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How to Remove Chocolate Stains Out of Fabric

  • The Hate Stains Co.
  • 6 min read

Chocolate's known for its decadence and antioxidant health benefits, not to mention that it sure as heck stains if you get on your furniture, carpeting, or clothes. Americans spend $21 billion on chocolate in its various forms annually. So what's in one of America's favorite treats that prompts us to nosh on 11 pounds of chocolate per person every year?

The lure of chocolate may be that it has some 300 different chemicals in it that hits our pleasure zones. In short, it makes us happy. It's the chocolate stains it often leaves behind that makes us cringe at the thought of cleaning them. Learn more about how to remove chocolate stains below.

Why Chocolate Creates Stains

All chocolate contains tannins. Tannins, for the science-minded chocolate connoisseur, is an acidic polyphenol. Polyphenols are found in plants and include flavonoids and tannic acid, a form of tannin. Flavonoids are anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that protect your body's cells from disease. Tannic acid has historically been used as dye and for tanning garments. Combine tannins and oils and you've got hard to remove stains.

What if I get chocolate on my favorite tee shirt and forget about it?

If you mean you threw it in the hamper and there it sat for a couple of months, it may be toast. The golden rule is to work out a stain as soon as possible. That's not always possible because we don't always realize we've stained a fabric until someone else points it out or until we slip into our PJs for the night. The longer a chocolate stain sits without pretreatment or washing, the harder it's going to be to remove.

Does that mean chocolate stains are permanent if they sit too long?

Not necessarily. While true that in regard to chocolate stains, time isn't your friend, there are some ways you can try to work out the stain. The Internet lists many ways to remove chocolate, but it doesn't always tell you what fabric can survive what remedy.

For instance, hydrogen peroxide can remove a chocolate stain from a light-color or white cotton tee shirt, but you'd never use it to remove a chocolate stain from a dark gabardine jumper because it will bleach it. Hydrogen peroxide is a weak acid. Depending on the pH of your treatment and the fabric, discoloration of varying degrees can occur.

If the chocolate stain has gone unnoticed or has been hidden in the depths of your dirty laundry for an unknown amount of time, it could be too late to remove it completely. A good rule of thumb is to launder your clothing as soon as possible for the best possible outcome. As far as carpeting or upholstery goes, it can go unnoticed for a very long time. So when you do notice it, don't delay trying to remove it.

How to Remove Chocolate Stains Out of Fabric (and why pH matters)

Before you choose a stain remover, it's important to understand which ones are acidic and which ones are alkaline. The pH scale tops out at 14 which is the most alkaline (corrosive). Examples are bleach, ammonia and tile cleaners.

On the low end of the scale are the acids, which can be just as corrosive (think battery acid). Examples of mild-to-moderate acids are toilet bowl cleaner, vinegar and lemon juice. Smack dab in the middle with a pH of 6 to 8 are the neutrals like dish soap and rubbing alcohol. Water is completely neutral at a 7.

So why is knowing the pH of cleaning products important to removing chocolate stains? So you don't ruin your clothing, upholstery or your expensive carpet.

Here are some holistic and commercial cleaning agents for removing chocolate stains out of clothing, carpeting or furniture fabric:

  • hydrogen peroxide (acidic)
  • white vinegar (acidic)
  • baking soda (alkaline)
  • dishwashing soap (neutral)
  • lemon juice (acidic)
  • rubbing alcohol (neutral)
  • laundry detergent (acidic)
  • bleach (alkaline)
  • colorfast enzyme cleaner (pH varies, breaks down proteins)
  • colorfast bleach or detergent (works best in alkaline conditions) 

All these are effective on both the tannins and the oils in chocolate. Read your manufacturer's label if you have one and use the remover right for your fabric. Consider this knowledge like pre-treatment. Now on to the chocolate stain removal.

Do you use hot or cold water for chocolate stains?

