Remove the Holiday Season’s 5 Worst Food Stains

Keep your holiday celebrations picture-perfect. Address those food stains asap.

It’s That Time of Year – When the Worst Food Stains Show Up at your Holiday Table.

Yikes!  Sorry!  It’s an annual tradition, as inevitable as the holidays themselves, the moment a guest or family member spills something on your favorite furnishing.  Festive foods can turn into unwelcome guests in a minute. Red wine, meet white designer wing-back! Hot coffee? Say hello to light-colored carpet. Likewise, you can bet that the season’s worst offenders, the gravy, chocolate and cranberry sauce, are waiting in the wings.

Whether it’s an heirloom rug or a brand new sofa, the worst food stains always seem to know exactly where to land. In addition, if a soft surface is not made from performance fibers – or if it isn’t protected against those spots and sloshes – the host is on the hook to act fast and keep those stains from setting.

Want to keep stain makers from creating unhappy memories? Firstly, start with the Pro Tip below. Secondly, use the following cheat sheet to address the scariest spills. Let us help you avoid the worst food stains of the season and make your home the best destination for winter’s most wonderful celebrations.

Pro Tip: Always read and follow the care instructions of your particular furnishings. Be mindful of any warnings provided by the carpet or upholstery manufacturer. Carpeting and upholstery with natural fibers and/or certain dyes or finishes may require special treatment. If in doubt, contact a trustworthy local cleaner, like Pro-Care, for advice and service questions first. Never proceed with any stain removal instructions without knowing the exact nature of the stain involved. Never use any retail products to remove stains from carpet or upholstery without seeking the advice of the manufacturer or you could void your warranty.

Food Stain 1: Chocolate

Chocolate of any kind - hot or cold, wet or dry - can create challenging stains on upholstery or carpet.Chocolate is popular any time of year and even more so during the holidays.  Indeed, whether it’s a chocolate candy mishap or a dribble of hot cocoa, chocolate creates one of the worst holiday food stains on carpet and furniture. Why? Because the gooey, velvety texture of chocolate is a double-threat. It grabs onto textiles and leaves behind an oily, brown spot. Moreover, the darker the chocolate, the worse the disaster. Don’t melt down! Combatting chocolate stains is more science than sorcery.

First, for food stain readiness, keep some mild liquid dish detergent and white cloths or paper towels on hand throughout the holidays. When the chocolate drops, quickly mix up “Solution #1” that pairs one fourth (1/4) teaspoon of that detergent with one (1) cup of lukewarm water  – nothing stronger than that. And never sub-in laundry detergent or automatic dishwashing detergent, which can contain brighteners or bleaches and will damage your furnishings for good.

For semi-solid chocolate, try this hack. Put some ice cubes in a plastic bag and lay the bag on top of spot. This chilling strategy will help firm up the substance. Subsequently, scrape off the hardened excess chocolate with a blunt knife or spoon.  Use a gentle scooping motion and do not rub or scrub. Hot chocolate should first be pressed with white towels until no more color comes up. If the fabric or fiber is “solvent only,” it’s time to call in the pros.

For water tolerant surfaces, the next step is to blot the spot with that magic mixture of mild detergent and water (Solution #1). For upholstery, work the solution in gently, pressing and moving from the outer edges of the spill to the center. It may take several rounds to see progress. Be sure to rinse away the solution with cool water. A similar approach works wonders for carpet. If the spot still won’t budge after repeated tries, we’ve got even more strategies for removing chocolate and other stubborn stains. Remember, patience is key, so resist the urge to scrub vigorously.

Food Stain 2: Berry Creations

Cranberry sauce and berry pies are particularly hard on carpet, rugs and upholstery.Berry pies and cranberry side dishes are vibrant, flavorful additions to your holiday feast. However, when these colorful ingredients venture off the plate, they can leave behind an unhappy memory. What’s more, the same holds true of blueberry crumble and blackberry cobbler. The bold hue of most berries make for indelible marking of your beloved surfaces. Don’t worry. Conquering cranberry sauce spillage is not an impossible task.

