How to Remove Baby Spit-Up Stains
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)?
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.