How to remove food and drink stains from carpets – expert tips for 6 common spills

Spilling food or drink on your carpet can be stressful, but removing stains is easier than you might think

 Living room with blue walls, grey rug, ornate fireplace with lit fire, grey carpet and upholstery, and grey curtains.
(Image credit: Future / DAVIDE LOVATTI)

Carpet may be super-snug and soft underfoot but it can also be seriously prone to stainage, so you’ll need to familiarize yourself with how to remove food and drink stains from carpets if you want to keep yours looking lovely. 

While there are a few golden rules of stain removal that generally work across the board, it’s important not to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Whether it’s coffee or chocolate, red wine or tomato sauce, different substances affect fibers in their own ways, so you’ll need to apply specific cleaning tips if you want them to vanish without a trace – literally. 

Acting quickly is essential, so to speed things up we’ve quizzed the pros on their top tips and handy hacks, some of which also apply when cleaning upholstery or cleaning a couch, too.

How to remove common food and drink stains from carpets 

The number one rule when tackling food and drink stains of any kind is to move fast. It’s the last thing you want to do mid-meal, but the longer you leave it, the worse it’ll be. 

‘Start by using paper towels to remove solid food debris, then blot the area. Blot, don’t scrub! Scrubbing will just push the stain further into the fiber’, says cleaning expert Toby Schulz, CEO & Co-founder of Maid2Match. 

How you act next will depend on the type of stain. Whether you opt for a chemical-based carpet cleaner, such as OxiClean Carpet Stain Remover from Amazon, or a DIY cleaning solution, be sure to spot test on a hidden area first to ensure it’s not going to damage or discolor your carpet, and always use lint-free cloths, also available at Amazon, to avoid the risk of color transfer. 

1. Red wine

Time is always of the essence, but particularly so when it comes to removing red wine stains – clean-up first, refill your glass later. 

‘Blot any excess wine and sprinkle the area generously with baking soda. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes to absorb the liquid, then vacuum it up. Dab the stain with a cloth dipped in a mixture of one part vinegar and two parts water, rinse and blot dry’, directs cleaning expert Tina Priestly, owner and CEO of Ready, Set, Refresh.  

If you’re serving red wine at a dinner party (or prepping for Christmas-related stains) it’s a good idea to organize cleaning supplies ahead of time so you’ve got them close to hand. Put together a little caddy of essentials and leave it somewhere easily accessible. 

We explore more things you can clean with baking soda in our dedicated feature.

2. Chocolate

A favorite of kids and adults alike, knowing how to remove chocolate stains is essential for keeping on top of tidiness in busy households. 

Ideally you’d remove any excess chocolate before it starts melting, but if you’ve not got there in time, place an ice pack over the chocolate to harden it (this is a handy hack for removing chewing gum, too). Use a blunt knife to scrape it away, then vacuum the area to ensure you’ve picked up any loose pieces. 

‘Liquid dish soap cuts through the oils found in chocolate, helping to break down the stain, so mixing one tablespoon with two cups of warm water should create an effective stain remover.

Apply the mixture to the stain using a clean cloth, gently blot, then rinse with cold water and blot dry’, says cleaning expert Karina Toner at Spekless Cleaning

3. Oil

Our first instinct is to blot stains with water, but when it comes to oil-based stains such as butter, margarine and mayonaise, this is the worst thing you can do; it sets the stain, making it even harder to remove. 

Opt for a dry ‘store-cupboard’ method, such as baking soda; as well as tackling the stain itself, it also removes odors. Sprinkle and let it sit, then vacuum and spot clean with rubbing alcohol. Alternatively, use a dry-solvent spot carpet cleaner, available at Amazon

4. Coffee

Spilling coffee on a carpet is up there with red wine – they both contain dark tannins which make their stains particularly tough to treat. For that reason, blotting the excess and sprinkling baking soda also works well for removing coffee stains, assuming yours is an Americano that is. 

‘If you take your coffee with cream or sugar, mix a tablespoon of laundry detergent with half a cup of warm water. The enzymes in the detergent will help break down dairy proteins and prevent any nasty odors’, says Gabriella Dyson, Head of Solved at Homes & Gardens.  

Coffee stains on the carpet are also one of the more surprising things you can clean with toothpaste. It probably wouldn’t be our go-to, but it’s a handy hack in an emergency. 'Apply a small amount of toothpaste to a damp cloth or sponge and gently dab at the stained area. Rinse the area with water and dry it afterward to avoid discoloration’, advises cleaning expert Hashi Mohamed, president of Ivy Cleans.

5. Tumeric

‘It may be a dry powder, but turmeric is actually ever so slightly oily. If you’re concocting your own solution, you’ll need to do so on the basis that you’re removing an oil-based stain, so avoid water at all costs’, says Gabriella.   

Dr Beckmann Carpet stain remover, available at Walmart, is an effective shop-bought cleaner recommended by most experts, but if you prefer the natural route, baking soda and dish soap should be on your shopping list. 

‘Combine a tablespoon of baking soda, a tablespoon of dish soap and a cup of warm water, then dab gently onto the stain. Leave for at least 10 minutes, then use a blunt knife to lift excess dried paste. 

Clean the cloth in warm water and wipe away as much as you can. Allow it to dry completely then vacuum’, Gabriella adds. 

6. Tomato-based sauces

Ketchup, baked beans, pizza, pasta sauce…all tomato-based sauces are acidic in nature, so using a cleaning solution that affects the pH is the most effective way to treat stains. 

‘Cleaning with vinegar breaks down the acidic components of tomato sauce, while dish soap tackles any oils’, explains Karina. 

Mix one tablespoon of white vinegar, one tablespoon of dish soap and two cups of cold water, and apply to the stain, blotting gently. Work from the outside of the stain inward to prevent spreading and don’t be tempted to use bleach – this can damage the carpet fibers’, she adds. 


How do you remove set-in food stains? 

In general, you can usually tackle dried-on food stains in the same way you would a fresh food stain. The process remains the same, it’s just less likely to yield as effective results, as the substance has had time to permeate the carpet fibers. 

For that reason, you might find a more intense stain remover is required. Home remedies such as baking soda or cleaning with vinegar are less effective on older marks, so might need to be switched out for chemical based-versions designed specifically for carpet cleaning.  

‘For white or light-colored carpets (and if the material allows it) hydrogen peroxide is a great stain remover. Don’t use a solution that’s stronger than 3% – that’s more than enough for most household messes’, says Toby. 

These quick spot-cleaning tips work on most carpet stains, but if yours are proving particularly stubborn, knowing how to deep clean a carpet can make a difference. Alternatively, there’s no shame in getting the professionals in, there are plenty of carpet cleaning companies out there well-versed in dealing with every kind of food stain – common or not! 

Contributing Editor

For 10 years, Tara King worked as a Content Editor in the magazine industry, before leaving to become freelance, covering interior design, wellbeing, craft and homemaking. As well as writing for Ideal Home, Style at Home, Country Homes & Interiors, Tara’s keen eye for styling combined with a passion for creating a happy – and functional – family home has led to a series of organization and cleaning features for H&G.