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How to Remove Baby Spit-Up Stains

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

I love your blog and the Advice Smackdown and was an avid reader of Zero to Forty, your pregnancy calendar, when I was Zero to Forty. Now I’m a new mom (my beautiful girl is just a month or so younger than the adorable Ezra) and find myself in the situation where my wardrobe seems to be getting smaller and not bigger. I still have weight to lose from the pregnancy (and the fact that I was overweight to start with) but that’s not my only wardrobe problem. My problem lies in the spit up. The spit-up milk or pears or the I-just-ate-20-minutes-ago-mom-and-will-now-ralph-on-you-spit-up spit up. It seems like Courtney just likes to use my clothes as target practice. Or maybe she’s trying to tell me something about my wardrobe. Hm, I hadn’t thought about that.

Anyway, I just can’t ever seem to get the crud from staining my clothes. It doesn’t seem to matter how quickly I get said item into the washing machine, it just seems to stain. Now I have all of these shirts with stains all over them and they won’t go away. My wardrobe for never leaving the house is covered, but I’m beginning to run out of options for when I go out in public.

How do I recapture my clothes and what should I use on them when this happens again (like later today)?

Thank you!!

Pre-Treat Those Spit Up Stains

Ah, baby spit-up stains. So common, so stubborn, so…crusty and yellow and so apt to reappear months after you were SURE you dealt with it properly.

The key to removing spit-up stains is pre-treating. You can toss it in the washing machine within five minutes of the upchucking incident, but without properly pre-treating it, the crud is just going to stay put. For your baby’s clothes, you probably want to avoid the commercially prepared stain treatments like Shout or bleach pens — and even for your own clothes if your baby’s skin is sensitive and you do a lot of naked cuddle time. (If you DO use these on your clothing, always opt for a second rinse cycle.) For natural stain pre-treating, this is pretty much the universal method:

1. Deal with the spit up as soon as possible. Remove as much of the spit-up from the surface as possible with a stiff-bristled brush (if it’s old and crusty), or blot with a damp rag (if it’s fresh and wet). Never rub or grind the stuff in.

2. Coat the stain with baking soda. Pour it on. Add a little more.

3. Pour club soda over the baking soda and let it fizz.You can scrub it with the brush again if needed. (You’ll probably need to for stuff like formula, prunes, orange vegetables, etc. Breastmilk and other fruit stains can generally just go right into the wash.)

4. Wash in the warmest water the fabric will allow with a mild detergent. (And remember that more detergent does NOT equal more washing power — it’ll mostly just result in more residue on your clothes and irritation for baby.)

5. Amp up your wash cycle. If you’re washing a whole load of stained clothing, try adding a scoop of an oxygen-based cleanser to boost the power/efficiency of your detergent.

6. Line or air dry whenever possible. The dryer will just cause the stain to set. Once you’ve determined that you’ve removed the stain, you can let the item tumble dry.

Depending on how old the stain is (and whether it’s been sent through the dryer on high), this method should work on old stains. I’ve read complaints that certain types of formula, unfortunately, just flat-out cause impossible stains. I’ve also read that old breastmilk stains will fade if you lay them flat in the sunlight after washing. (This would have been great to know BEFORE I tossed all the stained hand-me-downs from Noah — I didn’t know at the time that stains tend to reappear after a long time in storage. Apparently I could have saved all those onesies with a little sunlight and lemon juice, DAMMIT.)

If the baking soda/club soda method doesn’t work, move on to the Shout (I like the gel) or some other on-the-spot laundry product. Brush/dab, pre-treat, wash on warm (or a warm soak/cold wash), second rinse, let dry out in the sun.


Published June 22, 2009. Last updated January 22, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Bitts

    June 22, 2009 at 7:31 am

    As Amy alluded to, it’s the formula that’s staining so permanently. Thin the food with straight-up water and save the formula for the bottle and the food spit-up stains will be much easier to get out.
    Like Amy said, breastmilk (straight or spit up) doesn’t stain at all — the food it was mixed with did sometimes, though.

  • Elizabeth

    June 22, 2009 at 9:06 am

    A paste of oxygen-based stuff, let to sit on the stain for a few hours, will take out anything, in my experience. Including the dye in brightly-colored things, so be careful.

