How to Remove Vinegar Stains From Clothes and Carpet

Woman pouring balsamic vinegar on salad

 

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In most cases, yes, distilled white vinegar is one of laundry's best friends. But, there are many types of vinegar and vinegar-based products that can cause stains on clothes. Find out how you can remedy these stains.

Distilled white vinegar is an effective green alternative to commercial fabric softeners, whiteners, and washer cleaners. One component of any type of vinegar is a mild acetic acid. It is this acid in vinegar that helps to remove detergent build-up and keep clothes looking bright and feeling soft. However, if the acid is left on fabric—especially dark fabric with unstable dyes—bleaching can occur. Once bleaching occurs on fabric, it is not reversible.

Vinegar can be made from just about any food that contains natural sugars. Tinted vinegar, like those made from dark-colored foods like red wine grapes or aged like balsamic vinegar, can not only bleach, but they can stain. 

Stain type Acid- or tannin-based 
Detergent type Regular Detergent and Oxygen-based bleach
Water temperature Cold

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 to 8 hours, depending on the severity of the stain

Before You Begin

Test any detergents or cleaning solutions in an inconspicuous area first to ensure that it does not discolor the fabric.

If the fabric is not washable or the clothes are labeled as dry-clean-only, blot the vinegar stain with a dry white cloth until all is of the vinegar is absorbed. Then, wet a clean white cloth with plain cool water and blot area for several minutes. Finish by blotting with a clean dry cloth.

If any sign of the stain remains, when you take the garment to the dry cleaner, point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner. If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, treat the stain with the product's provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

At all costs, do not dry the clothes in a clothes dryer until the stain is entirely gone. Drying the item in a clothes dryer will set the stain and make it unlikely that it could ever be removed fully.

If silk or vintage fabric or upholstery gets a vinegar stain, contact a professional. Do not try to fix it at home; you can make the stain worse if you attempt it on your own.

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • White paper towel
  • Faucet or white cloth
  • Washing machine (optional)
  • Soaking basin (optional)

How to Remove Vinegar Stains From Clothing

  1. Blot the Stain

    For all types of vinegar stains, immediately blot the spill with a white paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible.

  2. Saturate Stain With Water

Flood the area with plain cool water to weaken the acetic acid. You can do this by holding the stain under a running cold water faucet or by dipping a white cloth in cold water and blotting the stain. Wash the stained item following the care label guidelines as usual. 

How to Remove Vinegar Stains From Carpet or Upholstery

The same techniques recommended to clean carpet can be used for upholstery. Take care not to over-wet the fabric because excess moisture can cause problems in the cushions.

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Water
  • Liquid dishwashing liquid (optional)

Tools

  • White paper towels
  • Soft-bristled brush or sponge (optional)
  • Vacuum
  1. Blot the Area and Air Dry

    When a dribble of vinegar hits the carpet, it is important to neutralize the acid especially if the carpet is dark in color. Dip a white paper towel in cold water and blot the stained area. Use a dry paper towel to absorb the moisture. If there is no trace of the stain remaining, allow it to air dry.

  2. Use Dish Detergent Solution on Dark Stain

    If there is discoloration from a dark vinegar, mix a solution of one teaspoon of hand dishwashing detergent with one cup of cool water. Dip a sponge or soft-bristled brush in the solution and work it into the vinegar stain.

  3. Blot and Rinse the Area

    Use a dry paper towel to blot away the stain as it is lifted and use plain water to "rinse" the area and remove all soapy residue. If you do not rinse, the soap will actually attract soil.

    Do Not Let the Stain Worsen

    If your carpet or furniture upholstery gets a stain, make sure to rinse the area well. If you do not, then the soap spot on the floor or furniture will actually attract soil and the stain can get much worse.

  4. Air Dry and Vacuum

Allow the area to air dry away from all direct heat and sunlight. Vacuum to lift the carpet fibers.

If the vinegar stain on clothing is a dark or aged variety, blot and rinse. If any color remains on the fabric, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (such as OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) and tepid water. Submerge the entire garment. Allow it to soak for at least four hours or overnight and then launder as usual. This is safe to use for all washable fabrics—white and colored—except for silk, wool, and anything trimmed with leather.