I tried to clean a red wine stain and it turned blue. Why?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I spilled red wine on a wooden table and left it overnight. I tried cleaning it with dishwashing liquid and hot water and it turned blue. How do I lift the stain?

—Sarah, Melbourne, Australia

Dear Sarah,

Dishwashing liquid is a good first step. You also performed a neat science trick when the stain turned blue: Grape skins contain pigments called anthocyanins, which also work as acid-base indicators. You essentially created a litmus test when introducing the solution of water and soap to the wine; the fact thst it turned blue indicates that your cleaning solution was alkaline (as it should be).

To remove wine stains from wood, I’d try the standard stain-fighting methods, and you might have some luck with any combination of them. You might have luck trying to absorb the stain with salt or baking soda; vinegar might work, and oil soaps designed for wood might also have an effect. I’ve never tried it myself, but some people have found success with a cleaning paste made from baking soda and furniture lemon oil or orange oil specifically for stains on wood.

With wood you also have the possibility of sanding the area and applying new stain or finish. Unfortunately, none of the methods are guaranteed to remove stains completely and, in the end, might just result in a faded stain. If that’s the case, hopefully you are left with a souvenir of a memorable evening.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

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