Begin by gently removing any solids with a spoon. Blot the remaining sauce with a clean cloth, avoiding any aggressive rubbing that might worsen the situation. If the surface of your upholstery or rug cannot be cleaned with water-based products, schedule a follow-up service with a trustworthy cleaning company. On the other hand, if your item has a “W” or a “W/S” cleaning code, mix up Solution #1 (see recipe above) and gently blot the stain, working from the outside in to prevent spreading. After multiple rounds, if the ghost of your berry splat remains, gently rinse and move on to “Solution #2” – a mix of one (1) cup of white vinegar per two (2) cups of water. Apply conservatively with that same blot-and-press approach.

For upholstery, dabbing Solution #2 on the affected area can help lift stubborn stains. Always fully rinse the site with cool water to remove cleaning agents and avoid attracting new soil. With a bit of care and these tried-and-true methods, your furniture and carpet will be free from the clutches of cranberry sauce and berry stains. So reserve those bright colors for the holiday tree and leave your soft surfaces stain-free.

Food Stain 3: Gravy and Greasy Foods

Holiday feasts are full of greasy and colorful foods that can quickly become spots and stains. Ever had grease and gravy splatter on your furniture or carpet? These are some of the holiday’s worst food stains. Indeed, slick and oily liquids can be a formidable opponent, leaving an unwelcome mark on anything from an accent rug to a dining room chair. However, the good news is that tackling these stains doesn’t require a magic wand—just a bit of know-how.

First, remove as much of the greasy spill as possible, blotting with a white paper towel. Second, scrape away any semi-solids (common to lumpy gravy recepies) with a dull knife. Then, test isopropyl rubbing alcohol on a hidden area of your textile. If it’s an all-clear, apply a little of that rubbing alcohol to a clean white cloth. Use a blotting motion until the spot is removed or until no color is transferred to the cloth.

In the case of carpet, do not allow alcohol to penetrate into the backing as this will destroy the latex bond. Instead, try moistening the area with 3% hydrogen peroxide. Let stand for one hour. Blot and repeat until carpet is stain free. Light will cause peroxide to change back to water so no rinsing is necessary. Additionally, apply a pad of folded paper towel over to the spot and weigh it down with brick to soak up remaining peroxide. Never use a circular motion to remove spot as this may destroy the texture. Still no luck?

The third strategy involves an even more diluted version of Solution #1. Make this detergent solution by mixing 1/4 teaspoon of a gentle dish washing liquid with 1 quart of water.  Use a blotting motion to work the detergent into the affected area. If spot is shrinking, continue applying detergent and blotting with a white paper towel until spot is removed. Rinse gently with a trickle of water (spray bottles are great applicators) and blot. Yup, blot, blot, blot. With these tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be waving goodbye to grease and gravy for good.

Food Stain 4: Coffee

Coffee spills are one of the most common, year round and hot coffee is a serious stainer.Holiday mornings can require a hefty dose of caffeine. But beware the moment your favorite brew leaps from your pot – or your mug – to your rug. Coffee and tea are natural stainers and some of the worst food stains out there. Both beverages are notorious for leaving behind an unsightly mark that can be a real challenge to remove. But have courage, coffee enthusiasts and accident-prone indulgers. Resolving these stains is well within your reach.

With hot coffee spills, swift action is the key. Begin by blotting (not rubbing) the spill with a dry, white absorbent cloth or white paper towels. Then, mix up a batch of Solution #1, regular strength, and gently dab the stain. Work from the outer edges towards the center. Leave the solution on the fibers for a few minutes before blotting away. Continue to use the Solution #1 as long as you see a brown transfer of the spill to the cloth. Be patient. Complete removal may require repeating the process several times.  Afterwards, rinse the area with a few spritzes of lukewarm tap water alternating with a thorough blotting. This should remove the leftover detergent.

