Fruit, Vegetable and Food Colouring Stains

We might all be urged to make sure we eat our “five colours a day” in fruits and vegetables but if we’re not careful, this can mean five nasty stains a day too! Certain fruits and vegetables have very strong natural dyes that can leave an obvious and difficult stain, although quick action in most cases will remove the marks effectively.

Fruit Stains

Generally, ‘hard’ fruits such as apples and pears are not a problem – it is the soft fruits that you have to worry about and as a lot of these are often tropical and/or brightly coloured, it only adds to the problem. From the squashed raspberries that have left a vivid pink smear on the carpet to the forgotten mandarin segments that are making a nice yellow pattern on your new summer skirt – these stains can be an unpleasant surprise and a headache to remove. In particular, some – such as citrus stains – are invisible at first, especially if they are allowed to dry, but then will turn yellow with heat and age and become almost impossible to remove.

As said above, tackle the stain immediately – in fact, for fabrics that can cope with harsh treatment, just pouring boiling water through the stain from a height of 1- 3 feet can be remarkably effective. Otherwise, sponge them promptly or soak in cool water before they have time to set. Just remember never to use soap as it can set the stain permanently. You can also soak the garment briefly in a solution of warm water and detergent, and then wash it as normal using a biological laundry detergent. If you don’t see any difference in the stain following the soak, try dabbing some lemon juice on the area before washing.

For carpets – which cannot be soaked – dab the stain gently with a clean cloth soaked in borax solution, or alternatively white vinegar or lemon juice. Then rinse thoroughly with water, using the dab and blot method.

If the fabric needs to be dry-cleaned, you’re best to do as little as possible – other than sponging off the worst of the stain with cool water (although take care you do not spread the stain) – and getting it to a professional dry-cleaners as soon as possible.

For fingers that are stained with fruit juices, rubbing them with lemon juice and salt before washing thoroughly with soap and water will remove most stains effectively.

  • Jam – these stains look horrific but can be dealt with quite simply. For fresh stains on washable items, scrape off as much as possible with the blunt side of a knife and then sponge the area with warm water and liquid detergent, before washing as normal. For carpets, do the same but take care not to over-wet the area and always rinse off all detergent very thoroughly by dabbing with water and then blotting dry – as detergent can weaken carpet fibres and increase staining in future. If the jam stain is on a dry-cleanable item, try sponging it out very gently with warm water, however, it if it is a large stain, it is best to take it to the professionals.

Vegetable Stains

The main culprit here is probably beetroot, although you can also get nasty stains from other strongly coloured vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes. When working with beetroot, take extreme care as this is a very unpleasant and difficult stain to remove and prevention is the best policy. However, should your efforts be thwarted, don’t panic – but do act quickly. Make up a paste of lukewarm water and detergent and apply this to the stain with a dabbing motion. Once it is thoroughly worked through the stain, soak the fabric in warm water for at least half an hour, in order to loosen the stain, before rinsing it out. You can also follow a similar procedure with lemon juice applied to the stain and then left for a period of time, ideally in the sunlight, before washing the garment as directed by instructions.

If the fabric is white cotton or linen – and the stain is persistent – then you can risk soaking it in a solution of water and household bleach, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure that you rinse all the bleach out thoroughly before washing.

For tomato juice or relish, you should sponge the stain thoroughly with cold water first and then rub glycerine into the stain and leave for half an hour, before rinsing and washing as normal.

Another method to tackle general vegetable stains is to flush the area with white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide and then to wash with a biological laundry detergent.

Food Colouring

Even if you manage to avoid the ‘natural dyes’ in fresh fruit and vegetables, you may fall foul of the many food colourings common in several modern culinary offerings. These stains can be a nightmare as food colouring is essentially a type of dye and therefore likely to set permanently. However, if you sponge the area immediately with cool water, you may be able to remove most of the stain. You can also soak it in cool water for at least half an hour – or even overnight, in the case of stubborn stains. In either case, follow with undiluted liquid detergent rubbed directly into the stain and then rinsed thoroughly. If the stain still remains, you may have to resort to bleach but remember that this can seriously damage your garment so always spot test in an inconspicuous area first.

For non-washable materials, such as carpet, you can also start with the cool-water-sponging treatment, followed by liquid detergent rubbed in and then rinsed. In some cases, following this with sponging on alcohol will help to remove the detergent and allow the material to dry faster. Be aware however that alcohol will fade colours, so if the carpet or fabric is strongly coloured, you may be left with a new and different “reverse-stain”. You can try to avoid this by diluting the alcohol with two parts water and testing it in a corner first to see if it is safe. Unfortunately, if the rubbing detergent treatment does not remove the stain, you will have to resort to bleach treatment – if it is a material or fabric that can withstand it.

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