The Fastest Way to Get a Coffee Stain Out of Your Shirt Before You Embarrass Yourself

The Fastest Way to Get a Coffee Stain Out of Your Shirt Before You Embarrass Yourself
Photo: Nicoleta Ionescu, Shutterstock

Our national return to the office means a return to all the little indignities we thought we’d left in the pre-pandemic days. The barista hands you your coffee and as you head out, you sip it and discover they got your order wrong, but you’re running too late to go back. There are no open seats on the train, so you stand in your uncomfortable work shoes, being jostled by every person who gets on and off. After one fateful bodyslam from a fellow commuter, the coffee you’re holding (along with the bus pole, your bag, and your phone) spills all over you. It’s abasement after abasement, and while there is no real solution to the overall horror of commuting to an office, we can at least tell you how to get that coffee stain out of your shirt once you get there.

Try plain cold water first

Before you go mixing a soapy concoction or trying to nonchalantly ask your office manager if there are any cans of baking soda or old toothbrushes lying around, try a little cold water. Nespresso’s website says if the stain is “fresh,” cold water alone might just do the trick. You’ll want to hit the stain from the inside and outside, so head to the bathroom for this, wet a paper towel, and press on the stain from both sides.

Don’t scrub hard at the stain. Real Good Coffee Co. advises “this will only damage the material.” Instead, press your cold, wet towel against the stain firmly and when the towel gets dirty, grab a new one. When it’s time to dry the wet spot, position yourself under the air dryer or use fresh, dry towels to press again. At no point should you be rubbing the fabric.

Figure out what your shirt is made of

According to Eldorado Coffee, you should take a different approach for cotton clothing and pieces made of synthetic fabrics, especially if the stain isn’t exactly fresh. (Commutes can be long; don’t beat yourself up.)

Go into a bathroom stall, take your shirt off, and inspect the tag. If it’s cotton, start by blotting with cold water, as discussed. Eldorado Coffee then recommends using a stain remover, like Shout wipes or a Tide-to-Go pen. If you don’t have those things at your desk, don’t worry. Just keep going with your cold water and make a note to pick some up the next time you swing by the drug store.

Synthetic fabrics are a little different. You still start with the cold water, but you’ll need dishwashing detergent from the office kitchen for the next step. Put a tiny bit on your cold, wet paper towel, and blot. Eldorado Coffee also recommends mixing in bit of white vinegar. If you have that around the office, that’s great, but be advised you’ll be a little stinky. Whether you keep a stain on your shirt or smell like vinegar, you’re going to offend at least one of your coworkers’ senses for the day. Choose wisely.

Per Real Good Coffee Co., there is a heavier-duty option you can employ when paper towels and liquid soap aren’t doing the trick, but it requires two ingredients you may not have at the office: The white vinegar and powdered laundry detergent. If you do have those — or can get to a store nearby — mix a few drops of the vinegar with the powder until they make a paste. Rub the paste onto the stain gently and let it sit for five minutes before returning to your cold-water rinsing. The company recommends using a soft-bristled toothbrush to work the paste in, but that is straying even farther from the realm of office supply solutions. Still, if you’re going to pop into a corner store near your office for the vinegar and powdered detergent, you might as well go all the way and grab a toothbrush (and the Shout wipes, while you’re at it).

Use salt to get the stain out

You may or may not have dish soap and white vinegar around the office, but you probably do have salt in a break room somewhere. Using salt is a great way to immediately address a stain situation and stop it from getting any worse.

Per Eldorado Coffee again, “sprinkle a generous amount” on the stain, because “the more salt you have, the deeper it will penetrate the fabric.” Let it sit there a few minutes, then use a clean paper towel to rub it away very gently. The salt will pull out excess liquid, but also stop the stain from spreading. The only thing worse than a stain is a bigger stain. (That’s also why we’re using cold water, not warm water.)

You can also use baby powder, which will do the same thing, but again, try to use the stuff you have around the office first.

The best you can hope for

You probably won’t get the stain entirely out by using office supplies and temporarily taking up residence in the bathroom, but you can reduce it to the point it won’t be as visible, which is better than having a huge symbol of your terrible morning on your chest all day. When you get home, you can do soaks, treatments, and normal washes. For now, focus on minimising the damage as much as you can.

Finally, it’s always a good practice to keep a neutral sweater at work. If you don’t have a designated desk sweater, bring one from home. In moments like this, you’ll be glad you did.

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