How to remove tea stains from mugs and cups

We all enjoy a cup of tea - but not those stains left in the cups! These tips on removing tea stains from cups & mugs will make them a thing of the past.

Updated 15 September 2023


AuthorBy Cleanipedia Team

Reading Time5 minutes

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If you can’t get up in the morning without that cup of tea, there’s one very important thing you’ll need to know – how to clean tea stains from mugs. Those brown rings around the top of your cup aren’t unhygienic, but they can spoil the look of a porcelain tea set. Serving guests’ drinks in stained mugs is pretty much a major no-no for any good host. Here are our tips for dealing with tea stains in cups or mugs, as well as an explanation for why tea causes stains on your mugs. Why not learn how to clean a kettle as well? 

You can remove tea stains from cups and mugs by using a few simple household items like baking soda or salt, as well as a good dishwashing detergent.

Why Does Tea Stain?

The deep brown, or black, colour of tea makes it one of the worst offenders for staining – it will stain practically everything it can. In some parts of the world, tea and coffee is even used as a dye for clothing. So, why is removing tea stains from cups notoriously difficult to do?

It all comes down to polymerisation, which is where two (or more) molecules react together, forming one big molecule. In terms of tea and coffee, one molecule is an organic chemical found in the beverages, and the other is oxygen. The longer a stain is left on a tea cup, the more opportunities for polymerisation, and the bigger the stain will get. If the brown marks aren’t tackled, they’ll simply grow and grow over time, until it might seem like you’re left with more stain than cup.

Simple Cleaning Methods to Tackle Tea Stains on Cups

If you want to know how to remove tea stains from mugs and from your favourite cups, then here’s a comprehensive cleaning guide that’s easy to follow, and makes use of cleaning products you may already have in your home:

  • Baking Soda. Baking soda is considered to be one of the very best multi-function cleaning products. As a mild abrasive, it works away at stains, while not damaging fragile materials. To remove tea stains from cups, wet the inside of the mug with cold water, and sprinkle in a thin layer of baking soda, so that it covers all brown marks (it should stick easily to the damp sides of the cup). Leave for a few minutes, and then use a cloth or sponge to wipe all around the brown ring. You’ll need to give it a bit of a scrub – it won’t just glide off unfortunately. Follow up by washing as usual with your dishwashing detergent.

  • Salt & Vinegar. This method sounds more suitable to seasoning fish and chips than cleaning mugs and cups, but it really can work. The technique is very similar to that above, except that you wet the inside of the mug with white vinegar and use regular table salt in place of baking soda. Salt is another mild abrasive that is very effective at lifting stains without causing damage. Always make sure to wash your mug thoroughly afterwards with dishwashing detergent, unless you fancy a vinegar-infused tea in the morning.

Remember: try out these homemade solutions on a small area of your cup first before covering the whole surface to check there is no adverse reaction.

Stain Prevention

While learning how to clean tea stains from cups is a piece of cake, and the methods themselves take only a few minutes, it’s not really something we want to be doing time and time again. You’ll find it much more convenient if you keep your tea and coffee mugs clean as you go along – and here’s how:

  • When you’ve finished your drink, rinse the mug with water.

  • If you notice a brown ring around the top of the mug, give it a little scrub under the tap with a sponge and a small amount of dishwashing detergent.

Yes, it’s a little more effort than just leaving your mug on the work surface, or popping it into the dishwasher, but it’ll prevent those horrible brown marks from forming and, most importantly, from continuing to grow.

Reviving Old or Heavily Stained Mugs

Reviving old or heavily stained mugs requires a bit of extra effort, but with the right techniques, you can bring these neglected cups back to life. Here's how:

  1. 1

    Baking Soda Scrub: Create a paste with baking soda and water, then gently scrub the stains with a sponge or cloth. The mild abrasive nature of baking soda helps lift stubborn stains.

  2. 2

    Vinegar Soak: Soak the stained mugs in a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water for a few hours or overnight. This can help dissolve mineral deposits and tea stains.

  3. 3

    Lemon Juice and Salt: Sprinkle salt on the stained areas and rub them with a lemon half. The acid in lemon juice combined with salt can effectively break down stains.

  4. 4

    Denture Tablets: Fill the mugs with warm water and drop a denture cleaning tablet in each. Let them sit for a few hours or overnight, and then scrub to remove stains.

  5. 5

    Commercial Stain Removers: Consider using commercial stain removers designed for kitchen items. Follow the product's instructions for the best results.

  6. 6

    Repeat as Needed: Stubborn stains may require several rounds of treatment. Be patient and persistent, repeating the chosen method until the stains are gone.

By employing these methods and a bit of elbow grease, you can often breathe new life into old or heavily stained mugs, restoring them to their former shine and usability.

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