How to Remove Ketchup Stains

Ketchup stain on a pristine white shirt
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Like most stains, ketchup (or catsup) stains are easier to remove when they are fresh, so try to get to them early. But even if the stain has been forgotten until laundry day, you can still get rid of it if you take the time to work through the cleaning process. The keys to successfully salvaging your favorite shirt or pants are patience and using the right cleaner for the fabric. You also don't want to dry the clothing until you're sure the stain is gone. Tomato-based stains are notoriously stubborn, so removing them may take a while, but it's a relatively simple process.

Stain Type Oil- and tomato-based
Detergent Type Standard laundry detergent
Wash Temperature Per garment care instructions

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 2 minutes
  • Total Time: 7 minutes plus washing time

Before You Begin

Most of the cleaners you can use for ketchup stains may already be in your laundry room or kitchen. You have a few options for stain removers, and household cleaners like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or dish soap may work even better than a commercial product. Some ketchup stains, especially if they have dried, will require a combination of cleaning agents.

Before applying any type of bleaching agent, make sure it's right for the color of your clothing. If necessary, do a small spot test in an inconspicuous area to see if it affects the color. White and colorfast materials can handle the most cleaning agents without problems.

What You'll Need

Supplies:

Tools:

  • Spoon or butter knife
  • Sponge (Optional)

Instructions

  1. Scrape Off the Solids

    Remove as much of the excess ketchup from the fabric as possible, using a spoon or the back of a butter knife, which won't damage the fabric. It's important to remove the bulk of the ketchup because any excess can smear and spread the stain when you apply cleaners.

  2. Flush the Stain

    Run cold water through the back of the stain as quickly as possible. This will force the stain back out through the fabric. Don't run it through the front of the stain, which will only push it deeper into your clothing. Also, be sure to use cold water because hot water will set this tomato-based stain.

  3. Rub In Detergent

    Rub a liquid laundry detergent into the stain. Gently work it into the fabric in a circular motion, working from the outside in to prevent spreading the stain. Liquid laundry detergent helps to remove the color as well as the oily component of the stain. Mild dish soap can also help remove the oil.

  4. Apply a Bleaching Agent (Optional)

    Apply a mild bleaching agent, if desired, but do this only if the garment is white or you have tested it for colorfastness. Usually the best options are hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar applied with a sponge. You can also use lemon juice—on white fabrics only. Be sure to use only one bleaching agent at a time. Rinse out any cleaner completely before trying a different one.

  5. Check for the Stain

    Hold the stain up to the light to make sure all of the ketchup is gone. If you see any hint of brown or pink, repeat the previous steps. Ketchup is notorious for seeming to be gone, but then when the garment dries a faint hint of the stain may remain.

  6. Hit It With Stain Remover

    Apply a stain remover stick, gel, or spray. Allow it to sit for at least 5 minutes.

  7. Wash as Usual

Wash the garment as you normally would, using your regular detergent. Before drying, double-check to make sure the stain is completely gone. Stains that are dried in the dryer will often be permanent.

Air Drying Is Safer

If you have any suspicion that traces of the stain may remain, play it safe by air drying for a wash cycle or two. If you air dry, you can always attack the stain again. If you use a dryer, the stain may be set for good.

remove ketchup stains
Vin Ganapathy/The Spruce 

If the stain remains after a full removal treatment, try rubbing detergent into the fabric, soak it in warm water for 30 minutes, and rinse it well. Then, apply a stain remover stick, gel, or spray, and wash the garment as usual.