When Condiments Attack: Mustard, Mayo & Ketchup Stain Removal

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

I'm wondering if you have any suggestions of how to get mustard stains out of white clothing? I took a trip to Coney Island, gorged myself on Nathan's, and got classic yellow mustard on a white tank top I love but don't need to keep forever. I seem to remember in my life that every time I've had this issue the mustard stays after being washed. I've pre-treated the shirt in question, but it's still sitting in my bathroom, annoying my partner.

You can't see me right now, but I'm sighing deeply. Yellow mustard is the Devil's condiment: Irresistibly delicious. An absolute frickin' bear to get out of clothes. Spills virtually guaranteed.

The reason that yellow mustard, in particular, is such a dastardly stain is that in order to achieve that blinding shade of Big Bird, it's filled up with turmeric. And turmeric — the mild spice that gives so many Indian dishes their signature yellow color — is arguably the most staining foodstuff in the world. I'd pit it against pomegranate in a cage match.

If you do find yourself with a yellow mustard stain on your clothing, and you will, leap up as if your hair were on fire and immediately start screaming for soap and water. If there's a large amount of mustard, remove as much as you can using a knife or spoon, then get thee to a water source and begin flushing the stained area with running water. If you can work from the backside out, all the better — that will cause the offending substance to be pushed out from the fabric, rather than back through the fabric.

Next you'll want to get some soap on that sucker. Liquid laundry detergent is ideal here, but dish soap or hand soap or really whatever kind of soap is close by will also work just fine. Apply a small amount of it to the stain, and then work it in by rubbing the fabric against itself. Use the force of the running water to keep pushing that stain out. Keep on keepin' on. This will likely take several applications of soap.

Once you've exhausted yourself and the soap's ability to fight the mustard, hang it up until you can get home and to a stain remover. A spray thing, or a stick thing, or just some liquid laundry detergent is what you're looking for.

Which brings us to our Letter Writer. LW, you have done everything right! Except for the part where you annoyed your partner, but who among us hasn't been guilty of that at some point in our lives?

Go forth and launder that shirt, but use cold water and check to ensure the stain is out before you dry it. You may also want to add some color safe or oxygenated bleach to the wash, which will further help your stain removal efforts. If you're doing a straight up load of whites, you could also use chlorine bleach.

I made a light-mayo, ketchup, hot dog relish + sriracha mixture to dress a grilled turkey burger. All was great until a splat of said condiment sauce hit a valued and very recently reupholstered lounge chair (the fabric has a tight embroidery-like texture).

Shit. So I blotted. I dabbed on some talc to grab the oils. And now I don't know how to proceed. Please help!! I'll have to vacuum the talc soon enough and I'd love to know what you'd do next to spot clean upholstery fabric hit with my mixed-up mayo/ketchup/mustard stain?

I've got a few gold stars burning a hole in my pocket, just waiting for a person exactly like you! Gold star for knowing about the talcum trick, super impressive!! But not nearly as impressive as that burger spread — that sounds delicious.

To review for those just joining us, when you've got an oily or fatty stain situation on your hands (or, more accurately, on your furniture) heaping a pile of cornstarch, talcum powder or ground up chalk onto the soiled area will pull that grease right up. It's the same general theory behind those talcum-impregnated blotting papers that you use to make your face less shiny.

Once you've let the talcum work its magic, go ahead and vacuum up the talcum and then treat any remaining stains with a little bit of dish soap and a sponge. It sounds too simple to be true but if you get at the stain by applying medium pressure with a damp but not soaked soapy sponge you can probably get the stain up.

If the stain still insists on staying with you, despite your very polite efforts to suggest that it leave your home, lemon juice is also great on tomato and tomato-based stains. You can apply it by squeezing lemon juice onto a sponge, or by using lemon slices directly on the stain. Whichever feels easier to you. Once you've removed the stain, or gotten to a point where you feel that you've gotten as much of the stain up as you're gonna get, go over the area where you've lemoned with a clean, light-colored rag and cool water to remove the juice; then blot to dry.

Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, 25 February 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.

Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.

Image by Jim Cooke. Source photos via Shutterstock.