This depends on when you catch the stain. If you catch the chocolate stain early, cold water will keep it from setting into the threads of your fabric. If the chocolate is already set in, hot water is best to remove it. The stain removal process is different depending on what you are removing the stain from, like washable clothing, carpeting or upholstery.

It helps to know what your fabric is made of, and always test for colorfastness before adding any natural or commercial chemical to a stain.

How to remove chocolate stains out of washable clothes?

The tannins and oil from milk chocolate, cocoa and dark chocolate are made with different types and amounts of oil. Chocolate's natural oils are easier to remove from washable fabrics like cotton and polyester than vegetable oil. The trick is to approach a chocolate stain like you would any plant-based stain. 

Here's the process:

Pretreatment Steps

  1. Pretreat the stain with an acid to break it down if the fabric is light or white. White vinegar is a go-to, but you can also use lemon-juice. It is best not to use hydrogen peroxide unless the stain persists.
  2. Leave the acid on the stain for five minutes. Gently tamping the stain with a toothbrush may help work the acid in and loosen the stain.
  3. Rinse thoroughly.
  4. Mix a full tablespoon of grease-cutting dishwashing liquid with three cups warm water (90 to 110 degrees). Work the solution underneath the stain, flushing it well. Do not rinse. Most chocolate stains will lift enough to be laundered.

Washing the Garment

Machine wash according to manufacturer's label.

Do not dry treated chocolate stains in the dryer unless you are certain that the stain is completely gone. Any residual chocolate stain that has gone through the dryer will likely never come out.

For Persistent Chocolate Stains

If you have not dried your garment in the dryer and notice after washing that the stain persists, then try an enzyme cleaner per label instructions. Leaving it on the stain for 15 minutes or so may work on the proteins enough to remove the stain. Machine wash again.

As a last resort, try hydrogen peroxide or an oxygenated bleach. Test on a spot that will go unnoticed should the peroxide or bleach cause any damage to your garment. You can apply hydrogen peroxide directly on the chocolate stain. Bleach will need to be diluted. Use one teaspoon of bleach to one cup of water. Leave onto the stain no more than one minute before flushing with warm water.

If the stain is still in the garment, try your local dry cleaner.

How to remove chocolate stains from carpeting?

You won't necessarily have to get your carpet professionally cleaned to remove a chocolate stain. If the stain is old and crusty or ground into the carpet, try scraping as much of the chocolate up that you can with a butter knife. You can use a tablespoon of clear ammonia to a half cup of water to saturate the stain, but try not to saturate the carpet pad. Remove excess with white paper towels.

Next, mix up a solution of 1/4 tsp. dishwashing detergent with one quart of water. Blot the solution into the stain. If the stain is being lifted, repeat the process until it is gone. Rinse with tap water. Blot dry. If the stain is still there, you may need to use carpet cleaner or get the spot professionally cleaned.

How to remove chocolate stains off the couch?

Use one tablespoon of liquid dishwashing detergent mixed in two cups of cool water and apply to the stain with a clean sponge or a white cloth. Blot up any excess liquid. Repeat until the stain is gone. Rinse with cold water and blot dry. If the stain is too stubborn to remove, you may need to try dry cleaning solvent, following the same process of blotting and repeating until the stain is no more.

By this time, you ought to be a chocolate stain removal pro!

Stains come in two types: water-based and oil-based. Chocolate is the latter. As you've probably noticed, there's a bit of a learning curve when it comes to stain removal. Of course, you don't have to know about the role of pH in removing chocolate stains, but it's a safe bet that you will lessen the chance of damaging your clothes, carpet and upholstery if you choose the right cleaning product for your fabric.

Choosing something pH neutral or mildly acidic or mildly alkaline to get rid of any new or set-in, stubborn chocolate stain. Remember: prep, treat, rinse and relax. Now that you've tasted the sweet success of a stain removal pro, you can move on with your day wondering where in the world you stashed that last piece of chocolate decadence.

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