How To Remove Coffee Stains From Clothes?

by Anne Franklin 6 min read

man looking down at his coffee-stained white shirt in a well-lit room

Key Takeaways

  • Before attempting to remove coffee stains, check the garment's care label to understand the fabric type and follow the recommended cleaning methods, as different materials require different approaches.
  • Act quickly on fresh spills with blotting and rinsing, using detergent for stubborn spots. Dried stains may need specialized treatments like vinegar or bleach solutions, depending on the fabric's color and type.
  • Do not use lemon juice or direct bleach on stains, avoid rubbing vigorously, and refrain from using hot water, as these can set the stain further or damage the fabric.
  •  Milk in coffee stains requires additional steps, utilizing vinegar, enzyme cleaners, dish soap, oxygen bleach, or borax to tackle the fats and proteins effectively.
  • For delicate fabrics or stubborn stains that home remedies can't remove, consider professional dry cleaning to avoid damaging the material.


That morning cup of coffee is essential for starting the day off right. But when you spill some of that precious liquid on your clothes, it can seem like a nightmare. Coffee stains can be stubborn, and the wrong removal methods may worsen the situation.

The good news is that with some tried and true techniques, you can likely rescue your stained garment. In this guide, we’ll go over how to tackle these annoying stains depending on if they're fresh or have set in. Additionally, we invite you to check out our fine selection of coffee.

Why Are Coffee Stains Stubborn?

Coffee stains can be notoriously difficult to remove from clothing. This is due to the unique properties of coffee that allow it to set into fabric:

  • Oils: Coffee contains oils like cafestol and kahweol that can cling to fabric fibers. The oils coat the fibers and act like a barrier that resists water. This is why water alone often can't rinse away coffee stains.
  • Acidity: Coffee is acidic, with a pH between 4 and 6. This acidity allows it to bond with fabrics. The acidic molecules interact with the fibers, dye, and sizing in the material. This makes coffee stains more stubborn, especially on natural fibers like cotton, wool, and silk.
  • Dyes: Darker roasts contain more coffee dyes called chromophores. These dyes are attracted to and absorbed by fabrics. Over time, they can become oxidized and turn into permanent stains.

Know Your Fabric First Before Removing Coffee Stains

Before attempting coffee stain removal, it’s important to understand the fabric you’re dealing with. Different materials react differently to cleaning solutions. Natural fibers like cotton and linen are generally more forgiving, while synthetic fibers like polyester may require a gentler approach. 

The most reliable way to identify the fabric type and appropriate cleaning methods is by checking the care label on the garment. This label usually includes symbols indicating washing temperature, drying method, and any specific cleaning instructions. 

Refer to these symbols to ensure you're using the safest and most effective approach for your specific fabric.


How To Remove Different Types of Coffee Stains?

cleaning materials

Coffee stains come in a few different forms, each requiring a slightly different approach. Here are the maintypes of coffee stains and how to remove them. 

Fresh Spills  

When you get a fresh coffee stain on your clothes, timely action is key for removal. Here are some tips for tackling fresh spills:

  • Blotting and Rinsing Method: If the spill just happened, blot the stain immediately with a clean towel to absorb excess liquid. Avoid rubbing, which can further set the stain. Rinse the backside of the fabric under cold running water to push the stain out from behind. 
  • Use Detergent: If the stain is still visible, apply a small amount of liquid dish detergent or laundry detergent directly onto the stain. Gently rub the detergent into the fabric using your fingers or a soft-bristle brush. Let it sit for about 5 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly under cold water. The detergent will help break down the coffee compounds.
  • Launder as Usual: After pre-treating, launder the garment as usual with detergent in the warmest recommended water setting. The wash cycle helps remove any remaining coffee residue. Avoid drying the clothing until the stain is fully gone, as the heat can set the stain permanently.
  • Repeat if Needed: Check if the stain is fully removed after washing. If any hint of the spot remains, repeat the detergent treatment and washing cycle until it disappears completely. The sooner you can treat a fresh spill, the better your chances of removal.

Dried Stains

Dealing with a coffee stain that has already dried and set into the fabric can take a bit more effort, but it’s still very doable with stuff you likely have at home.

