How to remove chocolate stains (because we all have them, right?)

Hint: The trick is hiding in your pantry already

By Ariel Scotti
March 8, 2021 3:00PM (UTC)
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(Mark Weinberg / Food52)

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Chocolate is the greatest gift to mankind — full stop. You can have it on your birthday via a rich chocolate cake with a luscious ganache, as a beverage when you feel like cozying up with a cup of hot chocolate, or even at the dinner table as a beer-infused sauce for your rib eye. It's true that incorporating chocolate into your meals is easy, but how to remove chocolate stains from your clothes (when you throw table manners out the window at the mere sight of it — we've all been there), is another story.

Now, different people approach stains in different ways; that's why we've got two tried-and-true methods below to nix that delicious eyesore according to your preferences: with pantry staples or super-powered laundry products. Either way, we're sure you'll be pleased and heading back for seconds of the fondue that brought you here in no time.

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The (kinda) au naturel approach

1. Head to the kitchen

First, breathe. Yes, you got a deep, dark chocolatey shmear across your favorite chambray shirt, but don't reach immediately for the bleach. Instead, look to your fruit bowl or pantry for one of two staples you probably already have: a lemon or white vinegar. Both of these acid-based liquids are natural fighters of tannins, the organic compound making your chocolate treat a total headache.

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"Tannins are natural vegetable dyes most often found in plants, like cocoa, and barks," says Gwen Whiting, a co-founder of The Laundress. "With the right products, they can be simple to remove."

To pre-treat your confection conundrum, first, squeeze the juice of a lemon or pour enough vinegar over the stain to properly soak it.

2. Gently help it along

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It could be helpful at this point to take an old toothbrush and very gently tap the liquid into the stain in a blotting motion. If you don't trust yourself not to go hard with the scrubbing, it's also totally fine to skip this step altogether.

3. Stand and soak

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After letting it sit for about five minutes, fully submerge your garment in water to remove that acid-based stain assistant so it doesn't damage your clothes. Then, flip the material over so you're looking at the reverse side of the stain and pour your laundry detergent on it. This will further help break down the stain and prevent it from lingering ever so slightly.

4. Wash and repeat

Now you're ready to throw your clothes into the wash and impatiently wait the hour or so before the rinse cycle finishes up and you can revel in your handiwork. If, however, you still see some leftover stain after it comes out of the wash, toss your shirt back in and give it another go — just be sure not to move on to the dryer until the stain is totally gone.

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"Heat can set the stain, so be sure that it's removed completely before putting it in the dryer," Whiting says.

* * *

Products to the rescue

1. Pretreat

If you're more a detergents-to-the-rescue fan, the first step to tackling that cocoa catastrophe is to lightly go at it with your favorite pre-wash product (think: a Tide To Go pen, a Shout Wipe or The Laundress Stain Solution), especially if you're away from home, at your child's classmate's birthday party, and unable to strip down and launder your clothes that very moment.

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If there aren't any proper stain solutions available at this party, (and what kind of party is this?!) it's best to wear that chocolate cupcake frosting like a badge of honor until you're home.

"Don't use any random soaps (or rub it in with) paper towels or napkins," Whiting's co-founder, Lindsey Boyd, says. "If you're out and get a stain, wait until you're home and have the appropriate stain removal treatments. Not using the right solutions will just make the stain worse."

2. Work in an oxidized powder

That tub of OxiClean or The Laundress' All-Purpose Bleach Alternative on your washroom shelf is a huge help in your battle against this stain.

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"For an extra stain-fighting boost," Boyd recommends pouring the powder over your dampened, pre-treated clothing and adding a little water as you go to create a chocolate-busting paste of sorts. Like in the second step above, you're welcome to take a toothbrush and super gently help the product along here.

3. Soak accordingly

After letting your powder concoction sit for 10 minutes, fully submerge the stain in a tub of water: Boyd advises that cotton and synthetics can handle hot temperatures, but silk, wool and other delicates need a cooler stream. Make sure the chocolatey part of your clothes is properly soaked and take a 30-minute stroll.

4. Let enzymes do the work

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Now, you're ready for the big, enzyme-fueled finale.

"A detergent powered with enzymes will help to tackle and dissolve the stain," Boyd says, which might sound very specific (and expensive and wasteful) to own an enzyme-based detergent just to tackle this stain, but you might be surprised to learn that most of our favorites fall into this category, like Arm & HammerTideOxiCleanThe Laundress' Signature Detergent and Seventh Generation, just to name a few. Pour your detergent of choice into the wash and let those powerful enzymes go to work.

Your stain should be totally vanquished by now, but if it's not (and you're gonna go at it again), don't forget to skip the dryer until it's gone.

Until next time, Nutella pudding.

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