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How to Remove Coffee Stains

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Coffee stains are a fact of life if you a) drink coffee and b) weren’t born with the balance of a gymnast. And since I drink coffee almost every day of my life and have no sense of balance to speak of, the number of times I’ve spilled coffee on myself, or something in my immediate environment, numbers in the thousands, if not more.

And since these coffee stains usually happen to me in the wild—on my way to the office, on the train, in the middle of a restaurant meal—I usually don’t have the option of tossing something in the washing machine until the end of my day. Not to mention, if all stain removal were just a matter of doing a load of laundry, none of us would need hacks on how to remove them.

According to Jolie Kerr, cleaning expert and advise columnist: “When a drink stain happens, whether it’s red wine, dark beer, coffee, colorful cocktails, or fruit juice, you always want to deal with the stain as it happens.” And that right there is the first line of defense: prompt action.

There are several ideas out there on what you should do immediately after you spill your coffee—a lot of them involving blotting the stain with either salt, baking soda, or baby powder. The basic premise is the same: Start by blotting your stain with a damp towel. Then sprinkle some baking soda/salt/baby powder over the area and let it seep in. Gently rub it away with a paper towel or cloth and then throw it in the wash as soon as you get home.

I have, through trial and error, arrived at what works best for me. For coffee stains, I find that the best thing to do—it’s also Kerr-recommended—is to first flush the stain with cold running water, as heat will set the stain into the fabric. I wash out as much of the stain as possible, and then use liquid dish detergent over the stain to create a lather. Then, I use white vinegar to rinse out the soap, and usually, at this point, the stain is gone. Per the University of Illinois, which has a whole section of its website dedicated to stain removal (I don’t know why, but we could probably use all of it), the college-approved method is to soak your stained items for 15 minutes in that mixture—dish detergent, white vinegar, and water, but I find that applying my cleaning “ingredients” one by one to be more effective.

If you’ve got a more serious coffee spill on your hands, your work isn’t done. Use a sponge to apply rubbing alcohol to the stain, working from the center. Then, do soak the stain in at least a quart of water with a tablespoon of an enzyme cleaner, and then wash as you normally would.

Got an even better way to wash out a coffee stain? I’m all ears.



Are you a habitual spiller like us? What are some of your tricks to remove coffee stains?

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