Your favorite warm beverage can become a foe when it leaves unsightly stains behind. Follow these three easy methods for removing tea and coffee stains from mugs.

By Alicia Chilton
November 06, 2020
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Just as you're savoring that last drop of coffee or tea, an ugly ring on the bottom of your favorite mug appears. While that beverage certainly tasted delicious, the tannins that give tea and coffee its flavor can also leave behind dark stains on dishware. These coffee and tea stains are sometimes easy to remove, but others require a little more work, depending on the material of the mug and how long the stain has set. White is a popular choice for dishes, but can make stains stick out even more and the pristine color might leave you wondering just how to remove coffee stains from white mugs.

Before you get to work, you'll need to know the material of your mug. Some, like stainless steel or stoneware, take special considerations. Many mugs can go in the dishwasher, but for heavy, set-in stains, giving the item a pre-wash treatment can help eliminate stubborn spots. Use one of these methods (or a combination of all three for tough stains) to combat coffee and tea stains.

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1. Soak with Soap

Dish soap is formulated to lift stains and can be your first line of defense to get coffee stains out of mugs. Squirt a little soap into the mug, add enough warm water to cover the stain, and swish the mixture around. Let the mug sit for a few minutes (longer if the stain is set in) and allow the dish soap to penetrate the stain. Once the soap has had a chance to work, scrub the stain with a sponge.

To remove coffee stains from travel mugs with stainless steel interiors, use a soft sponge ($6, Walmart). Abrasive scrubbers can scratch the surface. Other materials, like standard ceramic dishware, can take the scouring side of a sponge, but use a light hand.

2. Scrub with Baking Soda

If soap doesn’t do the trick, here’s how to clean coffee stains out of mugs with baking soda. Sprinkle about 1 tsp. baking soda on the stain and add a little water to make a paste. Scrub the stain with a damp, soft sponge. The gentle, abrasive nature of baking soda helps lift coffee or tea stains from the surface. Once you've finished scrubbing, rinse the mug well to remove any remaining baking soda.

3. Turn to Vinegar

Vinegar is another tried-and-true cleaning essential. To put this powerhouse to work on coffee and tea stains, fill your mug halfway with distilled white vinegar ($2.50, Target), then fill to the top with very hot water. Allow the mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes to give the vinegar time to work. After soaking, scrub away the stains using dish soap and a soft sponge, then rinse.

How to Clean Coffee Stains in Travel Mugs

Some travel mugs have stainless-steel interiors. This material is great for keeping beverages warm and is thankfully pretty easy to clean. The soap, baking soda, and vinegar cleaning methods can all be used on stainless steel. While dishware mugs can often go in the dishwasher, read up on the manufacturer’s instructions before doing the same with travel mugs.

Credit: Werner Straube

Tricks and Tips to Get Coffee Stains Out of Mugs (Tea Stains, Too!)

Keep these tips in mind when cleaning coffee stains from travel mugs or removing a tea stain from your favorite cup.

  1. Choose the Right Tools: If your mugs are tall, invest in a bottle brush that will adequately reach the bottom. Bonus: baby bottle brushes ($3, Target) often come with a small scrubber designed to get into nooks and crannies, like the tight spaces on a travel mug lid.
  2. Try Denture Tablets: Denture tablets ($3, Target) work wonders on keeping teeth clean, and their effervescent action can do the same for mugs. Follow the package instructions for use and be sure to add enough water to completely cover the coffee or tea stain. After the tablet has gone to work, rinse and wash the mug well with dish soap.
  3. The best defense is a good offense. Coffee or tea stains won’t have a chance to form if you give mugs a quick rinse after you finish your beverage. Even if you can’t wash the mug right away, rinsing will remove any lingering drops of coffee or tea. Once these remnants are gone, you don’t need to worry about stains forming.

Keep in mind that specialty materials like handmade stoneware and delicate porcelain require extra TLC. Avoid abrasive scrubbers and follow the artisan or manufacturer’s guidelines.

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