How to Remove Tomato Sauce Stains

A splattered tomato up-close
Janis Christie/Getty Images

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. Here's how to 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 

Project Metrics

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

  • Working Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour

Before You Begin

If the stain or tomato sauce contains oil, treat the oily part first with some mild dish detergent before proceeding with the directions above. A lot of spaghetti sauces that are made with meat will be oily, and you must remove the oil first before you can deal with the tomato.

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Spoon or butter knife
  • Water faucet
  • Washing machine

How to Remove Food Coloring Stains From Clothes

  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.

  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.

  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.

    Stain Removers for White or Colorfast Fabric

    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 5 minutes while you wait.

  5. Machine Wash and Dry

Wash normally with detergent. Before drying, double-check the stain as stains that go into a clothes dryer come out permanent. 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.

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

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.