Coffee spills are bound to happen when you rely on the morning brew to get you going. And unfortunately, your best work clothes always seem to suffer the first casualties.
Losing a shirt because of a coffee stain is never a fun way to start the day. But, in most cases, a minor accident doesn’t have to doom your clothing. A sense of urgency and a solid stain remover is all you need to clear away an unfortunate coffee drip. Here’s everything you need to know about how to clean coffee stains from clothes.
Can Coffee Stains Be Removed?
You can remove coffee stains from most clothing materials. But it isn’t always easy. Tannins, the bitter-tasting acidic molecules in red wine, tea, and coffee, attach readily to proteins, starches, and other assorted substances. They have a unique color in some instances, while others gain it by binding to colored compounds.
In coffee, the brown hues come from melanoidin, a protein-derived compound that forms during the roasting process. Coffee tannins attach to melanoidin molecules and help them adhere to fabrics.
Coffee dying isn’t an unusual concept in the textile industry. Tannins are a natural mordant, or dye fixer, used for color-fastness, and some have even explored using melanoidin alongside tannins in fabric-dying.
The chemistry gives us an eco-friendly dying alternative but makes removing coffee stains at home a massive frustration. Stopping coffee spills from permanently ruining your clothes takes fast action and a cautious approach. Running them through the laundry, for example, may work out in some instances, but if you put a coffee-covered garment in the dryer, you’ll set the stain.
How to Remove Fresh Coffee Stains From Clothing
Quickly remove excess coffee from your clothing by wicking it away with a paper towel or dry cloth. Rinse with cold water through the backside of the stained area for several seconds. If a slight brown coffee stain remains, mix a few drops of dishwashing detergent in warm water, and soak for 10–20 minutes.
Depending on the material, its color, and the severity of the coffee stain, this may be all you need to do. If not, try one of the following cleaning solutions before machine-washing the garment.
Oxygen bleach makes an excellent pre-soak for your garment that will likely get coffee stains out in their entirety. Mix Oxi-Clean or a similar product in warm water until it dissolves. Soak the stained area for at least 30 minutes. Check the stain before tossing it in the washing machine. You should see most (if not all) of the coffee gone.
A drizzle of liquid laundry detergent instead of liquid dish soap is an efficient stain-removal approach. Gently rub a few drops of liquid detergent into the stained fabric. Soak the spot in a small bowl of warm water, agitating it slightly to work up some suds. Let the stain soak for 15–30 minutes, and rinse with cold water.
Soak the coffee stains in 3% hydrogen peroxide for 15–30 minutes. Rinse with cold water, and check to see if the stain has disappeared. For more cleaning power, jump up to 6% hydrogen peroxide. You can also add baking soda to the mix to make a paste to rub into the stain.
Alternative DIY Options
If you don’t have any dish soap or laundry products available, you still have several stain removal options to refresh your clothes or, at the least, remove as much of the coffee spill as possible before they go in the wash. A few DIY options to try include:
- Toothpaste: Rub a dab of white toothpaste into the coffee stain to lift it, and rinse with cold water
- Shaving Cream: Work a small amount of shaving cream into the stain, and rinse with cool water
- Rubbing Alcohol: Dampen a cloth with rubbing alcohol and blot out the stain
Of course, a stain removal spray like Shout is another sensible way to keep a coffee stain from setting into your fabric. No matter how you approach it, you’ll usually find success when you remove most of the spot before tossing it in the washing machine.
How Do You Get Dried Coffee Out of Clothes?
You don’t always have time to clean after you spill coffee on your clothes, especially when you’re rushing to work. There are also times when you don’t notice the random stray drop on your shirt. There are countless causes of old dried coffee stains on clothes, but fortunately, they’re almost as easy to clean as fresh coffee spills in many cases.
To clean an old coffee stain, rinse the backside with cold water to see if it comes out. If not, use the above solutions to pre-treat the stain before washing the garment.
Warning! Always ensure the stain is completely gone after it comes out of the wash cycle. You’ll risk making any remaining coffee stains permanent if you put the clothing in the dryer.
Synthetic and Cotton Fabrics
Removing coffee stains from cotton and natural fiber clothing is often more challenging than pulling them from synthetic fabrics. Delicate fabrics, like silk and wool, need mild, pH-neutral dish liquid or shampoos to avoid damage. Woolite and other WoolSafe fabric cleaners are excellent solutions for these materials.
In cotton’s case, coffee tannins bind more readily to cellulose fibers, fixing the color to the fabric and creating tougher set-in stains. But that doesn’t mean the coffee stain removal process involves anything more than the options listed here. On the contrary, it means cleaning coffee from synthetics is often incredibly easy. Even a dried stain on a 100% polyester shirt may only need a cold water rinse to disappear.
That’s a best-case scenario, and you should always treat a fresh stain as fast as possible regardless of the fabric. But you’ll usually surprise yourself with how quickly you’ll make your shirt look like new.
Tip: Always reference the clothing care tag before applying anything more than pH-neutral mild soap and cool water. Harsher cleaning solutions can permanently damage organic and delicate fabric blends or worsen the stain. Do not machine dry anything until the coffee is 100% gone, and take your dry clean-only articles to a professional for help.
How to Remove Coffee Stains From Car Seats
If your clothing somehow evades a falling coffee drip in the car, the seat is the next likely coffee stain victim. Soak up as much liquid as possible with paper towels or a clean cloth. Dampen a paper towel or rag with water and dish soap, and blot the stain up before rinsing the soap away with a damp cloth.
Does Dawn Dish Soap Remove Coffee Stains?
Dawn dish soap is a gentle, pH-neutral cleaner that can remove new and old coffee marks alongside numerous other tough stains from clothes, fabric furniture, and carpet. A stubborn stain left to air dry may need a more powerful solution. For dried stains, save time by skipping the dish soap and opting for a liquid or powdered laundry detergent.
Will White Vinegar Remove a Coffee Stain?
Many people add equal parts distilled white vinegar and dish liquid to water to pre-treat a coffee stain. Whether new or old, coffee stains will come out just as easily if you only use dish soap. White vinegar may remove some dissolved solids, but the remaining stain will be apparent. Using dish liquid alone will save a few seconds without hurting your results.
Does Hydrogen Peroxide Help with Coffee Stains?
Hydrogen peroxide is a whitening agent that oxidizes numerous organic materials, which is why it’s also a preferred cleaner for removing coffee stains from carpet and upholstery. It’s generally safe for color-fast fabrics and makes a great stain remover in a pinch if you don’t have dish soap.
What Is the Best Cleaner for Coffee Stains?
If you have the time and resources, oxygen bleach or an enzymatic laundry detergent will be the best cleaning solution to remove coffee stains. Blot as much excess coffee as possible with a paper towel, and rinse the stain with cool water. If it persists, use dish soap, oxygen bleach, or any of these other practical cleaning solutions to revitalize your garment.