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

Fact of life: If you drink coffee, you spill.

July 27, 2020

Coffee stains are a fact of life if you a) drink coffee and b) weren’t born with the balance of a gymnast. And since I drink coffee almost every day of my life 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 my way to the office, on the train, in the middle of a restaurant meal—I usually don’t have the option of tossing something in the washing machine until the end of my day. Not to mention, if all 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 advise 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.

There are several ideas out there on what you should do immediately after you spill your coffee—a lot of them involving blotting the stain with either salt, baking soda, or baby powder. The basic premise is the same: Start by blotting your stain with a damp towel. Then sprinkle some baking soda/salt/baby powder over the area and let it seep in. Gently rub it away with a paper towel or cloth and then throw it in the wash as soon as you get home.

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

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 use liquid dish detergent over the stain to create a lather. Then, I use white vinegar to rinse out the soap, 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), the college-approved method is to soak your stained items for 15 minutes in that mixture—dish detergent, white vinegar, and water, but I find that applying my cleaning “ingredients” one by one to be more effective.

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 from the center. Then, do soak the stain in at least a quart of water with a tablespoon of an enzyme cleaner, and then wash as you normally would.

Got an even better way to wash out a coffee stain? I’m all ears.

Are you a habitual spiller like us? What are some of your tricks to remove coffee stains?
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • malipdx
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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.
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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.