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Tomato Stain Removal - a Detailed Cleaning Guide

Stains left by ketchup, tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, or any food that contains this juicy vegetable are notoriously difficult to remove. Those pesky orange-red stains can appear on pretty much anything. But if you put some elbow grease into it, it’s possible to get rid of tomato stains from any surface, even if the stain has had some time to set. Here’s exactly how you can remove tomato stains from clothes, carpets, wood, food containers, and even leather.

Why do tomatoes stain?

Tomatoes stain not only due to their vibrant red color. These vegetables actually contain natural plant compounds known as tannins, which, although very healthful, are a natural dye. So, if you spill some tomato paste on your favorite jeans, for example, it will not only leave a residue but will also dye the fabric itself.

Tomato Stain Removal bowl of tomatoes

Tomato sauce is even tougher to remove because it contains oil too. The greasiness makes the tannin stain even more tenacious, and you’ll need to deal with the oil part of the stain before you can try to undo the color itself. So be careful with that spaghetti!

Now that you understand what you’re dealing with as you’re trying to eliminate a tomato stain, let’s get to the stain removal. For your convenience, we divided the article into sections that address tomato stain removal by the type of surface.

1. Deal with tomato stains on washable fabrics

These tips work best for tomato stains on your clothes, kitchen towels, pillows, blankets, or any other fabrics you can throw in the washer.

  • Get rid of fresh tomato stains from clothes

In most cases, a fresh tomato stain can be effectively removed from clothing by simply throwing it in the washer. Use an enzyme-based stain remover or laundry detergent and launder on the hottest water temperature listed on the care label of the stained item. For spotless results, it’s helpful to pre-treat the stained area by working a bit of the stain remover or detergent into the fabric before washing using a soft brush or your fingers.

Let the detergent sit on the stain for 5-10 minutes and then launder as explained above. Immediately after washing, examine the stained item. If any traces of the stain remain, follow one of the methods we mention below before letting it dry. Drying, especially in the tumble dryer, can set the stain, which will make it a lot more difficult to remove.

Tomato Stain Removal washable fabrics
  • Remove older tomato stains on washable fabrics
When it comes to more persistent tomato stains, you have two options - the bleach method and the dish soap method:
1. The chlorine bleach method works best on white, naturally because you don’t have to worry about discoloration. Avoid using bleach on clothing made of synthetic fibers - bleach makes synthetics turn yellow. To get rid of tomato stains using bleach, mix ¼ cup bleach with 1 gallon of cool water and soak the entire garment for 5-10 minutes. Then rinse the item and wash it as usual.
2. The dish soap, ice cube, and vinegar technique works best for set stains on colored fabrics or synthetics. The dish soap method works especially well for removing any greasy stains, not just tomato stains. Start by applying a few drops of dish soap to the stain and work it into the stain with an ice cube. Rub until you notice that the stain has faded significantly. Rinse with lukewarm water, then soak a sponge in vinegar and saturate the stain with the vinegar. Finish by blotting off the vinegar and laundering the item as usual.

2. Clean up tomato stains on carpets and upholstery

Tomato Stain Removal carpet cleaning

The faster you act when removing a tomato stain from a carpet or upholstery, the better the results. Begin by scraping off any food remnants from the carpet using a clean spoon. Don’t use a cloth or sponge; it will only make things worse because rubbing or blotting makes the stain spread deeper into the fabric.

When only a stain remains, take a damp cloth or paper towel and start blotting the stain until no color transfers onto the cloth or towel. Then, combine ½ teaspoon laundry detergent and 1 cup water, and work the mixture into the stained carpet with a cloth or brush. Leave the mixture on the stain for 10 minutes and then rinse with a sponge dipped in lukewarm water. Repeat if needed, and finish by blotting any excess moisture off the carpet with an absorbent cloth and letting the carpet air dry. The same method works for upholstered items.

3. Tomato stains on wooden items

Tomato Stain Removal tomatoes on wooden surface
Food spills that contain tomatoes can permanently stain wood, be it wooden furniture, hardwood floor, a cutting board, or wooden spoons or spatulas. For this reason, tomato stains should be cleaned immediately using a barely damp sponge or cloth dipped in warm water and a drop of dish detergent. Finish by giving another rinse with a damp clean cloth.
If any stains remain after this, mix 1 part vinegar with 1 part water and apply the solution to the stain. The acid in the vinegar will help dissolve any remaining red tint, but make sure to use it sparingly because you don’t want to ruin the finish of the wood, especially if the stain is on a hardwood floor or table.

4. Remove tomato stains from containers and kitchenware

Tomato Stain Removal tomato sauce in container
Plastic containers, bowls, and any light-colored plates or cups can get an unsightly orange tinge when exposed to foods with tomatoes in them. Luckily, these stains will become a thing of the past with this easy-to-make solution. Simply mix 2 tablespoons baking soda, ¼ teaspoon dish detergent, and 1 teaspoon water into a paste and scrub the stained item. Let the paste work for 15-30 minutes and then simply rinse it all of. You can repeat this process several times, if necessary.

5. Clean up tomato stains on counters

Tomato Stain Removal spaghetti on the table
Spilled some marinara sauce on your countertops and the discoloration doesn’t seem to go away with regular dish soap? There’s one method you can try, but we recommend patch testing it first in an inconspicuous area because it’s on the more abrasive side and could harm the finish of an expensive granite or marble countertop.
Simply mix baking soda with peroxide until it creates a thick paste, and then apply the paste to the stained area. Let the paste sit on the stain for at least 30 minutes, and then clean away with a damp sponge or cloth. If the stain is especially stubborn, you can leave this mixture overnight.

6. Get rid of tomato stains on leather

Tomato Stain Removal leather couch
A spilling accident can turn your favorite leather jacket, purse, or even couch into an orange mess. But fear not, removing it is possible if you act fast. Start by scraping off all food remnants with a spoon, the same way we explained in the section about carpet cleaning. Then blot away any tomato juice with paper towels.
Once the stain is dry, take a few drops of dish detergent and water, and start mixing it vigorously to form a foam. Transfer the foam onto the stain and massage it gently into the stain using a damp cloth. Let the mixture sit on the stain for 10-15 minutes and then wipe it off. Repeat the process if necessary until the stain is completely gone. As the last step, condition the leather item with any natural oil such as beeswax.
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