Removing Common Food Stains

Whatever the kind of food stain the quicker you can deal with it the better chance you have to removing all marks and traces of colour. Be careful as well not to inadvertently apply heat to a stain as this can set many stains permanently. Thus, if you have washed a garment and there are still traces of a stain left, do not put it in the dryer or iron it until you have tried other methods of stain removal first. Here are some common food stains and how to deal with them.


  • If the stain is fresh, it will usually wash out if you soak it immediately in warm water and some biological detergent, and then wash it as normal, using the hottest temperature the fabric can stand.

    Vinegar is a good alternative treatment – spray a solution of 1 teaspoon vinegar in 1 quart of cold water directly onto the stain and then blot up the loosened particles. For older stains, overnight soaks may be necessary and borax solution is a good choice for this. Alternatively, rub some glycerine into the fabric before the wash to loosen the stain so that it can be removed in the normal laundry.

Spaghetti Sauce (Tomato Sauce)

  • Probably the worst stain, this is extremely hard to remove but not impossible. Wet the area before sprinkling on some powdered dishwashing detergent. Next, using a toothbrush, gently scrub the stain and then rinse thoroughly. After washing in the laundry as normal, put the garment out to dry in the sun, rather than placing it in the dryer, as this will help to remove any leftover staining.

Soya Sauce

  • Another horrible stain, soya sauce leaves dark, obvious marks that can ruin clothes if not removed properly. First, don’t allow the stain to dry on the clothes – blot out as much as possible using absorbent paper towels and then wash on a cold cycle (do not use hot water as this will permanently set the stain).

    If some marks remain after the first wash, treat the area with an enzyme laundry pre-treatment and then wash again. If you discover an old stain, try rubbing some glycerine onto the area and then leave it for 20 minutes before washing as directed above.

Cooking Oil

  • It’s easy to get splashed with cooking oil while busy in the kitchen and then to only notice the ugly stains on your clothes later. Sprinkle some talcum powder onto the stain first to absorb any excess oil and then rub a little cold water into the area. Follow this with a normal wash and the stain will usually come out.


  • Ketchup stains are easy to treat if you catch them fast enough: just dab with some warm water and mild detergent and the stain should come off easily. For older stains, rubbing glycerine into the area and leaving for several minutes, as directed above, will help to loosen the stain. For best results, wash using a biological laundry detergent.


  • Simple dairy-based ice-creams are usually not too bad: just sponge with some lukewarm water and then put it in the laundry as normal. If the stain is on something that is not washable, try using some borax solution sponged onto the stain and then cold water sponged on and blotted off, to “rinse” the area.

    If the ice-cream is fruit-based or sorbet, this can be more of a problem as the stains tend to be more stubborn. It is best to immediately rinse the fabric in cold water and then soak the garment in a solution of biological laundry detergent and warm water. Alternatively, treating the area with lemon juice just before washing can also give very good results.

Cheesy Sauces

  • Especially common in households with children, tackle this stain by first removing as much excess cheese or cheese sauce that you can scrape off, then wash the garment in warm water, with a mild detergent. Check that the stain has completely disappeared before putting the garment in the dryer as the heat will set the stain permanently. If it has not been completely removed, try a vinegar solution (one thirds vinegar to two-thirds water) directly on the stain and the wash again as above.

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