For stubborn coffee residue, you may need to move on to Solution #2, with the same blotting strategy. Afterwards, a water misting, pressing and dry-blotting will help clear up the crime scene. Remember, cleaning solutions left on textiles are like dirt magnets. Always rinse and dry the cleaned area to avoid immediate re-soiling. With these steps and a touch of TLC, your furniture and carpet will be free from the lingering reminders of coffee mishaps past.

Food Stain 5: Red Wine

Red wine toasts are hazardous in the holiday season.Red wine makes for some of the worst food stains, year round. No matter the reason or the season, wine can end up on carpet, rugs or furniture in a flash. So knowing how to tackle the stain means you are prepared for the moment and, with a few easy steps, can get back to celebrating.

Immediate action is your ally.  Firstly, blot the stain with a clean cloth or paper towel, to absorb as much wine as possible. This will likely take several rounds of heavy pressing. Additionally, you might even stand on the towel to maximize absorption.  If the spill is large, a wet vac can be helpful. The next step will vary, depending on the fiber type of the surface.  If your carpet is a grass product – sisal, coir, jute or sea grass – stop now! Even pure water can damage these fibers. The same is true for rayon, viscose and authentic silk surfaces. In any of these scenarios, a cleaning professional needs to take over after a basic blot-up.

If the upholstery has a W or W/S cleaning code, or if your carpet is a synthetic fiber or wool, move on to step two.  Sprinkle or mist some cold water on the area of the wine stain.  Better too little than too much. After all, you can always repeat. Lay fresh paper towel down and step on spill area again.  For lingering discoloration on upholstery, a little Solution #1 action can work wonders. Most importantly, patience is key, so allow the solution to sit and do its magic. Beware those “common household cleaning” strategies all over the internet. For DIY success, use our step-by-step wine removal tips.  Your furniture and carpet will be as inviting as a well-poured glass.

Ultimately, Spills Happen.Holiday stains happen. Your best bet is to be prepared.

Navigating the minefield of red wine, coffee, gravy, chocolate, cranberry sauce and other common holiday food stains might feel like an impossible task. However, you can keep those stains from setting. Just use our guide and address the worst food stains with confidence.

Keep the ingredients for our stain Solutions #1 and #2 on hand, along with a stack of white towels, to be prepared for that likely slosh or spill. Mild detergents, white vinegar, tap water and a sprinkle of patience are the ingredients for success. Always respond promptly by blotting, not rubbing. Apply the appropriate solution to the spot and press it gently into the fibers. If your surface is water-safe, remember to rinse the area thoroughly and blot dry. On the other hand, you may consider using a hair dryer on the lowest setting if the spill has been fully removed.  Keep the dryer moving at all times to avoid burning your textile.

Always read and follow the care instructions of your particular furnishings. If in doubt, contact a trustworthy local cleaner, like Pro-Care. Keep in mind, sometimes it’s the cleaning efforts of the homeowner, not the original spot or spill, that makes removal impossible – even for the pros!  Please, don’t use any retail products to remove stains from carpet or upholstery without seeking the advice of the manufacturer or you could void your warranty. Above all, remember this. When it comes to DIY cleaning, gentler is safer and sometimes your best bet is a hands-off approach.

Needing Some Additional Advice?

For more step-by-step guidance, check out our blogDo’s and Don’ts for Holiday Spills and Stains.” Maybe you’re most dreading those wine mishaps. Our in-depth article on removing red wine stains will hold your hand from spill to success. If you are considering applying protection to upholstery or rugs this season, don’t miss our in-depth discussion of how fabric protection can make your holidays worry free. Last of all, if you are facing another example of the world’s worst food stains from mustard to make-up to mud, you’ll find a long list for addressing the top tier offenders on our website.

For now, let the holiday festivities (and foods) flow, knowing that with a quick response and the right cleaning strategy, your furniture and carpet will stay resilient, inviting, and stain-free. Pro-Care, Nashville’s favorite cleaning company wishes you and yours a Happy and a Merry. May we all raise that glass to a spotless and joyous holiday season!

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