How to Remove the Most-Annoying Food Stains from Clothes

Not all stains are created equal — arm yourself with these effective (and easy) techniques to save your clothes from drips and spills.
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Stain Removal 101

If you like to cook and eat (and who doesn't?), fighting food stains is a fact of life. Though each type of stain calls for a different removal technique, all do have some rules in common. First, time is of the essence. You'll need to act quickly for the best chance of making your clothes look like new. Also, if you're worried about damaging the fabric, test your treatment in an inconspicuous spot. Finally, heed tags that say "dry clean only," and leave that dirty work to the pros. Otherwise, try these at-home remedies — you probably already have all of the stuff you need to banish those spots.

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Berries

No one said berry picking was a clean activity. Lay the fabric over a large bowl. Pour boiling hot water (straight from a tea kettle works) through the fabric, taking care not to burn yourself. This should remove most of the stain, but some color might linger. Fight it by rinsing and dabbing the stain with white vinegar and soaking in cold water before laundering.

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Chocolate Milk

This sweet treat can certainly leave a mark. Dilute an enzyme detergent (basically any formula that claims stain-fighting qualities) with water, and gently sponge it into the stain. Let stand for about 30 minutes, then rinse and repeat as needed.

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Coffee & Tea

Rinse and dab these annoying early morning stains with a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water. Repeat until you can't remove any more. If a spot remains, treat with a stain stick and then launder as usual.

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Ketchup

Did your hot dog bun betray you? Rinse a ketchup stain under cold running water, and blot with your trusty white vinegar to remove as much as you can. Before you launder the garment, apply a pretreater or a little diluted detergent to the spot.

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Mustard

Scrape off excess globs of the yellow stuff, and then run the fabric under cold running water. Dab on a little diluted liquid detergent or treat with a stain stick before you toss the clothes in the laundry.

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Oil & Butter

Fight the urge to immediately rinse the spot with water — the oil will just repel it and the stain might spread. To lift away as much of the stubborn fat as possible, sprinkle flour, talcum powder, cornstarch or artificial sweetener on both sides of the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes. Shake off the powder and you should see that the stain is gone or at least faded. To remove any that remains, gently rub it with some mild dish detergent and rinse under hot water. Repeat as necessary.

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Soy Sauce

Blot the stain as dry as possible. Using a cotton swab or sponge, dab the stain with white vinegar, and follow with hydrogen peroxide if you need a little extra oomph. Rinse, pretreat if any stain remains, and then launder as usual.

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Spaghetti Sauce

Scrape away any excess and rinse with cold water to lift away as much sauce as you can. Then, flush with white vinegar or diluted laundry detergent (or alternate the two), rinsing after each application until the stain is gone.

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Red Wine

Funnily enough, white wine (which operates similarly to white vinegar) can help remove a red wine stain — it's a great trick to have up your sleeve at a cocktail party. Flush the stain with white wine to remove as much as you can quickly, blotting dry between applications. For extra stain-fighting power, flush with white vinegar until you've removed as much as you can. Then, launder as usual.

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