How to Remove Ketchup from a White Shirt

How to Remove Ketchup from a White Shirt

Murphy's law says if something can splash, plop, run, or spill, it will happen when you're wearing lucky khakis or your most beloved blazer. Fortunately, once you learn how to handle troublesome stains, you can keep your most valuable clothes from winding up in the rag pile. Removing stains and keeping them from setting permanently takes a little know-how and a bit of elbow grease, but it's worth it to preserve your wardrobe and your budget.

All too common, and notoriously hard to remove: the ketchup stain. If you're like most diners in the Western world, you've overshot a plate of fries more often than you care to admit. Here's how to tackle the aftermath.

1 Remove the culprit. Scrape as much ketchup off the fabric as you can, as soon as you can. Use a spoon, butter knife, or credit card. Try not to rub it in further.

2 Force it into a back-pedal. Run cold water through the back of the stained fabric as soon as possible. This forces the stain back out. (Don't run it through the front because you'll only set it in deeper.)

3 Get it in a lather. Rub a liquid detergent (or shaving cream, if you have it) into the stain, using a gentle, circular motion beginning at the outer edges of the stain and working inward.

4 Lather, rinse, repeat. Keep soaping and rinsing until the stain is fully gone. Hold the fabric up to a bright light. If you see the slightest hint of brown or pink, repeat the previous steps.

5 Use the big guns. The minute you can get some, apply a stain remover. Use a wipe, stick, gel, or spray. Allow it to saturate and do its job for at least a half hour.

6 Launder as usual. Wash the garment as you normally would. Check for the stain by holding the garment up to a bright light before tumble drying. Use caution here: If the stain isn't gone, the heat can set it permanently.

7 One last blast. If you still see a shadow of the stain, re-treat with stain remover, and let it sit overnight before laundering again.

8 Use bleach. If the garment is white or light colored (and you've tested it for colorfastness), use a mild bleaching agent. Try hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, or lemon juice dabbed on with a damp sponge. Allow it to work for at least an hour, then relaunder.

In the early 1800s, enterprising salesmen like Archibald Miles and Dr. John Cook Bennett sold ketchup in pill form. It was touted as a medicine against certain ailments such as jaundice, diarrhea, and dyspepsia.

Five More Common Stains (and How to Remove Them)

1. Blood

If the stain is new, soak the stained area in cold water with a splash of ammonia for a half hour. If the stain has set, dampen it with warm water, then pour on some unseasoned meat tenderizer, gently dabbing it into the stain. Cover with a lightly dampened, clean washcloth or dish towel and leave it overnight. The next day, rinse with warm water mixed with a few spoonfuls of ammonia, and launder as normal. Do not tumble dry until you check the stain. If the stain persists, carefully apply bleach (test for colorfastness!) or dry-cleaning solvent from the inside of the garment, and allow it to soak for an hour. Wash again as usual.

2. Coffee

Soak immediately in lukewarm water. Gently dab the stain with laundry detergent or a vinegar-and-water solution. Launder the garment in the hottest water recommended for the fabric, check to see if the stain is gone, and repeat as needed. Avoid bar soap, which can set the stain permanently.

3. Ring-around-the-collar

Rub white chalk over the stain. It will lift out some of the oils in the collar, then you can launder as normal. (It won't remove the stain completely, like bleach does, but it will improve the look.) If the stain persists, launder again, using a cup of distilled white vinegar in the rinse water. If that doesn't work, launder again adding a cup of baking soda in the main wash. If the stain remains, and the shirt is white or colorfast, use diluted bleach dabbed on with a sponge, then launder as normal.

4. Ballpoint pen

For ballpoint pen ink stains on your dress-shirt pockets, rinse the stain with glycerin, not water, at your earliest opportunity. Let the fabric soak for at least 10 minutes, up to an hour, then apply detergent mixed with water and add two or three drops of ammonia. Let the ammonia soak in for an hour, blotting occasionally. Rinse thoroughly. If the stain remains, dab on a solution of bleach and water, but only if the garment is white or colorfast.

5. Crayon

Scrape off the excess wax with a spoon, butter knife, or credit card. Lay the stained area face down on a white paper towel and cover the garment with another paper towel. Smooth a warm iron over the top paper towel. The heat will melt the greasy wax, which will be absorbed by the paper. Repeat the process, using fresh paper towels until no more stain transfers to the paper towel.


A garment that isn't colorfast may bleed its dye in the wash and stain other clothing. Luckily, it's easy to test colorfastness before washing. Simply soak the fabric in soapy (room temperature) water, and, after a half-hour or so, take it out and check for dye in the water. Set your garment on paper towels to dry. If no dye bleeds into the water or onto the towels, your garment is colorfast.

A Glossary of Common Household Stain Removers, A to Z


Helps fade perspiration stains from light-colored and white shirts (see How to Make a Dingy T-Shirt White Again).

Baking soda. Removes odors and helps remove stains from chrome and stainless steel.

Bleach. Probably not your first line of defense, but bleach works well on faint, lingering stains (especially food or dirt marks) on white cotton.

Cream of tartar. Excellent on rust stains and food stains; mix it with lemon juice to make a paste.

Denture-cleaning tablets. Great for food stains on tablecloths; stretch the fabric over a bowl, dissolve one tablet in ½ cup water, and pour directly on stain or spot.

Dishwasher detergent (liquid). Use this for any stain that you might normally bleach (heed fabric-care labels regarding bleaching).

Dishwashing liquid. Great spot-treater; use undiluted on tough stains like chocolate.

Glycerin. Effective on sticky stains such as tree sap, gum, and tar; also useful for juice and condiment stains (such as those from ketchup and mustard).

Hydrogen peroxide. Very effective on blood stains and stains on bathroom tile and grout; excellent for bleaching out stains on white clothes (mix 1 cup hydrogen peroxide with 1 tablespoon ammonia for a great liquid stain-fighter).

Laundry detergent. Seems obvious, right? When you cannot launder clothing right away, spot-treat with some detergent rubbed directly onto the spot.

Lemon juice. Use this to bleach spots out of white cotton and linen; use as a pre-laundry stain treatment for diaper, baby formula, grass, and tomato sauce stains.

Meat tenderizer (unseasoned only). Mix with very cold water to treat protein-based stains such as blood, milk, broth, or egg yolk stains.

Mineral spirits. An intense treatment for very stubborn greases like asphalt, tar, and motor oil; do not use on fragile or delicate materials; wash clothing thoroughly after treatment and air-dry.

Rubbing alcohol. Great for grass stains, shoe polish stains, and plant-based food stains.

Salt. Combine salt and lemon juice to tackle mildew stains; sprinkle salt on red wine or grape juice stains to prohibit setting until fabric can be laundered.

Seltzer. Safe for any fabric or surface that can be treated with water; prohibits stains from setting and brings staining agents to the surface of fabrics.

Shampoo. Use this for dirt and mud stains, cosmetic stains, and ringaround the collar.

Shaving cream. Shaving cream is basically aerated soap; use it to immediately spot-treat stains by applying it to fabric, then rubbing the area with a wet washcloth.

Sunlight. Not only will sunlight naturally bleach and fade stains, but it is germicidal; laying cottons and other fabrics out in direct sunlight can fade scorch marks, blood stains, mildew stains, and diaper stains; if you have the space, consider dragging mattresses out on hot, dry, sunny days to whiten and refresh them.

WD-40 lubricant. A great spot-treater for oil-based stains such as lipstick, salad dressing, meaty sauce, or motor oil.

White vinegar. Use undiluted as a spot-treater on suede items; on other fabrics, it's great for beer or berry stains.