How to Remove a Red Wine Stain from Just About Anything

University of California Study

If you need to know how to remove a red wine stain, you’re probably in a panic trying to remember that “killer technique” you heard someone rave about at the last wine tasting party. That technique was the result of a study of red wine stain removers conducted in 2001 by the University of California, Davis. The eight stain removers included in the study were as follows:

  1. 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed with an equal volume of Dawn liquid soap.
  2. Camco’s Erado-sol laboratory cleaning solution.
  3. Gonzo “Wine Out” commercial stain remover.
  4. “Wine Away” commercial stain remover.
  5. Salt (applied only to 2 minute-stains, as it was used to absorb the liquid out of the fabric).
  6. Sauvignon blanc white wine.
  7. A solution of vinegar and Dawn liquid followed by rubbing alcohol.
  8. Spray ‘n Wash, a pre-laundry spot remover made by Dow

The procedure: They soaked swatches of all-white fabric (cotton, a polyester / cotton blend, nylon and silk) in red wine. Then, after 2 minutes or 24 hours, the red wine stain was treated and the swatch laundered in cold water approximately three hours after the treatment. After drying, the darkness of the stain was measured using a Minolta Colorimeter in order to obtain very precise measures of residual stain. Tests were done in triplicate to validate the results, and treated fabrics were compared against controls of both stained and unstained laundered fabric swatches.

Results: Silk was the hardest fabric to clean, with none of the cleaners completely removing the stains. Cotton was the easiest to clean. Some cleaners worked better on different types of fabric. Many of the cleaners just didn’t work as promised. The commercial red wine stain removers were among the least effective on any type of fabric. White wine or salt didn’t work at all, with the exception of white wine on nylon.

The Best Red Wine Stain Remover?

It was an equal blend of hydrogen peroxide and Dawn liquid soap. The next best was Erado-sol, it was the best commercial cleaner and the most effective on silk. Erado-sol has been sold to doctors, hospitals and industrial laboratories since 1963. Stain Rx is Erado-Sol packaged for home/office/travel use.

Consumer Reports Study

The UC Davis wine stain removal study is interesting, but what about major commercial stain removers, products you’re likely to find under your kitchen sink?

Consumer Reports conducted a study which tested seven commercial stain removers on various stains including red wine. It concluded that the stain removers OxiClean Active, Spot Shot, Woolite Power Shot, Resolve Spot Magic, Wal-Mart Great Value Spot & Stain, Carbona Carpet Wizard, and Capture Spot and Soil Remover, weren’t any better than inexpensive homemade cleaners specifically hydrogen peroxide, and that “only OxiClean could handle more than mud.”

OxiClean is sodium perborate. The main stain removing ingredient in sodium perborate is hydrogen peroxide. Seems pretty conclusive right?

Red Wine Stain Removal vs. Bleaching

Hydrogen Peroxide

But, before we crown hydrogen peroxide “King of Red Wine Stain Removers,” it’s important to note that hydrogen peroxide is a bleach and bleaches don’t actually remove stains, the stain is merely altered so that the color is less intense or invisible.

What difference does it make? Well, bleaching is accomplished through oxidation or reduction. Bleaches that use oxidation (like hydrogen peroxide) are susceptible to reversion. In other words, the stain can reappear. Chlorine bleach is notorious for this, not to mention that it can also remove dye from colored fabric, or completely dissolve some fabrics with natural fibers.

Using bleach is a Catch-22, the fabrics most likely to withstand bleaching (i.e. cottons and cellulosics) are the ones least likely to need it for red wine stain removal. That doesn’t mean that bleach should not be used. Assuming the fabric can withstand bleaching, it should be used as a last resort when efforts to remove the stain have failed. Red wine stain removal may require more time and applications than simple bleaching, but the results are more likely to be permanent and less likely to damage the fabric.

Proper red wine stain removal requires patience.

Wine Stain Classification

Why Do Commercial Stain Removers Perform So Poorly?

A stain is a chemical reaction between the staining agent and the fibers and finishes of a fabric. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no product or method for removing all stains. That’s because the chemical makeup of each stain and fabric is unique.

So, rather than throwing everything under the kitchen sink at a wine stain, knowing the type of stain you’re dealing with will significantly improve your chances of removing it. Dry-cleaners classify stains into three categories: Insoluble stains, water-soluble stains and solvent-soluble stains.

If a substance is soluble, it can be dissolved by the right liquid. If it’s insoluble, it can’t. Water-soluble stains come out in water-based processes, and solvent-soluble stains come out in dry (no-water) processes.

Insoluble stains include carbon and plain dirt. Water-soluble stains consist of wine, soda, coffee, tea, perspiration and many food stains. Solvent-soluble stains include oils and greases, and foods containing oils and greases. There are also “combination” stains that contain both water and solvent-soluble soils.