For white fabrics, mixing a solution of bleach and water and letting the garment soak in it can help lift the stain. Just make sure to use an oxygen-based bleach that is safe for the fabric color, not a chlorine bleach that could damage the fibers. Check the label to see what's recommended.

You can also make a mixture of white vinegar, water, and liquid laundry detergent. Vinegar’s acidic nature helps break down those pesky tannins that make coffee stains so stubborn. 

So mix a solution of 1 part vinegar, 2 parts cool water, and a small amount of detergent. Apply it directly to the stain and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before washing as normal. This can be used on both white and colored fabrics safely.

Be patient, and don't give up too soon. Dried stains take some elbow grease to conquer, but you can get clothes looking fresh and clean again with this hot water soak and scrub method.

Milk Stains

Milk and cream can leave behind stubborn residue in coffee stains. The fat and proteins in milk bind to fibers and often require more effort to remove. Here are some tips for getting out milk stains:

  • Vinegar: Mix equal parts white vinegar with water. Soak the stain for 15-20 minutes before washing. The mild acidity helps to break down milk proteins. For extra stubborn stains, rub a paste of baking soda on the vinegar-soaked area before washing. 
  • Enzyme cleaners: Look for laundry detergents or pre-wash sprays containing enzymes like amylase and protease. These help digest proteins and starches. Apply the enzyme cleaner before washing, let it sit for 30 minutes, then wash as normal. For set stains, dab enzyme cleaner directly on the spot and allow it to work before washing.
  • Dish soap: For fresh milk stains, apply some dish soap directly on the stain and scrub gently before washing. The surfactants in dish soap can help lift milk fats. 
  • Oxygen bleach: Soak or pretreat with an oxygen bleach like sodium percarbonate or sodium perborate. The bleaching agents help break down organic stains, but make sure to check the fabric care label first.
  • Borax: Make a paste with borax powder and water and rub it into the stain. Let it sit for an hour before washing. The compounds in borax help remove milk proteins and fats.


When to Use Professional Cleaning?

man cleaning his coffee stained white shirt

For delicate fabrics like silk or wool, attempting do-it-yourself coffee stain removal can end up damaging the material even further. Certain fabrics require a gentle touch and specialized cleaning agents. 

Likewise, if you've tried every home remedy under the sun and that coffee stain just won't budge, it might be time to call in the experts. Professional dry cleaners have commercial-grade solvents at their disposal to tackle the most stubborn of stains. They also have years of experience removing stains from all kinds of fabrics.

Avoid Common Mistakes with Coffee Stains

When trying to remove coffee stains from clothing, it's important to avoid certain substances and techniques that can actually make the stain worse. 

The following are some of the biggest mistakes to steer clear of:

  • Don't use lemon juice: While lemon juice may seem like a natural cleaning agent, its high acidity can actually cause the stain to set and become permanent if the fabric isn't immediately washed after applying lemon juice. Also, the acid damages fibers.
  • Avoid applying direct bleach: Pouring bleach right onto a coffee stain can lead to fabric damage or discoloration. For bleaching methods, first dilute bleach in water before applying it to the fabric.
  • Don't use the wrong bleach type: When bleaching, it's important to choose an oxygen-based bleach safe for colored fabrics, not chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach will strip the color right out of the garment, leaving behind white splotches. 
  • Don't rub the stain vigorously: Rubbing too hard can force the stain further into the fabric, making removal even more difficult. Light dabbing is best.
  • Avoid hot water: Exposure to hot water can permanently set a stain. Always use cold water when rinsing or pre-treating a coffee stain.

Wrapping Up

When tackling any stain, remember to always check the garment's care label first. Test stain treatments on hidden areas before applying them to the whole piece. 

Coffee stains don't have to ruin your favorite shirt or blouse - with some tried and true removal methods, you can often restore the fabric to like-new condition. 

Just be sure to handle delicate fabrics with care and avoid heat, friction, or solutions that could worsen the stain. 


Now that you have an idea of how to handle coffee stains, go ahead and sip & shop with us

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