How to Remove Food Stains from Laundry

10 Stain Removal Tips

The Spruce / Hilary Allison

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

Food stains are not only frustrating when they happen; their removal can seem virtually impossible. But don't pitch your clothing or linens out of pessimism. Practically any type of stain—including tomato splats—can be tackled with these surprisingly simple stain removal steps.

Brown spray bottle next to cut lemon slices in front of laundry detergent bottles and glass bowl with bleach
The Spruce / Michelle Becker
 Stain Type  Food
 Detergent Type  Standard laundry detergent, stain remover
 Water Temperature  Per care label instructions

Before You Begin

Fresh stains are almost always easier to remove than those that have dried (one exception is mud). Give yourself the upper hand by treating food spills, smears, and splatters on your clothes or linens as soon after they happen as possible. Choose a stain removal product that best suits your situation, and follow the following simple steps for best results.


Be wary of color removal with bleach. Bleaching only one stained spot on a garment may result in uneven color removal for the entire garment. Consider using color-safe bleach or an oxygen cleaner if either is approved on the garment tag.

When to Call a Professional

If you have a stained garment that requires dry cleaning, resist the urge to treat the stain yourself. Dry cleaning solvents are toxic chemicals that should be handled by the pros in appropriate facilities. Plus, a professional dry cleaner will be more likely to remove the stain without damaging your clothing.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink
  • Washing machine


  • Stain remover
  • Laundry detergent, oxygen bleach


How to Remove Food Stains from Laundry

Gray shirt with stain sprayed with brown bottle containing stain remover
The Spruce / Michelle Becker
  1. Follow Instructions

    Follow the directions on your stain removal product and the care label instructions on your stained laundry. Both of these seemingly insignificant sources of information may improve your chances of successfully removing the stain without ruining your clothes.

    Care tag checked form inside of gray shirt
    The Spruce / Michelle Becker
  2. Test a Hidden Area

    Place a small amount of your stain removal product on a hidden seam or other (relatively) inconspicuous spot to test for colorfastness. Wait the instructed amount of time on the product to make sure it does not change the color of your clothing.


    Don't mix stain removal products. Mixing different chemicals, like bleach and a stain remover, can create toxic odors and may damage your clothing.

  3. Remove Stains from the Back

    Lay the stained garment, stain side down, and apply a stain treatment to the "back" side of the stain. Let it sit per the stain product's instructions, then run cold water through the fabric in an attempt to drive the stain out instead of deeper into the fibers.

    Faucet pouring water over gray shirt with stain
    The Spruce / Michelle Becker
  4. Wash Stain-Treated Items

    Wash your stain-treated laundry after you're satisfied with your results. Again, follow the care label instructions and only dry the item if no trace of the stain remains (or it faded as much as possible). Repeated attempts at removal won't work after drying sets the stain.

Additional Tips for Handling Food Stains

Stain removal can take time. Sometimes repeat treatments may be required. Be sure to thoroughly check the garment before drying to determine if a repeat treatment is necessary. Drying will cause a stain to set.

Occasionally, a particularly stubborn food stain may resist all stain removal efforts, but even cranberry stains are worth the effort. With fast action and the right approach, you may just be able to send most of the stain on its way.