though sometimes it's days later) I liberally spray the stains with Shout, no other spray cleaner is as consistent. Then I launder with copious amounts of bleach and detergent, along with a double rinse. I do not put in the dryer as this will set any stain. For colored table cloths I would just eliminate the bleach. For clothing, I will for sure try your method. BTW, blue Dawn is the dish detergent I would use. It is an amazing spot remover for stains on clothing, especially grease.