How to Remove Food Coloring Stains

Family preparing food coloring for Easter eggs
Hero Images / Getty Images

Food coloring in liquid, gel, or powdered form is safe to use to make colorful desserts and dishes but all forms of the dye are highly concentrated and stain fabrics easily. The good news is that it is usually not too difficult to get the stains out, and you can do it with regular laundry supplies you probably have at home. Food dyes usually dry quickly, so it is important to treat the stain as soon as possible for an easier removal.

Stain Type Dye-based 
Detergent Type Heavy-duty laundry detergent
Water Temperature  Cold 

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour (8 hours for tough stains)

Before You Begin

If the garment is labeled as dry clean only, blot the stained area with a dry white cloth or paper towel. Head to the dry cleaner as soon as possible; point out and identify the stain.

If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

Keep in mind that you should not put any clothes into a hot dryer if the stain is still evident. The high heat can set the dye and make it nearly impossible to remove.

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Cold water
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent or stain remover
  • Oxygen-based bleach

Tools

  • Water faucet
  • Soft-bristled brush (optional)
  • Dull kitchen knife (optional)
  • Soaking basin
  • Washing machine

How to Remove Food Coloring Stains From Clothes

  1. Run Stain Under Cold Water

    As soon as possible, hold the stained area with the wrong side up directly under a cold water faucet running fully open to flush the stain out of the fabric. If the food coloring is a powder or gel, do not rub with your hand or cloth because that will push it even deeper into the fabric. Lift away solids with a dull knife and shake out any powder.

  2. Dab on Heavy-Duty Detergent or Stain Remover

    After flushing with water, work some heavy-duty liquid detergent that contains enzymes that break apart stains like Tide or Persil or a stain remover into the stain. Work in the stain remover with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush and allow the stained item to sit for at least 15 minutes before laundering the garment as usual.

  3. Soak in Oxygen-Based Bleach

    If the stain remains, mix a solution of cool water and oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach). Follow the package directions as to how much product to use per gallon of water. Completely submerge the entire garment and allow it to soak for at least eight hours.

  4. Wash as Usual

If the stain is gone, wash as usual. If the stain remains on clothing, mix a fresh solution of oxygen bleach and water and repeat. It may take several soakings to remove the stain, but it should come out.

How to Remove Food Coloring Stains From Carpet or Upholstery

No matter if it is clothing, carpet or upholstery, remove any solid matter as quickly as possible. If dye or brightly colored icing lands on a kitchen chair cushion, you will use the same cleaning solutions and techniques recommended for carpet. Take care not to over-saturate the fabric because excess moisture in the cushion or filling can cause problems.

Cleaning Vintage or Silk Fabric

If the upholstery is vintage or silk, consult a professional upholstery cleaning company.

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Warm water
  • Oxygen-based bleach

Tools

  • Dull knife
  • White paper towel or cloth
  • Vacuum (optional)
  1. Blot the Stain

    If the food is gooey, use a dull knife edge or spatula to lift away the solids. Do not rub, it will push the dye deeper into the fibers. For liquid stains, blot away as much of the stain as possible with a white paper towel. Add a bit of plain cool water to the stained area to dilute the stain (do not over-saturate) and continue blotting.

  2. Treat with Oxygen-Based Bleach

    If the stain remains, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach and warm water following package directions. This is usually one tablespoon per cup of water. Stir to dissolve completely and use a clean white cloth to apply the solution to the stained area working from the outside edge of the stain toward the center to keep the stain from getting bigger. Allow the solution to work for at least 30 minutes and then blot away.

  3. Repeat if Need and Allow to Dry

If the stain persists on carpet or upholstery, repeat the carpet and upholstery instructions as necessary. Allow the area to air dry away from direct heat. If a bit of white residue appears from the oxygen bleach, simply vacuum it away.