How to Remove Coffee Stains From Clothing

A man in a cafe drinking coffee

Tara Moore / Getty Images

If you've ever dealt with a coffee stain, you know how difficult that light brown color can be to remove. To truly remove old coffee stains, you'll have to soak the clothing. However, for fresh stains, a stream of cold water might do the trick and you may not need further treatment. You can also use several common household items to help remove the stain or at least manage the stain until you can give it a proper washing.

As with most food stains, don't dry a stained item in the dryer until the stain is completely gone. The dryer's heat will almost surely set the stain, making it very difficult to remove. Since faint stains often reappear after the clothing dries, it's best to air-dry the garment for the first time after removing the stain, just to be safe. Air drying won't set the stain—and set you back—as a dryer will.

Stain type Tannin
Detergent type Regular laundry detergent
Water temperature Varies by fabric
Cycle type Varies by fabric

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 10 to 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 to 55 minutes plus washing time

Before You Begin

Removing a coffee stain is a trial-and-error process. You 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 employ some damage control by applying salt to soak up the stain or blotting the stain with a napkin and plain or fizzy water.

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Liquid dish soap (Optional)
  • Powdered laundry detergent
  • White vinegar
  • Laundry stain remover

Tools:

  • Toothbrush

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. 

  2. Apply Liquid Detergent

    Rub liquid laundry detergent and a little cold water into the coffee stain. If you don't have liquid laundry detergent, you can use liquid dish soap. 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.

  3. Try Powdered Detergent

    If the stain is still there, try mixing 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, then rinse the fabric thoroughly.

  4. Pretreat and Wash

    Apply a stain remover spray or gel to the coffee stain. Let it stand for five minutes, then wash the garment as you normally would. A gel stain remover coats both sides of the stain and penetrates the fibers of the clothing.

  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), and inspect it again for any trace of the stain. Hold the dried clothing up to a light to make sure that any hint of discoloration is completely removed. If not, repeat the powdered detergent step, and wash and air dry again.

Tip

In a pinch, the try one of these household items on a new or old coffee stain:

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

It never hurts to throw a garment with a faint coffee stain into the washer, which may very well finish the job for you. If it comes out with the stain intact, repeat your stain removal methods, or try something new. As long as you don't dry a stained item in the dryer, you can keep washing and air-drying until the stain has vanished.