There’s nothing like the satisfaction of successfully dying some frosting red — only to realize you’ve also turned your fingers red in the process. When you see it somewhere it doesn’t belong, food coloring can certainly seem like it's there to stay. But there are actually many easy and affordable ways to make sure a food coloring mishap doesn’t permanently change the color of your skin, kitchen or fabrics.
Will Food Coloring Stain Skin?
When people see their fingertips, an item of clothing or a piece of furniture spotted with accidental food dye spills, they often have questions. Will food coloring stain a toilet, they wonder? Or stain skin? The short answer is: no. At least not permanently. But sometimes it does take a bit of scrubbing and something more than just soap and water to get red food coloring off your hands.
If your hands are stained with food coloring, the first step is to thoroughly wash them with warm water and soap. With light staining, this might be the only step you need. If that doesn’t work, though, there are a few household ingredients you can try to get food coloring off the skin. Try scrubbing the stained skin with:
- A baking soda-based toothpaste.
- Rubbing alcohol.
- A mixture of half baking soda and half white vinegar.
- A mixture of coarse salt and white vinegar made into a paste.
Let any of these solutions sit on your hands for a few minutes. Then, do another wash with warm water and soap and repeat until the discoloration is gone. All the aggressive washing can be hard on skin, though. Once you’ve removed the food coloring, you may want to put some lotion on your skin to avoid dryness or irritation later.
Getting Food Coloring Out of Hard Surfaces
Sometimes, food coloring makes it onto hard surfaces, such as countertops or bathroom tiles. If this happens, quickness is key. Make sure to blot at the spill as soon as possible to sop up excess wetness. Then, quickly wash it with warm water and soap. When you catch some food coloring spills early enough on certain surfaces, that’s all it takes.
If the stain is still there after a rinse, you can try using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to get rid of it. Or, you can make a homemade paste. Mix just enough water into several spoonfuls of baking soda to make it into a thick paste. Then, apply it generously to the stain, being careful not to scrub it in since baking soda is an abrasive ingredient. Let it sit untouched for at least two hours. Gently wash away the paste with warm water and soap, and repeat up to three times if the stain keeps gradually lifting.
If this method doesn’t work, you can try using a bleach removal product such as OxiClean, but make sure the surface is safe for bleach use.
Removing Food Coloring From Fabric
If you’re using food coloring in a baking or art project, you might accidentally get a little bit on your clothes or upholstery. Most food colorings don’t permanently stain, but it's good to act fast. As soon as you notice the spill, dab at it with a paper towel to remove any excess wetness, being careful not to spread the stain around.
Next, soak the stained item in a bucket filled with lukewarm water, a small drop of laundry detergent and one tablespoon of household ammonia. If you don’t have ammonia, you can replace it with two tablespoons of white vinegar. Check on it after 15 minutes to see how the stain is doing. Scrub at it with your hands or a gentle sponge and see if it's totally removed. If not, let it sit for at least another 15 minutes and check again. Once the stain is gone, launder the item as you normally would as soon as possible.
If the stain remains, it’s possible you didn’t get to it fast enough and may need to use a bleach product. Before you do, though, make sure that the fabric is safe with bleach.
Freelance writer based in Brooklyn with interest in home, lifestyle, and science topics.