7 wine stain removal mistakes that make things worse (and yes, white wine on red is one)

Cleaning up wine spills is all about acting fast, and steering clear of these errors that can leave a permanent mark

neutral living room with rug, coffee table and couch
(Image credit: Future PLC)

A slip of the wrist is often all it takes and you've got a serious wine stain on your hands. Whether you've clumsy family members who can't be trusted or are in the middle of a post-party clean-up, these cleaning tips are worth having up your sleeve.

Wine spillage expertise will mean future accidents are easier to sort out, so you don't have to forgo the gray bouclé couch or the beautiful Berber rug just because you enjoy a Friday night Merlot. And spills and stains will no longer feel like such an emergency.

Professionals warn that some methods will actually do more harm than good when trying to remove red wine stains quickly. Here are the wine stain removal mistakes to avoid.

Wine stain removal mistakes

living room with mauve gallery wall and pale grey sofa

(Image credit: Future PLC / Jon Day)

1. Using hot water

We're usually told that hot water is better at cleaning, but professionals argue that when it comes to wine stains, cold or lukewarm is the way to go. 'Never apply heat to wine stains,' cautions Johanes from Liox Clean, a laundry and dry cleaning service. 

'This will only make the stain worse, and you’ll be stuck with a big old reminder of your boozy night out.' Hot water may cause wine stains to set and spread into the fibers, so whether you're cleaning a couch or cleaning upholstery, make sure the water isn't too hot.

Our best tried-and-tested approach to removing wine stains from anything from carpet to clothes? Blot until the stain is dry with kitchen towel. After you've blotted as much of the wine as possible, wetting the stain with cold water, or even better, cold soda water, then blotting, blotting and blotting again, is your best option. Repeat if necessary, then, if there's still the shadow of a stain, use Wine Away spray.

2. Not acting fast enough

When we have guests over, cleaning is the the last thing we want to do, but the general consensus among cleaning experts is that you've got to act fast if you want to get rid of the stain effectively. 

The longer you wait to treat a wine stain, the harder it will be to remove. Ryan Knoll says the biggest wine stain removal mistake he see is people not moving quickly enough. 'Once the stain sets, it can be 10 times harder to remove,' he comments.

3. Rubbing the stain

'Don't delay and don't rub it in' is a good mantra to keep in mind. Johanes says that scrubbing will set the stain like a permanent ink stamp. 'Instead, gently dab the area with warm water and a mild detergent.' 

Many other cleaning specialists advise against rubbing the stain as it can work the wine deeper into the fabric.

Living room with white sofas and cream walls

(Image credit: David Cleveland / Future)

4. Not testing on a small area first

Yarl Christie from Stories Flooring says not testing a cleaning solution first is a common mistake one tends to make when attempting to remove wine stains. 

'Before using any cleaning solution, it's important to test it on an inconspicuous and small area of the fabric to make sure it won't cause any damage,' Yarl explains.

'It's best to act quickly, use the right cleaning solution and test the solution on a small inconspicuous area before applying to the stain. If the stain persists after trying to remove it, it is best to take the garment to a professional cleaner.'

5. Not giving the stain time to come up

If you've applied a cleaning mixture to the stain, give it plenty of time to work its magic before wiping it away. This might be nerve-wracking, but the paste can't remove the stain instantly. 

Ryan Knoll from Tidy Casa suggests a 2:1 mix of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. 'It should have a pasty consistency once mixed,' he says.

The good news is a combination of 3/4 hydrogen peroxide and 1/4 dishwashing liquid should help take care of the problem.

When applying the baking soda and hydrogen peroxide formula, dab the paste mix over the affected area and cover it all.

6. Using bleach or bleach-based products

When trying to get red wine out of carpet, avoid using bleach-based products as you'll risk damaging the fabric and making things worse. A gentle cleaning solution formulated for fabrics is a much safer option. You could try Force of Nature, an appliance that turns salt, water, and vinegar into a cleaner and disinfectant that's just as powerful as bleach. 

To use it on wine spills, blot as much of the spill as you can, saturate thoroughly with Force of Nature, then blot again with a clean paper towel or reusable cleaning cloth, repeating if necessary.

'Everyone in the home, but especially babies and pets, spend a lot of time interacting with upholstery, floors and floor coverings. That's why the ingredients in the cleaning products that maintain these frequently used items matter,' says Lana Tkachenko from Force of Nature.

wine cellar with blue walls, teracotta tiled flooring and crates

(Image credit: Future PLC)

7. Not using a product designed for the job

White wine or salt over red wine? No! Both set the stain and make it much harder to remove.

Allegra Angelo, a sommelier at Vinya Wine says the worst thing you can do is to try to tackle the stain without a professional product designed for this very purpose. Allegra recommends using a spray, such as Wine Away spray. 'Let the stain sit for several minutes, then blot gently,' she says.

'If you must drink red, then keep your glass pours to 3oz or less and opt for a wider, Burgundy style glass,' she advises. 'Lastly, when pouring wine, a serviette should always be used to wipe the neck of the bottle, preventing those dangerous drips.'

Why are red wine stains so hard to remove?

Red wine contains tannin and natural dyes like anthocyanins, which are present in grape skins as well as other berries, currents and tropical fruits. This gives it its strong pigmentation and causes it to stain.

Millie Hurst
Section Editor

Millie Hurst is a freelance lifestyle writer with over six years of experience in digital journalism. Having previously worked as Solved Section Editor at Homes & Gardens and Senior SEO Editor at News UK in London and New York, Millie has written for an array of homes brands including Livingetc and Real Homes and was formerly Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home. She has written and edited countless features on home organization, decluttering and interior design and always hopes to inspire readers with new ways to enjoy their homes. She lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and loves to weave nature-inspired decor and nods to time spent in Italy into her own home.