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How to remove tea stains from mugs

Has your favourite mug seen better days? Make it shiny & clean again with our guide to removing tea stains.


Reading Time: 5 minutes

how to remove tea stains from a cup or mug

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 (assuming you wash your dishes thoroughly with a good dishwashing detergent like SUNLIGHT, that is), 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.

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 like SUNLIGHT.

Why Does Tea Stain?

The deep brown, or black, colour of tea make it one of the worst offenders for staining – it will stain practically everything they can, including your cups and mugs, your teeth, and even your clothing if you spill a little! 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 so notoriously difficult?

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 the 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.

remove tea stains from a cup or mug

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

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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 removing tea stains from 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.

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.

When you’ve finished your drink, rinse the mug, and pay a little extra attention to the brown ring around the top, just giving 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.

Originally published