I can’t stand cherries. Not the way they taste—they’re fine—though never once have I thought, “Oh man, I can’t wait to dig into a bowl of cherries.” It’s their unparalleled ability among fruit to stain surfaces, clothes, faces, and fingers practically on sight that gets under my skin, literally. (Especially in the hands of small children, who do most of the inordinately sloppy cherry-eating in my house. Does the first bite really have to go all down your shirt and on your pants? C’mon, man. Be cool.)
And why do they stain so? “Just like red wine and many other berries, cherries contain tannin, a chemical that’s often used as an agent for fabric dyes,” Becca Napelbaum, executive assistant at Handy, told The Kitchn. That makes cherry stains on par with red wine stains in terms of how tough they can be to lift.
Since we can’t expect children to eat cherries responsibly anytime soon, and even adults have their own cherry mishaps, let’s talk about how to get the dreaded cherry stain out of your fabrics.
How to clean a cherry stain from clothes
The first rule is to clean it as quickly as possible—handling it speedily increases your chances of removing it. The second rule is to never rub it in. That will only force the color deeper into the fabric. And the third rule? Cold water. (At least at first.) Once you have scraped up any cherry bits with a dull knife, run the inside of the article of clothing under cold water, to help push the color out of the fibers.
There’s a difference in best practices for handling fresh vs. set stains, though. If the stain is already set into the fabric, Napelbaum recommends breaking it down first, saturating the spot with a natural acid like lemon juice or vinegar prior to rinsing—again, from the side that didn’t take the direct hit.
Work a prewash stain remover in with a soft bristled brush and let sit for at least 15 minutes. (If you don’t have stain remover on hand, try regular laundry detergent, or a paste made from baking soda and water.) Then wash in the hottest water recommended for the fabric. Check the stain has been removed before drying, as high heat can permanently set a stain.
(If the fabric is dry clean only, blot the area with a paper towel or white cloth to remove as much liquid as you can, before bringing it to the dry cleaners. If the fabric is white cotton or linen, according to The Spruce, “Mix a solution of bleach and warm water in a bucket or sink, following the package directions. Completely submerge the stained items and allow them to soak for 30 minutes or as recommended.”)
How to clean cherry stains from carpet and upholstery
A similar process can be employed when cleaning carpet and furniture upholstery—just take care not to get couch cushions too wet as that can lead to mildew issues.
First, use a white cloth to blot a wet stain, working from the outside in, to reduce stain spreading. You can use commercial upholstery cleaners, or create your own cleaning solution of one teaspoon liquid dishwashing detergent with two cups of lukewarm water. (You could also add a few tablespoons of vinegar to this.) Dip a white cloth into the solution and use it to blot the stain, continually rotating to clean areas of the cloth, until no further color is being absorbed.
(For white carpets or couches, apply a few drops of hydrogen peroxide and let sit for an hour before blotting.)
Cherry stains on fingers
If, after you painstakingly remove all the panic-inducing, choking hazard seeds that lay within cherries so your children can enjoy this all-American stain-fest, washing with soap and water still leaves your hands reddish-purple, you can try rubbing your hands with lemon juice. If that fails, reach for some nail polish remover. Or, you could just lean in to villainy and ban all cherries from your house.