A stain can also be acid or alkaline in nature. Most food stains are acidic (i.e. have a pH less than 7) and will require an acid mixture to remove them.

Remember, like dissolves like.

Note: The older the stain, the harder it is to remove. Don’t allow a stain to “set,” or react with the fabric, dyes, finish, or atmosphere. One of the most important things you can do to ensure effective red wine stain removal is to treat the stain as soon as possible. Generally a stain less than 2 to 3 months old can be treated.

How to Remove a Red Wine Stain on Different Fabrics

Red Wine Stain Removal on Clothes

Read Clothing labels. Fibers with different chemical composition behave differently when stained and when treated with stain removal agents. Clothing labels give fiber content (which can be either natural or synthetic), care instructions and warnings (like dry-clean only, or do not use chlorine bleach). Knowing this information helps you make better judgments about red wine stain removal procedures.

Synthetic fibers tend to be moisture resistant and repel water-based stains, making red wine stain removal easier. Natural fibers like cotton, silk and wool absorb water and swell when they come in contact with water-based stains or treatments.

Water-based stains like wine will be absorbed more deeply by natural fibers (unless a water-repellent finish has been applied), but the degree to which the stain bonds to the fibers varies greatly. That’s because cotton is a plant fiber and is made of cellulose, while silk and wool are animal fibers made of protein.


Red Wine Stain Removal on Cotton and Cellulosics

Think of a wine stain as an acid dye like food coloring (many wines do in fact contain food coloring, one reason wine stains can be difficult to remove). You cannot dye cotton or other plant fibers like linen, rayon, ramie or hemp with food coloring because acid dyes cannot bond chemically with these fabrics (or it will do so very weakly). Therefore, food coloring and wine stains on cotton should simply wash out.

To remove the wine stain, dissolve it with cool water. Lubricate the stain with detergent solution or wet spotter to penetrate and loosen the stain (see Lubricants below); sponge or tamp. Flush with cool water. Repeat until stain is removed or there is no further improvement.

If traces of stain remain, work full-strength liquid detergent into the stain. Wash using hottest water safe for the fabric and the recommended amount of detergent. Make sure the stain is removed before drying, putting a stained fabric in the dryer will set the stain. If the stain persists, re-launder using recommended amounts of detergent and bleach appropriate for the fabric (see Bleaches below).


Red Wine Stain Removal on Silk, Wool and other Hair Fibers

Continuing with the analogy above, acid dyes bond very easily with silk, wool and other animal fibers like angora and cashmere. Therefore, a tannin spotter may be required for stain removal on these fabrics.

After the wine stain is lubricated with the wet spotter, sponge or tamp. Flush with cool water. Repeat the application until the stain is completely removed. If the stain cannot be completely removed, apply a tannin spotter.

The tannin spotter is acidic, and re-activates the dried part of the stain, suspending it in order for it to be flushed out. A small amount of dilute dish-washing liquid can be alternated with applications of white vinegar, a mild acid. Here you’re using “like to dissolve like” and detergency to carry away the acidic foodstuff. Be sure to rinse well with water, and to blot and dry the area.

If the stain is still not removed, you can try 10% acetic acid (see Chemicals below), the use of bleach is not recommended (See Bleaches Below). Remember that dry cleaners have much more powerful chemicals and equipment at their disposal for red wine stain removal.

How to Remove a Red Wine Stain from Carpet

Carpet fibers can be either natural or synthetic. The major synthetic yarns are nylon, olefin, acrylic and polyester. Wool is the natural fiber used in carpet. Cotton and other natural fibers are widely used in rugs. Nylon is the most common carpet material in the United States.

Nylon was designed to be a synthetic substitute for silk. It has a chemical structure similar to silk, so wine stains can bind to its fibers. The other synthetics like polyester and acrylic are not only moisture resistant, but wine stains can’t bind to their fibers. So, to remove wine stains from nylon and wool carpeting use the instructions for silk and wool above. The wet spotter should be adequate for red wine stain removal on polyester and acrylic carpets.

Make sure to thoroughly rinse any soapy residue from carpets. Soapy residue tends to attract dirt and will eventually create another stain.

Note: Before trying a homemade stain remover on your carpeting, you should also consider whether it’s an old or new carpet. A new carpet may still be under warranty and using a homemade stain remover may void it. If your carpet is new, look for products with the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval like Tech Stain Remover (it can also be used on clothes) that may not void your warranty.

Homemade Stain Remover Ingredients

Lubricants and Solvents


In general, use cool or lukewarm water. Hot water will set many stains, but it’s helpful for red wine stain removal on cotton and cellulosics. Be careful using water on silk or wool, water weakens these fabrics. Protein fibers are easier to stretch and tear when wet. On the other hand, cotton and cellulosics are stronger in water.

