How to Remove Coffee Stains From Clothing

Stain Removal Methods for Synthetic and Cotton Fabrics

How to Remove Coffee Stains on Clothing

The Spruce / Lara Antal

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 55 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-$10

Removing a coffee stain from clothing is a trial-and-error process. Start with the simplest solution: flushing with cold water. And if that doesn't work, move on to cleaning products, such as laundry detergent and stain remover. Acting quickly also can make a big difference in how easily the stain comes out.

Chemically, the process of stain removal is a matter of diluting and dissolving the brown coffee tannins in plenty of water and flushing them out of the fabric. These brown tannins generally do not bond tightly to fabric fibers, so removal is not a difficult matter—even when the stain is old and apparently dried-in. With older stains, a mild solvent such as dishwashing detergent or vinegar is usually sufficient to mobilize the staining tannins so they can be flushed away. With fresh stains, simple rinsing may do the trick. Always check the stained area before tossing the fabric in the dryer. Drying the item on high heat if it is still stained will make the stain even harder to remove.

Try these steps that can help you get rid of both fresh and dried coffee stains.

Are Coffee Stains Permanent?

As troubling as a dark coffee stain may appear, the good news is that coffee stains can almost always be removed from most fabrics. The brown color of coffee is caused by tannin pigments that have bonded to water molecules. If you examine a coffee stain under powerful magnification, it becomes apparent that the tannin pigments have rather loosely bonded to the fabric fibers as the water evaporated. Thus, removing the stain is usually just a matter of encouraging the brown tannins to dissolve in water once again, where they are easily flushed away.

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Watch Now: How to Remove Coffee Stains From Clothing

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Toothbrush

Materials

  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Powdered laundry detergent
  • White vinegar
  • Laundry stain remover
  • Dishwashing liquid (optional)
  • Oxygen bleach laundry detergent (optional)

Instructions

How to Remove Coffee Stains From Cotton, Cotton-Blend, and Linen Fabrics

Check the care label on the garment and test any detergent or cleaning solution in an inconspicuous area first to ensure that it does not discolor the fabric. While most cleaning methods are gentle enough for a diverse range of fabrics, knowing an item's specific care needs will help you choose the best stain removal option.

  1. Rinse With Cold Water

    For a fresh stain, run cold water from a faucet through the backside of the fabric to keep the coffee from penetrating the cloth. Continue to run cold water through the back of the stain for 10 to 15 minutes or until the water running out is completely clear. If the stain isn't fully removed, or your stain is old, move on to the next step. 

    rinsing the stain with cold water
    The Spruce / Natalie Jeffcott 
  2. Apply Liquid Detergent

    Rub liquid laundry detergent or liquid dish soap and a little cold water into the coffee stain. Allow fresh stains to sit for three to five minutes. You can let it sit for longer, but don't let it dry. For old coffee stains, you'll need to soak the clothing in water after you've rubbed in the liquid detergent.

    Every five minutes, gently rub the stained fabric with your thumb and fingers to loosen the stain. After 30 minutes of soaking in cold water, check the stained area. If the stain remains, try soaking for five to 15 minutes in warm water before rinsing thoroughly.

    Tip

    A paste made of water and baking soda is sometimes recommended for removing coffee stains. And it does work. But remember that baking soda is abrasive, so it can potentially damage fabric as you scrub it into the stain. Liquid soap is generally a safer substance to use on your clothing fabrics.

    pretreating the stain with detergent
    The Spruce / Natalie Jeffcott  
  3. Try Powdered Detergent

    If the stain is still there, mix some powdered laundry detergent with equal parts white vinegar and water, and turn it into a paste. Test it on the garment to make sure it doesn't discolor the fabric. Use an old toothbrush to scrub the stain. Rinse the fabric thoroughly.

    Why Use Powder?

    Powdered laundry detergent's surfactants might be able to remove coffee stains better in some cases than liquid detergent due to its ability to form a paste.

    using powdered detergent as a backup
    The Spruce / Natalie Jeffcott 
  4. Pretreat and Wash

    Apply a stain remover spray or gel to the coffee stain; you can also use an oxygen bleach laundry detergent as your stain remover. Let it stand for five minutes. Wash the garment as you normally would.

    Tip

    A gel stain remover coats both sides of the stain and penetrates the fibers of the clothing.

    applying a stain remover spray
    The Spruce / Natalie Jeffcott 
  5. Inspect and Dry

    Check that the coffee stain is completely removed. If any hint remains, repeat the treatment steps before drying. Air-dry the clothing. (Do not machine dry the item; the heat will set the stain.)

    Inspect it again if you've repeated the treatment steps for any trace of the stain by holding the dried clothing up to a light. Make sure that any hint of discoloration is completely removed. If there's still discoloration, repeat the powdered detergent step, wash, and air-dry again.

    Tip

    If staining remains on pure white clothing, try mixing 1/4 cup chlorine bleach and a gallon of water. Soak for five minutes, rinse, and then wash.

    inspecting where the stain used to be
    The Spruce / Natalie Jeffcott 

How to Remove Coffee Stains From Synthetic Fabrics

Synthetic fabrics such as acrylic, modacrylic, nylon, polyester, spandex and olefin are often more stain-resistant, and therefore easier to clean than natural fabrics such as cotton or linen. Here, too, it is important to address the stain as quickly as you can, as fresh stains that are still damp are considerably easier to remove than dried, set-in stains.

  1. Soak Up Excess Coffee

    Use a clean, dry cloth to blot up as much excess coffee as you can. Change cloths as needed, and apply firm pressure until the stained fabric is as dry as possible.

  2. Presoak the Fabric

    Mix a solution of 1 quart warm water, 1/2 teaspoon standard dishwashing detergent, and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Soak the fabric in this mixture for 15 minutes.

  3. Rinse the Fabric

    Rinse the fabric thoroughly under warm (not hot) water. Examine the fabric for remaining stains; in some cases, simple soaking and rinsing may be enough to eliminate the stain entirely.

  4. Blot Remaining Stain

    Using a sponge and rubbing alcohol, blot up any remaining stain on the fabric. On delicate fabrics, use a blotting motion rather than rubbing.

  5. Wash the Fabric

    Immediately after blotting, wash the fabric using using the washer cycle appropriate to the type of fabric.

  6. Inspect and Repeat (If Necessary)

    After the wash cycle is complete, inspect the fabric while it is still damp. If any trace of stain remains, repeat the above steps until there is no remaining stain visible. With synthetic fabrics, it is especially important not to machine-dry the fabric until all trace of stain has been removed.

When to Call a Professional

If the garment is labeled dry clean only, take it to your dry cleaner as soon as possible. Point out and identify the stain to help your professional cleaner choose the proper treatment. The same applies to a stain that damages vintage clothing; you need to contact a professional cleaner, or else you are likely to do more damage if you try to remove the stain yourself.