How to Remove Gum Stains From Clothes, Shoes, Carpet, and Upholstery

get gum out of fabric shoes and carpet illustration
Illustration: The Spruce / Maritsa Patrinos

Chewing gum has a sneaky habit of ending up where it doesn't belong—on seats, under desks, in the carpet, and on the sidewalk. And because it's so sticky, a gum stain quickly picks up all kind of dirt and grime, making the stain worse, or at least uglier. Removing gum stains usually involves a two-stage process of picking or scraping off the bulk of the gum, then attacking the sticky residue with a cleaner or stain lifter.

With a little persistence, you can remove gum from almost any surface. The one thing you don't want to do is throw a gum-stained item in the washing machine or, worse, the clothes dryer. The heat of the dryer will not only set the color of the gum stain, but it will also melt the gum so that it readily transfers to other items in the load.

Stain Type Polymer-based
Detergent Type Regular laundry detergent
Water Temperature Varies by fabric content

Project Metrics

There are a few factors to keep in mind before removing the stain.

  • Working Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes to several hours, plus washing time

Before You Begin

If the garment is labeled as dry clean only, harden the gum and remove as much as you can. As soon as possible, head to the dry cleaner and point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner. If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the remaining stain after the solids are moved with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

If attempting to remove stain from upholstery and the fabric is silk or vintage, consult a professional before attempting to remove the stain.

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Plastic bag
  • Ice
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Laundry detergent

Tools:

  • Butter knife
  1. Harden the Gum

    Place the stained item in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer for several hours. This method is best if the gum has melted in the dryer or gotten smeared over a large area of the fabric. Alternatively, if the gum stain is relatively small, place ice cubes in a plastic bag and hold it in place on the gum for a few minutes.

  2. Scrape Off the Gum

    Take the garment out of the freezer (or remove the ice cubes) and immediately scrape off the gum with a butter knife or the edge of a credit card. The goal is to remove most of the gum solids; failing that, refreeze the item and scrape again.

  3. Pretreat the Stain

    Treat the remaining spot with an equal mixture of liquid dishwashing detergent and white distilled vinegar. Gently rub in the solution from the front of the fabric, and allow the mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes.

    Dealing With Dried-Up Gum

    If a gum stain on clothing is old and dry, use some petroleum jelly to loosen the gum. Place a dab of petroleum jelly on your finger or a cotton swab and work it into the fabric at the base of the gum wad. The gum should loosen enough so you can pick it off. Before washing, you must treat the fabric to remove the grease stain caused by the petroleum jelly. Use a stain remover or a bit of heavy-duty laundry detergent to pretreat the stain, let it sit for about 15 minutes, then launder as usual.

  4. Wash As Usual

Wash the garment as you normally would, using your favorite laundry detergent. Inspect the stained area carefully before air drying or putting the garment in the dryer. If any of the stain remains, treat it again with the soap and vinegar mixture, then wash again. Do not dry in the dryer unless the stain is completely gone. If there's any doubt, it's safer to air dry and check again for the stain once the garment is dry.

How to Remove Gum Stains From Shoes

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 to 80 minutes

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Plastic bag
  • Ice (Optional)
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Distilled white vinegar

Tools:

  • Butter knife
  • Sponge
  • Cloths
  1. Freeze the Shoe

    Place the shoe in a plastic bag, seal it, and place it in the freezer for an hour, or so, until the gum is hard. Or use the ice cube and plastic bag method.

  2. Remove the Gum

    Scrape off the bulk of the gum with a butter knife or the edge of a credit card. Be extra careful with suede shoes and boots.

  3. Apply Soap and Vinegar

Treat any remaining gum stain with a solution of liquid dishwashing soap and white vinegar. Sponge on the solution, wait about 10 minutes, then blot it off with a clean cloth. Repeat if necessary, and finish by blotting with a clean cloth dipped in plain water. Allow the shoe to air dry. If leather shoes look dull after the gum is removed, use a leather conditioner to restore the shine.

Unstick Your Sole

If the gum is stuck to the sole of the shoe, simply apply a bit of peanut butter or butter, or give it a quick spray of WD-40, then scrape off the gum. Finish by wiping the area with a rag or paper towel.

How to Remove Gum From Upholstery and Carpet

Project Metrics

The same products and techniques can be used to remove gum from both upholstery and carpet.

  • Working Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 to 80 minutes

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Plastic bag
  • Ice
  • Dry cleaning solvent (for upholstery only)
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • Distilled white vinegar

Tools:

  • Butter knife
  • Cloth
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Vacuum
  1. Apply an Ice Pack

    Place a few ice cubes in a sealed plastic bag, and set it onto the gum stain for a few minutes to freeze and harden the gum.

  2. Scrape Carefully

    Use a very dull knife or a spoon to gently scrape off the gum, removing as much as possible.

  3. Apply a Cleaner

    Apply a dry cleaning solvent to spot-treat the stain on upholstery, following the manufacturer's directions. Be sure to test the solvent on the fabric in a hidden area to make sure it doesn't remove any color from the fabric.

    For a carpet stain, mix a solution of equal parts liquid dishwashing detergent and white vinegar. Use a soft-bristled brush to work a very small amount of the solution into the stain. Let the solution sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then blot it up with a clean white cloth dipped in plain water. Keep blotting with a clean area of the cloth until no more solution or residue is transferred to the cloth.

  4. Dry and Fluff

Allow the carpet fibers to air-dry completely, then vacuum the fabric or carpet to fluff the fibers.