How to Remove Tomato Sauce Stains From Clothing

can of tomato sauce

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 60 mins

Whether it is spaghetti sauce from dinner or a health drink at breakfast, tomato stains stink. Their pungent smell only increases if they are left to sit. But, the main problem with tomato stains is that they can be very difficult to remove. Tomato has tannins that stain fabrics easily, and if the stain was caused by tomato sauce, one of the components of tomato sauce is oil. The good news is you can remove the stain at home. However, do not put a tomato-stained garment in the dryer until the stain is fully removed, the heat can permanently set the stain. Take a look at how you can get rid of your red-stained mess from fabric in a few easy steps.

Stain type Tannin-based 
Detergent type Heavy-duty laundry detergent
Water temperature  Cold 
Cycle type Varies with fabric content

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Spoon or butter knife
  • Water faucet
  • Washing machine

Materials

  • Cold water
  • Heavy-duty liquid laundry detergent or mild dish soap
  • Stain remover (optional)
  • White vinegar (optional for white/colorfast clothing)
  • Hydrogen peroxide (optional for white/colorfast clothing)
  • Lemon juice (optional for white-only clothing)

Instructions

materials for removing tomato sauce stains
The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Before You Begin

If the stain contains oil, such as from a pasta sauce or tomato sauce, treat the oily part first with some mild dish detergent before proceeding with the directions. If you are not sure if the sauce contains oil, a spaghetti sauce that contains any kind of meat will be oily. You must remove the oil first before you can deal with the tannin stain from the tomato.

  1. Remove Excess Tomato Sauce

    Remove as much of the excess tomato sauce as possible from the fabric. Try a spoon or the back of a butter knife. These tools will not damage your clothing, and they will help remove the excess sauce. It is tempting to skip this step, but if you do, you may end up accidentally staining other areas of the fabric with the excess tomato.

    removing excess sauce with a spoon
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  2. Run Stain Through Cold Water

    Run cold water through the back of the stain as quickly as possible. This will force the stain back out through the fabric. Do not run it through the front of the tomato stain, which will only force it more deeply into your clothing. Run the cold water for 10 to 15 minutes or until it seems like the water is running clear.

    rinsing the garment under cold water
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  3. Apply Liquid Laundry Detergent or Dish Soap

    Rub a liquid detergent or dish soap into the stained portion of the fabric. Work it into the fabric gently in a circular motion beginning on the outside of the stained area and working inward. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before rinsing thoroughly.

    rubbing dish soap on the garment
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

    Tip

    If the garment is white or if you have tested it for colorfastness, then you can apply a mild bleaching agent such as hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar with a sponge. You can also use lemon juice on white fabrics. Be aware though that these items will take color and designs out of clothing. Rinse well.

  4. Add More Detergent or Soap Until Removed

    Add more laundry detergent or dish soap followed by the mild bleaching agent until the stain no longer appears. Hold the stain up to the light to make sure it is fully gone. If it is not, apply a stain remover stick, gel, or spray. Allow it to sit for at least five minutes.

    putting dish soap on the garment
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  5. Machine Wash and Dry

    Wash normally with detergent. You can also let the clothing air dry first so you can inspect for any hint of a stain. If you do not see a stain when it has finished drying, it is safe to wash and dry normally.

    putting the garment into the washer
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

If the stain still remains, rub detergent in again and soak in warm water for 30 minutes. Rinse well and again apply stain remover stick, gel, or spray and launder according to directions. You can do this step even if you cannot see any traces of a lingering stain, to be sure you got it all out.

An illustration depicting how to remove tomato sauce stains
Andrea Hickey / The Spruce