How to get formula stains out of clothes

As any parent knows, dealing with formula stains on clothes can be a frustrating and never-ending battle. Whether it’s a tiny dribble down the front of a onesie or a massive explosion that coats an entire outfit, formula stains can be stubborn and difficult to remove. However, with the right techniques and products, it is possible to effectively treat and remove formula stains, even on your most delicate fabrics.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about tackling those pesky formula stains, from the best pre-treatment methods to laundry tips and tricks that will have your baby’s clothes looking good as new. Get ready to wave goodbye to those unsightly yellow or brown splotches and keep your little one’s wardrobe fresh and stain-free.

get formula stains out of clothes

Formula Stains

Before we dive into the stain-busting methods, it’s helpful to understand a bit more about what formula stains are and why they can be so tricky to remove. Infant formula is typically made from a combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and various vitamins and minerals. The specific ingredients can vary between different formula brands and types, but they generally contain a blend of milk-based proteins, vegetable oils, and added nutrients.

When a formula comes into contact with fabric, the proteins, fats, and sugars in the formula can bind to the fibres, creating a stubborn stain. These stains often have a yellowish or brownish hue and can be difficult to remove, especially if they’ve had time to set in. Additionally, formula stains can sometimes appear greasier or oilier than other types of food stains.

Another factor that makes formula stains challenging is the sheer volume that babies can produce. Spit-up, drool, and accidental spills can quickly saturate an entire outfit, making the stain that much harder to tackle. And of course, the earlier you can treat a formula stain, the better, as fresh stains are always easier to remove than those that have had time to dry and set.

Pre-Treating Formula Stains

The key to successfully removing formula stains is to act quickly and use the right pre-treatment techniques. Here are some of the most effective methods for pre-treating fresh formula stains:

  1. Blot and Rinse: As soon as a formula stain occurs, gently blot the area with a clean, absorbent cloth or paper towel to soak up as much of the spill as possible. Avoid rubbing, as this can push the stain deeper into the fabric. Next, rinse the stained area with cool, running water to help dilute the formula and prevent it from setting.
  2. Use an Enzymatic Stain Remover: Enzymatic stain removers, such as those made by brands like Biz or Persil, contain special enzymes that break down the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in formula, making them highly effective at treating these types of stains. Simply apply the stain remover directly to the affected area, let it sit for a few minutes, and then launder as usual.
  3. Try a Baking Soda Paste: Mix a small amount of baking soda with just enough water to form a thick paste. Gently rub this paste into the stain, let it sit for 15-20 minutes, and then rinse. The baking soda will help lift and absorb the stain.
  4. Apply Dish Soap: A small amount of gentle, grease-cutting dish soap can be surprisingly effective at tackling formula stains. Simply dab a bit of dish soap directly onto the stain, let it sit for a few minutes, and then launder as usual.
  5. Use an Oxygen-Based Bleach: For white or light-coloured fabrics, consider using an oxygen-based bleach, such as OxiClean or Clorox 2. These products contain powerful oxidizing agents that can help break down and lift formula stains. Follow the product’s instructions carefully, as over-bleaching can damage delicate fabrics.

Laundry Tips for Formula Stains

Once you’ve pre-treated the stain, it’s time to tackle it in the laundry. Here are some tips for getting formula stains out in the wash:

  1. Check the Garment Care Label: Always check the care label on the garment to ensure you’re using the appropriate water temperature, cycle, and detergent. Delicate fabrics may require a gentle cycle or hand-washing, while tougher fabrics can typically handle hotter water and more aggressive agitation.
  2. Use an Effective Detergent: Look for a detergent that is specifically formulated to tackle tough stains, such as those with enzymes or other stain-fighting ingredients. Avoid using fabric softener, as it can set formula stains.
  3. Wash in Hot Water: For the best results, wash formula-stained items in the hottest water recommended for that fabric. The heat will help break down and lift the stain.
  4. Soak Before Washing: If a formula stain is particularly stubborn, try soaking the item in a sink or bucket of warm water mixed with an enzyme-based stain remover or laundry detergent for 30 minutes to an hour before washing. This can help loosen and dissolve the stain.
  5. Avoid Putting Stained Items in the Dryer: Instead, hang or lay the item flat to air dry. The heat from the dryer can set in any remaining stain, making it even harder to remove.
  6. Repeat as Needed: If the stain is still visible after the first wash, don’t hesitate to re-treat and rewash the item. It may take several cycles to fully remove a stubborn formula stain.

Tackling Tough, Set-In Formula Stains

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, formula stains can remain, especially if they’ve had time to set in. Here are some additional tips for removing those persistent, set-in stains:

  1. Use a Stain Removing Tool: Invest in a small, handheld stain removal brush or stick, like those made by Tide or Persil. These tools have stiff bristles that can help agitate the fabric and work the stain remover deeper into the fibres.
  2. Try Vinegar or Lemon Juice: The acidity in white vinegar or lemon juice can help break down the proteins and fats in formula stains. Mix a solution of one part vinegar or lemon juice to one part water, and sponge it onto the stain before washing.
  3. Sunlight Power: The UV rays in natural sunlight can help lift and fade stubborn stains. If possible, hang or lay the stained item outside in direct sunlight for several hours before washing.
  4. Consider Dry Cleaning: For delicate fabrics or set-in stains that just won’t budge, take the item to a professional dry cleaner. The specialized solvents and techniques used in dry cleaning can often remove even the toughest formula stains.
  5. Use a Stain Removing Pen: Portable stain removal pens, like those made by Tide or Shout, can be a lifesaver for on-the-go stain treatment. Simply dab the pen’s formula directly onto the stain and let it work its magic before washing.

Preventing Formula Stains

Of course, the best way to deal with formula stains is to try to prevent them in the first place. Here are some tips for keeping formula from leaving its mark on your little one’s clothes:

  1. Use a Bib or Burp Cloth: Invest in plenty of bibs and burp cloths, and make sure to use them every time you feed your baby. This will help catch any drips or spills before they can reach their outfit.
  2. Feed in the Bathtub: If possible, try to feed your baby in the bathtub or another easy-to-clean surface. This will contain any messy formula spills and make cleanup a breeze.
  3. Change Clothes Frequently: Keep a close eye on your baby’s clothing and change them as soon as you notice any formula dribbles or spills. The sooner you can treat a fresh stain, the easier it will be to remove.
  4. Opt for Darker Colors: When building your baby’s wardrobe, consider choosing darker-colored clothes, which can help camouflage and hide formula stains more effectively than light colours.
  5. Keep Stain Removal Products on Hand: Make sure to always have a reliable stain remover, like an enzymatic spray or stick, on hand so you can quickly treat any formula spills as soon as they happen.


Dealing with formula stains on your baby’s clothes can be a constant battle, but with the right techniques and products, you can win the war against those stubborn, yellowish-brown splotches. By acting quickly, pre-treating stains, and using effective laundry methods, you can keep your little one’s wardrobe looking fresh and clean, no matter how many mealtime mishaps they encounter.

Remember, the key is to tackle formula stains as soon as possible, and never be afraid to repeat the washing process if needed. With a little persistence and the right stain-busting arsenal, you can banish those pesky formula stains for good and keep your baby’s clothes looking brand new.

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.