School Lunch Stain Guide

November 3 is #NationalSandwichDay. The sandwich is a lunch box staple, so this “holiday” serves as a great reminder for how to get out the stain’s kids bring home with them.

A good place to start is with the basics of stain removal:

  1. Deal with it as early as possible. The less time a stain has to soak in, the easier it will be to remove, although there are ways to remove old stains out of clothes as well.
  2. Pre-treat with a stain remover, then let it soak in.
  3. Launder according to the fabric care instructions. Regular stains should come out in cold water but for extra dirty clothing or very tough stains, use the warmest setting safe for the fabric. If the stain remains, repeat the steps above. Do not put it in the dryer until the stain is removed.

For those trickier stains, more specific advice may be necessary:

Fruit and Juice

  • Pretreat or soak stains using a product containing enzymes.
  • Soak for at least 30 minutes or several hours for aged stains.
  • Launder.
  • If that doesn’t remove the stain, use a bleach safe for the fabric.


  • Pretreat with a prewash stain remover
  • Launder, using the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric.

Ketchup or Tomato Sauce

  • Remove as much of the excess ketchup or tomato sauce as possible from the fabric.
  • If the fabric is washable, run cold water through the back of the stain as quickly as possible. This will force the stain back out through the fabric. Don’t run it through the front of the tomato stain, which will only force it more deeply into your clothing.
  • Rub a liquid laundry detergent into the stained portion of the fabric. Work it into the fabric gently in a circular motion beginning on the outside of the stained area, and working in.
  • If the garment is white, or you have tested it for colorfastness, apply a mild bleaching agent. Possible agents include hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar applied with a sponge. You can also use lemon juice on white fabrics. Rinse well.
  • Repeat with detergent followed by mild bleaching agent until the stain no longer appears. Hold the stain up to the light to make sure it is fully gone.
  • Apply a stain remover stick, gel, or spray. Allow it to sit for at least 5 minutes while you wait.
  • Wash normally with detergent. Before drying, double-check the stain. Stains that are dried will often be permanent.
  • If it remains, rub detergent into the tomato stain. Next, soak in warm water for 30 minutes. Rinse well.
  • If the tomato stain is still stubborn, apply stain remover stick, gel, or spray and launder according to directions.

Barbeque Sauce

  • Working from the back of the stain, flush it with cold water.
  • Pretreat it with a liquid laundry detergent, using an up-and-down motion with a soft brush to break up the stain.
  • Rinse well.
  • Sponge with white vinegar and rinse again.
  • Repeat, treating the stain with liquid detergent, then with white vinegar until you’ve removed as much stain as possible.
  • Pretreat with a prewash stain remover and launder with bleach that’s safe for the fabric.


Stain Removal Guide



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