Rid Unsightly Brown Stains On Cups or Mugs: Easy vs Safe Way

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A tea-stained cup looks unsightly, especially when you’re with guests, right? The same goes with mugs stained from coffee residue. There are easy ways to rid unsightly dark stains and then there are the safer options. Here I cover both. To preserve those special ones, you’ll find helpful hints here for removing dark stains from cups or mugs without doing them harm.

how to remove tea stain from cup

Tea bags, leaf tea, or coffee granules will stain your cup from tannin, a plant derivative and even green tea can stain your cup.

Easy way to keep cups / mugs sparkling

The most convenient and easiest way to rid brown stains from cups or mugs: The dishwasher.


Putting tea cups and coffee mugs through the dishwasher after use each time will bring them up sparkling. Stains will never get a chance, unlike any regular hand washing with dish soap.

Some mugs, like the Ember that has sensors, you can’t put through a dishwasher and require hand washing.

Bleach in water method

This was the approach used in a restaurant where I once worked. It worked a treat! Once a week, we’d remove coffee and tea stains from cups and mugs by soaking them in a large container of cold water with a dash of bleach for an hour or two. Tip: Wash with dish soap in warm water to get rid of any coffee residue before soaking.

Is bleach one of those harsh chemicals? Bleach probably isn’t the most eco-friendly agent for removing tannin stain, and especially not recommended for removing stains from mugs made of metal or stainless steel, because there’s this chemical reaction that happens.

Read why I rate ceramic as ideal when it comes to tea drinking.

Denture tablets

Just like stains on teeth, you can remove coffee or tea stains with denture cleaning tablets. Fill the cup or mug with cold water. Add one tablet, and let it sit for 3 to 4 hours. It’s perfect for one or two, but for several cups/mugs you’re need a bunch of tablets. Another problem is the time factor doesn’t help if you’re short on time.

Safe way to clean tea stains or coffee stains

You might be like me and have customized mugs or DIY decorated ones that are delicate. I found dishwater cycles and detergents are harsh on these. Gentler cleaning options ifor removing stubborn stains from inside these special cups include non-toxic vinegar, salt, and baking soda methods. 

Below is how to clean cups and mugs the eco-friendly and non-toxic way to rid tea or coffee stains without losing the ‘specialness’ details.

Removing Tea stains in cups/Coffee Stains from mugs:

1. Salt or sugar

Dampen a toothbrush or soft cloth in cool water and dip it in cooking salt or sugar.  Then rub the inside of the mug or cup until you no longer see any color coming off and the stain is gone. Rinse with clean water and dry as usual. 

Tip: Don’t use boiling water. It will dissolve the salt (or sugar) when what you really want are the granules to go to work.

2. Baking soda (Bicarbonate of soda)

Moisten a soft cloth or paper towel in warm water. Squeeze out excess water. Wrap the damp cloth or towel around your index finger and dip it in baking soda. Then rub the inside of the mug or cup with your wrapped finger. Repeat if necessary to remove any remaining stain. Rinse and dry as usual.

With baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, you can clean the most difficult stain from a stainless steel mug safely as well as from your china cup or a ceramic or porcelain one.

ARM & HAMMER Pure Baking Soda 8 oz (Pack of 6)
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3. White vinegar

Dip the tip of a soft cloth in white vinegar and rub it in a circular motion over the stains. Use a bit of elbow grease. Repeat as needed until the stains are removed. Rinse with clean hot water and dry.

Vinegar is a non toxic cleaner and can be used for cleaning tea stains from ceramic mugs. Ceramic (unlike metal) does not react with acidic ingredients, and so using vinegar on ceramic mugs is a fairly safe option.

4. Magic eraser

This is simple. Grab hold of a magic eraser and use it to rub away the staining inside the mug or cup. Magic it is! A Magic Erasor sheet type is perfect for fitting inside a mug.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Sheets, Shoe, Bathroom, and Shower Cleaner, 48 Cleaning Wipes Total
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5. Denture tablets

You can remove coffee or tea stains from cups just like stains on teeth with denture cleaning tablets. Just fill your cup (or mug) with cold water, add a tablet, and let sit for 3 to 4 hours. This is perfect for one or two mugs, but not so much if you want to do several cups/mugs at once. Another problem is the time factor, which doesn’t help if you’re short on time.

Bottom line

I like cleaning my mugs in the dishwasher because they sparkle every time. But, what I found was details on my customized mugs would fade or wash away. I now hand-wash with soapy water so I can retain their ‘specialness’. When tough stains build up, my favorite method to get rid of them is to use baking soda. Why? Because, it’s also a good all round cleaner and deodorizer, and it has many purposes around the kitchen.


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