  • Liss

    June 22, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Um, I promise you that breastmilk, especially spit-up breastmilk, most definitely will stain. And, as Amy mentioned, the clothes will appear stain-free but will have magically reappeared when you pull the clothes out of storage a couple of years later.
    I have had great luck, even with 2-year-old reappearing stains, by doing a soak/prewash in Oxyclean then a regular warm-water wash, then letting the clothes hang or sit in the sun to dry. They make a baby formulation of Oxyclean that has more protein targeting (or something) that really does work better on baby stains than the regular stuff, so I use that for the tough stains.

  • bethany actually

    June 22, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    I’ve had excellent success with a much simpler stain-removal method: soaking. I’ll put a dab of liquid laundry detergent, liquid Ivory, or even any old shampoo (yes, really!) on the stain, rub it in a little with my fingers. Then I soak the whole item either in the water-filled washing machine or a large bowl of water for as long as a day or two before washing it normally. I avoid drying stained items in the dryer till I know the stains are gone.

  • Lorna

    June 22, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I have not found breastmilk stains at all – comes out of both my husband and my clothing with just purex and warm water wash. For stains – right before i throw the item in the wash I dampen the area and then rub dove soap on it… then rub together then throw in the wash. This has worked on barf, blood, grass, grease… i have got all my friends doing it – it really works.

  • paranoid

    June 23, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I find that breastmilk stains like crazy! For a while there, all of my t-shirts had little rings around my nipples from leaking — oh, so attractive. And Oxyclean didn’t seem to do anything to remove them.
    The best stain remover I’ve found is Shout Advanced for greasy stains. It’s an aerosol-type can and it smells horrible, but it really works! It even got the old stains out of some shirts I had thought were permanently ruined.

  • Jean

    June 23, 2009 at 10:44 am

    or, you could try plain old toothpaste, the white paste kind. It works on getting out formula stains and is wonderful!

  • Erin

    June 23, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    I actually use baby wipes to clean up the spit up right away rather than water and a cloth. There is something in those baby wipes that tends to work really well. I have used them for everything since having my first son including cleaning up dog barf off the carpet. The wipes are better than the carpet cleaners.
    So give a baby wipe a try before washing and it may solve your problem.

  • Lee Ann

    July 30, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Yes, breastmilk stains. I know this because I have never used formula. I just pulled out my newborn size stuff today for the upcoming baby and there are spit up stains on everything. I sprayed with oxyclean, laundered and hung out to dry in the bright sun. The sunshine removed all the stains. Now my question is, will the stains come back again? My baby isn’t due till December but I knew the stains would be there and Michigan doesn’t have bright sunny days in December to bleach clothes….

  • Mouse

    August 17, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I started unpacking some baby clothes to take inventory for our baby due in February. Those clothes have been packed away for 6+ years, and I was disappointed to see yellow stains on so many pieces. I realized they must be some stains that originally disappeared with my first child and then had the epiphany that “Amalah touched on that subject this summer!” So very happy to have these archives!

  • Heather

    February 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    We have a very large formula throw-up stain on our nice comforter and it was washed and dried without any pre-treating (not my doing). Now it looks like a big greasy wet spot on our nice quality comforter and when you touch it you can feel that it’s stiff, like the stuff got into the weave of the fabric and fused it together… I tried treating it with Dreft stain remover and then rewashing and (bad idea) drying again, to obviously no avail. I have NO idea what to do to get this stain out, especially because A. it’s a giant thick king size comforter, so soaking is not an option unless i did it in the bathtub and how in the heck would I be able to wring it out? Or maybe I’d be able to just soak the spot where the stain is. and B. We live in an apartment building and do not have the option to hang/line dry anything. It’s actually a lease violation to hang any items out on our balcony, but again, this comforter is HUGE so it really would not be feasible and I wouldn’t want to sun bleach it anyway because it’s a dark color.

    What would be the best method to dealing with this stain? Basically the only drying option is our dryer, but I would want to make sure it’s out before putting it in there again – another problem I’m not sure how to get around is that since it’s a medium dark gray color, when it’s wet I wouldn’t be able to see the stain to tell if it’s gone or not… Any HELP would be greatly appreciated!!!

  • CS Calkins

    December 1, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    DIG the DAMMIT!!!