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Don’t Panic! Here’s How to Get That Festive Food Coloring Off Hands, Counters, Clothing, and Carpets

food coloring
Larry Jacobsen/Flickr

It’s fun to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a craft or impressive themed treat. And it’s fun to make it a family project. But while everyone is admiring your work, you’re looking at the inevitable result of combining children and food-safe dyes: there’s green food coloring everywhere.

In retrospect, it would have been better to use gloves and cover every surface with layers of plastic and scrap paper. But since that ship has sailed, you have no choice but to triage the situation, getting the food coloring out before it sets and you have to accustom yourself to the green-speckled decor.

Fortunately, this is what the internet was made for. Thousands of aggravated moms have been in this situation, too, and their accumulated wisdom can get us through this.

First things first. Let’s start with the tiny green hands before the kids run off and start rubbing their food-colored fingers all over your curtains and sofa cushions. Of course, simple soap and water can work, but let’s be honest. It usually doesn’t.

WikiHow has several suggestions on how to get food coloring off skin. First, it suggests using a non-gel toothpaste (preferably one with baking soda). Wash the area, then rub a thin layer of toothpaste onto the stain. Continue to rub in circles for about two minutes, then rinse it off with warm water. Repeat as necessary, but don’t rub the area raw.

Don’t have the right toothpaste around? Try using rubbing alcohol, non-acetone nail polish remover, or hand sanitizer. Soak a cotton ball with the rubbing alcohol and then rub it on the stain. Continue with fresh cotton balls (don’t reuse the stained ones) until the food coloring is gone. Then wash with soap and water.

No rubbing alcohol? Try vinegar and baking soda. After washing the area, soak a washcloth with white vinegar (dilute it if necessary) and rub the stain with the washcloth. If repeated attempts don’t work, make a paste of two parts baking soda to one part water and gently rub it into the stain (not too hard). Then rinse with soap and water.

Other methods to get food coloring off skin include baby oil, baby wipes, shaving cream, and time.

Now that you’ve managed to get the lingering traces of green off your fingers, you’ve probably noticed the food coloring on your granite countertops. You thought because the counter was sealed, it would be totally stain-resistant. Now you’re worried about the traces of green that didn’t wipe away.

According to SFGate, the first thing to do is blot up any excess food coloring, especially if this is right after a spill. Then, make a paste of something absorbent — like talcum powder, baking powder, or flour — with a reactant like ammonia, bleach, acetone, 12 percent hydrogen peroxide, or even liquid dish soap. Don’t combine reactants or you could create toxic fumes.

Make a paste about the consistency of peanut butter and spread it over the stain. Then, cover it with plastic wrap. Tape down the edges so it doesn’t dry out. Leave it alone for 48 hours, then remove the plastic wrap and tape and let the paste dry out.

Scrape the paste off the counter with a plastic utensil. It should take the food coloring stain with it. If the stain is still there, repeat the process with another application of the paste.

Once you’ve gotten the food coloring off everyone’s hands and the counters, you’ll probably notice the drops that got on the kids’ clothing. There’s no time to lose.

According to the Spruce, the first thing to do is try to flush the stain out of the fabric with cold running water. Don’t rub — especially if it was food coloring gel or powder — because that will just push the stain into the fibers.

Once you’ve flushed the stain with water, apply a pre-treatment. If you have a stain pre-treater, great. Otherwise, try a liquid detergent like Tide or Persil. Rub the detergent or pre-treater into the stain with a soft brush or your fingers. Then let it sit for about 15 minutes before laundering.

If the stain is still there after a trip through the wash, try soaking it in a mixture of water and oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, etc.). Follow the instructions on the package and give it at least eight hours to soak. If the stain is gone after that, launder as usual. If it’s still there, you may need to soak it again (or even several times) before the stain comes out.

Whatever you do, don’t put the stained clothing in a hot dryer. Otherwise, the stain will set, and you’ll never get it out.

So you’ve finally eliminated the green food coloring stains in your house. That’s exactly the moment when a toddler grabs a green-frosted cupcake and runs into the living room. Naturally, she drops it, and it lands frosting-side down. What next?

The first thing to do is scrape up any solid matter with a spatula or dull knife edge. If this was a liquid spill, blot the area with a paper towel, dilute the area with water, and keep blotting. Don’t rub, as that will grind the dye into the fibers.

If the stain is still there after blotting, make a mixture of water and oxygen-based bleach (the same as you used for clothing stains), following the package directions. Use a clean white cloth and blot the stain with the solution. Work from the outside of the stain to the inside, so you don’t accidentally make it bigger.

Once you’ve applied the bleach solution, let it sit for a minimum of 30 minutes and then blot it away. Repeat until the stain disappears, then vacuum up any residue from the bleach.

And there you go. Your home is now free from food coloring stains once more. Though you might want to bookmark this page for next month when it’s time to dye Easter eggs.

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  1. Axe body wash for men has always worked for my kids to get food coloring off their skin. Its gentle enough that they dont break out in a rash like they would with other household products. They tend to have sensitive skin but axe body wash has never caused any skin irritation to them

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