How to Remove Coffee Stains From Clothing

coffee stains on clothing

The Spruce / Natalie Jeffcott 

Overview
  • Working Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 55 mins

If you've ever dealt with a coffee stain, you know how difficult that light brown color can be to remove, and that's because it's a tannin. To truly remove old coffee stains (and many food stains), you'll have to soak the clothing. However, for fresh spills, a stream of cold water might immediately do the trick. You can also use several common household items—baking soda, salt, bar soap, and even baby powder or toothpaste—to help remove or manage the problem until you can give the item a proper washing.

Illustration of tips for removing coffee stains
The Spruce / Grace Kim

Removing a coffee stain is a trial-and-error process. Start with the simplest solution (flushing with cold water), and if that doesn't work, move on to the next method. Acting quickly can make a big difference in how easily the stain comes out. Wet coffee comes out much more readily than dried coffee stains. But if you're at work or in a restaurant and can't exactly strip off your shirt and flush it immediately under a faucet, you can exercise some damage control by applying salt to soak up the coffee or blotting the stain with a napkin and plain or fizzy water. Try these methods if the discoloration won't lift out.

materials needed for the job
The Spruce / Natalie Jeffcott

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

  1. Flush 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 the 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.

    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 may be able to remove coffee stains better in some cases than liquid detergent.

    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, which may be best at this point. Let it stand for five minutes. Wash the garment as you normally would.

    Gel's Benefits

    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 item; the heat will set the stain.)

    Inspect it again for any trace of the stain by holding the dried clothing up to a light to 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.

    For Pure White Clothing

    For pure white clothing, it may be time to mix 1/4 cup chlorine bleach and a gallon of water, soak for five minutes, rinse, then wash.

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