Removing Vinegar Stains From Clothes and Carpet

Assorted vinegar bottles
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Can vinegar cause stains on clothes? Vinegar is supposed to be good for laundry. What happened?

Distilled white vinegar is one of laundry's best friends. It 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. Yeast fermentation converts the sugars into alcohol and bacteria converts that alcohol into vinegar. Those made from dark-colored foods like red wine grapes or aged like balsamic vinegar can not only bleach, they can stain. 

Washable Fabrics

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

If the vinegar is a dark or aged variety, blot and rinse as recommended above. If any color remains on the fabric, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (brand names are: 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. Finally, wash as usual.

Dry Clean Only Fabrics

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, be sure to treat the stain with the product's provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.


When a dribble of vinegar hits the carpet, it is important to neutralize the acid especially if the carpet is dark in color. Use a paper towel to blot up as much of the vinegar as possible. Next, 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 to air dry.

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

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


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.

If the upholstery is silk or vintage, contact a professional about a complete cleaning or if you need more stain removal tips.