How to Remove Ketchup Stains

While a delicious condiment, ketchup is notorious for dripping off hamburgers, sliding off hot dogs, and dribbling off French fries - each consistent with Murphy's law that says "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." Knowing the basic techniques for removing ketchup stains helps save your clothes, carpet and upholstery.

 

Remove Ketchup Stains

The success of removing ketchup stains lies in treating the stain as soon as possible. This is because the citric and acetic acids in ketchup chemically bond with the stained material, with the bonds becomming stronger as time goes on, thus making it more difficult to remove the stain.

With all materials, in this case ketchup, it is essential to start by removing the excess offending substance. Try to resist the urge to dab the ketchup since dabbing just pushes the ketchup further into the material and spreads it over a larger area. Use a butter knife, spoon or the edge of a credit card to gently lift the excess ketchup. After removing the excess ketchup, you should immediately treat the stain to completely remove it. 

Removing Ketchup Stains from Clothing

The procedure shown below for removing ketchup stains from clothing assumes that the material can be washed with water. If the offended item has care instructions attached to it, read them. If the instructions read "dry clean only," do not proceed with the instructions below. Rather, take the stained item to a professional specializing in dry cleaning.

To remove those offensive ketchup stains from your clothing, you will need:

  • a cold water source
  • pre-treating laundry stain remover or heavy-duty liquid detergent
  • mild bleaching agent (e.g., hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, lemon juice)
  • chlorine bleach
  • oxygen bleach

Now proceed as follows:

  1. Rinse the ketchup residue by gently running cold water over the stain from the back of the fabric. This washes the stain out instead of pushing it deeper into the material.
  2. Saturate the stained area with a pre-treating laundry stain remover or heavy-duty liquid detergent, and allow the pre-treating laundry stain remover or heavy-duty detergent to fully penetrate the stain for at least 1 minute.
  3. Wash the just-treated clothing according to the manufacturer's care instructions.
  4. Remove the clothing from the washer and inspect it for any remaining ketchup stain. If the stain has been removed you are done. However, if the stain is still evident, even slightly, proceed with step 5.
  5. Do not dry the fabric, since drying sets the stain and makes it harder to remove.
  6. For white clothing, use the least invasive bleaching solution (e.g. hydrogen peroxide) to remove the stain. It is best to soak the entire garment in the bleaching solution, because bleaching can affect the color in the area around the stain, even on white fabric. If the stain is stubborn, thoroughly rinse the fabric before applying a different mild bleaching agent, thus preventing any possible chemical reactions that could damage the material. If the ketchup stain persists, treat the fabric with chlorine bleach according to the care instructions attached (hopefully) to the fabric. 
  7. For colored clothing, begin by checking the care instructions to see if the fabric can tolerate color-safe or oxygen bleach. If it can, soak the fabric in color-safe or oxygen bleach. If the care instructions do not mention bleach, test the color-fastness of the fabric by applying a small amount of the bleach in an inconspicuous place, such as the inside of the clothing on a hem. If there is no color change, soak the entire garment in the bleach, then rinse with water. If the ketchup stain has been removed to your satisfaction you are done. Otherwise proceed with step 8.
  8. Repeat steps 5 through 8. 

 

 

Removing Ketchup Stains from Carpet

The procedure described below assumes that the material the carpet is made with can tolerate water. If so, you will need:

  • a cold water source
  • rubbing alcohol
  • cotton ball or a clean white cloth
  • mild dishwashing detergent
  • hydrogen peroxide solution (3%)

Now proceed as follows:

  1. Blot the carpet lightly with a white paper towel or clean, white cloth - thus removing as much ketchup as possible.
  2. Gently blot the stained area with a white cloth or cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol, taking care to blot in one direction at a time. Be aware that rubbing too hard or rubbing in a circular direction may destroy the carpet's texture. In addition, avoid soaking the carpet completely through to the backing since the alcohol can break down the latex bond and damage the durability of the carpet.
  3. Continue blotting until the spot is removed. If the ketchup stain is removed you are finished. Otherwise, proceed with step 4.
  4. If the ketchup stain persists, mix 1/4 teaspoon of mild dishwashing detergent with 1 quart of water, then dab a clean, white cloth into the detergent solution and gently blot over the stained area. Continue to blot, working the detergent into the stain until it is removed.
  5. Rinse the area where the stain was with water. The easiest way to rinse carpet is to spray the water using a spray bottle, then blot with white paper towels. Finish by spraying the area with water, covering it with a folded white cloth, and weighting it down with a plastic bag filled with books. Leave the area covered until the carpet is dry. If the ketchup stain is removed you are finished, otherwise proceed with step 6..
  6. If the stain is still evident, moisten the carpet tufts with a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide, allowing the solution to penetrate the stain for one hour. Then blot and repeat until the stain is removed. There is no need to rinse the hydrogen peroxide out of the carpet. Finally, apply a dry folded white cloth and weight it down until the carpet is dry. If the ketchup stain has been removed to your satisfaction, you are finished. Otherwise, proceed with step 7.
  7. Repeat steps 2 through 7. 

Removing Ketchup Stains from Upholstery

The procedure described below assumes that the material the upholstery is made with can tolerate water. If so, you will need:

  • a cold water source
  • white vinegar
  • pre-treating laundry stain remover or a heavy-duty laundry detergent

To remove ketchup stain from furniture upholstery or decorative pillows, proceed as follows:

  1. Sponge the stained area with cold water to remove as much excess ketchup as possible.
  2. Mix equal parts of white vinegar and cold water and sponge the solution over the stain, continuing to apply the vinegar solution until no more ketchup color leaches onto the sponge. If the stain has been removed you are finished, otherwise proceed with step 3.
  3. Saturate a white cloth with a pre-treating laundry stain remover or a heavy-duty laundry detergent. Allow the cloth to sit on the stain for a minute, then change the cloth to a new, clean one, saturated with the same cleaning solution. Repeat this process for up to 30 minutes.
  4. If the stain has been removed to your satisfaction, rinse the area thoroughly with cold water and blot to remove excess moisture. Allow the upholstery to dry. Otherwise, proceed with step 5.
  5. Repeat steps 3 through 5.

Removing ketchup stains takes a little time and patience, but can be successfully done with products commonly found in your home. Products such as vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, lemon juice and mild dishwashing detergent are not always considered typical stain removers, but can be valuable tools in removing ketchup stains. The key to ketchup stain removal is to treat the stain as soon as possible, since allowing the stain to dry only helps it to set into the material, making removal more difficult.