Glycerin and the Wet Spotter

The most useful ingredient in any red wine stain remover is a lubricating and penetrating agent. Alone, glycerin is a good lubricator, as are pH-neutral dish-washing liquids like Dawn and Joy (with some water added). Or, you can make a wet spotter that incorporates both (i.e. mix one part glycerin, one part liquid detergent and eight parts water). Store in a squeeze bottle and shake before using.

Glycerin or glycerol is a heavy form of alcohol and is sold generically in pharmacies.

Note: Do not use dish-washing machine detergent as a substitute for dish-washing liquid. Dish-washing machine detergents are highly alkaline and will set tannin stains as well as damage protein fibers.


Acetic Acid

A 10% solution of acetic acid can be purchased generically at pharmacies. It is a clear fluid that can be used to remove stains on silk and wool. It must be diluted with 2 parts water for use on cotton and linen (a pretest is recommended). It should not be used on acetate.

Vinegar is 5% acetic acid and can be used as a substitute for the stronger solution. Only white vinegar should be used for stain removal. Cider and wine vinegar have color that can leave a stain. White vinegar can be purchased at grocery stores and pharmacies.

White vinegar should be diluted if you must use it on cotton or linen. It is safe for all other colorfast fibers, but can change the color of some dyes, so always test its effects on an inconspicuous area first.

Ammonia and Alkalies

Do not use Ammonia or other alkalies for wine stain removal. They react with acidic foods and form a permanent salt, or permanent stain. Strong alkalies break down proteins (which is why ammonia is often used on protein stains), and is therefore unsafe for use on silk and wool. For the same reason, you should not use detergent with enzymes on silk or wool.



Commonly used to bleach white cotton, linen, and synthetic fabrics, chlorine bleach can also be used as a disinfectant and stain remover. Chlorine bleach is potent and can weaken fibers.

Chlorine breaks down proteins resulting in weakening of silk, wool, and hair fibers. If exposed long enough and to strong enough concentrations of hypochlorites, protein will disintegrate completely. If allowed to soak in a bleach solution too long, even cotton and linen will be weakened.

Chlorine bleach should not be used on silk, wool, spandex, or fabrics exposed to sunlight (curtains, for example). To avoid damaging your fabric, always pretest bleach on a hidden area and rinse all bleached items thoroughly.

Caution: Chlorine bleach is poisonous. If it comes in contact with the skin or eyes, it will cause burns and irritation. Read all warnings on the label. Never mix chlorine bleach with other cleaning substances, especially ammonia, as this will release chloramine, a highly toxic substance.

Hydrogen Peroxide

The 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide sold in drugstores as a mild antiseptic is a good bleach, and is safe for most surfaces and fibers (though dyed fabrics should be pretested for colorfastness). Be careful not to purchase the stronger solution sold for bleaching hair.

Peroxides are fine for cellulosics, such as cotton, linen, ramie etc., but its alkalinity degrades silk and wool. Hydrogen peroxide also reacts with metals, so fabrics with metallic threads or attachments, as well as cotton colored with natural dyes using metal mordants should be avoided.

Peroxide should be stored in a cool, dark place. Buy small quantities; it loses strength if stored for a long time. Do not use or store peroxide in metal containers. If you pour out too much peroxide, do not pour the excess back in the bottle as peroxide is easily contaminated.

Sodium Perborate

You can purchase sodium perborate under trade names (such as OxiClean) or generically in drugstores. Sold in crystal form, sodium perborate is safe for most fabrics and surfaces (see hydrogen peroxide above), although, once again, pretesting is recommended to assure that your fabric is colorfast.

This oxygen bleach is slower-acting than hydrogen peroxide, and its optimum working temperature is 60°C or 140°F. This temperature is too warm to risk on wool. There is a chance of wool felting at high temperatures. When using this bleach, be sure to rinse treated articles thoroughly.

Instant Stain Removers

So, what do you do when you’re away from home and don’t have your cache of anti-stain weapons at hand? Well, there’s the old stand-by club soda, but does it really remove red wine stains? There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that it does, but as discussed previously, successful red wine stain removal may have more to do with a fresh stain and the right fabric than a fantastic stain remover.

Chemist Pete Wishnok of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discussed club soda’s wine stain removal effectiveness for Scientific American. His conclusion? Plain water probably works as well.

What about commercially available stain removers that you can carry with you? Consumer reports compared three instant stain removers on food stains: Shout Wipes Plus, Tide to Go, and Janie Dry Stick Spot Cleaner. Shout was the best stain remover. But with one exception, it could only remove stains on cotton and polyester.