How to Get Food Coloring Out of Clothes

Natural and Commercial Cleaners to Fight Tough Stains

How to Remove Food Coloring Stains

The Spruce / Ellen Lindner

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $10

Using liquid, gel, or powdered food coloring is a great way to enhance your desserts or to add a splash of color to your flowers, but all forms of the dye are highly concentrated and stain fabrics easily. Fortunately, you can take at-home measures to remove the stains using supplies you likely already have in your cupboard. Food dyes usually dry quickly, so it is essential to treat the stain as soon as possible. Remember that you should never put the stained fabric into a hot dryer if the mark is still evident. The high heat from a machine dryer can make the dye nearly impossible to remove.

Stain Type Dye-based 
Detergent Type Heavy-duty laundry detergent
Water Temperature  Cold 

Natural Cleaners to Pretreat Food Coloring Stains


Pretreat the dye stain with a water and baking soda paste to see if this removes the stain. Test in a hidden spot using a white paper towel to make sure the paste does not cause fading or color bleeding. To make the paste, mix a few tablespoons of baking soda with ⅓ cup of lukewarm water. Rub the paste on the stain with your finger or paper towel and toss the garment into your regular wash. If the paste did not work to remove the dye stain, turn to oxygen-based bleach as the best option.

When to Call a Professional

If at-home methods don't work, you can consult a professional for more specialized instructions. If the garment is labeled as dry clean only, blot the stained area with a dry white cloth or paper towel before heading to the dry cleaner as soon as possible.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Clothes

  • Soft-bristled brush (optional)
  • Dull kitchen knife (optional)
  • Soaking basin
  • Washing machine

Materials

Clothes

  • Cold water
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent or stain remover
  • Oxygen-based bleach

Instructions

items for removing food coloring stains
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Remove Food Coloring Stains From Clothes

Getting a splash of food coloring on your clothing is a normal part of using the dye. However, stain removal is relatively straightforward, using a combination of detergent, stain removal, and bleach.

  1. Run Stain Under Cold Water

    Hold the stained garment under running cold water with the underside facing up to flush the stain out of the fabric. Lift away solids with a dull knife and shake out any powder. If the food coloring is a powder or gel, do not rub it with your hand or cloth because it will push the dye deeper into the fabric.

    flushing the stain with water
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  2. Dab on Heavy-Duty Detergent or Stain Remover

    Apply a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent, like Tide or Persil, or a stain remover to the stain. Work in the stain remover with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush and allow the garment to sit for at least 15 minutes before laundering as usual.

    using a brush to work in heavy duty detergent
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
  3. Soak in Oxygen-Based Bleach

    Submerge the stained garment and allow it to soak for at least eight hours. If the stain remains, mix a solution of cool water and oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach). Follow the package directions for how much product to use per gallon of water.

    mixing an oxygen bleach solution
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  4. Wash as Usual

    Wash as usual once the stain is gone. If the stain remains on the clothing, mix a new oxygen bleach and water solution and repeat. Removing the stain may take several soakings.

    mixing a new bleach solution
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Additional Tips for Handling Food Dye Stains

  • Alternatively, try applying rubbing alcohol to a tough food dye stain with a clean white cloth. Repeat if necessary.
  • When using food coloring, always wear an apron or clothes you don't mind dirtying, and put down newsprint on surfaces at risk of coming into contact with the dye.
  • If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.
  • If you need to remove dye from upholstery or carpet, begin by removing any solid matter as quickly as possible, then blot with a white paper towel dampened with cool water. Take care not to over-saturate the fabric because excess moisture in the cushion or filling can cause problems. 
FAQ
  • Is food dye permanent on fabric?

    Food dyes are either water- or oil-based. But neither type should permanently stain your clothing. Oil-based dyes are easier to get out of synthetic fabrics, but with elbow grease, you can also remove those stains from cotton.

  • How do you get red dye out of white clothes?

    Red dye can be difficult to remove, especially from white clothing, but it's possible. Mix 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent and 1 tablespoon of ammonia in 2 cups of lukewarm water. Dab the stain with a clean white paper towel or cloth. Alternatively, soak the garment in a sink of lukewarm water and 1 or 2 tablespoons of white vinegar for 30 minutes, then launder.

  • Does vinegar remove food coloring?

    Vinegar is one of the ingredients that helps to remove food coloring from fabrics as well as skin. You can combine vinegar with baking soda, laundry detergent, or liquid dishwashing liquid for an extra boost to remove food coloring.