Chef Coats: Keeping Them Clean and Bright

Sparkling white chef coats are the hallmark of a great kitchen. They represent mastery, an eye for detail, and professionalism, but a dirty chef coat looks sub-standard and careless.  Let’s face it, the chef in a dazzling white coat looks nearly god-like…Olympian…better than human.

But, it seems impossible to keep a chef coat white when it’s assaulted hourly with grease, chocolate, blood, tomato, wine and more. We’ve heard tell of some chefs that own 30 coats—one for each day of the month—to help with the cleaning, soaking, wear problem, but 30 coats aren’t feasible for most chefs. So, we’ve collected some of the best advice for how to treat the stains and pamper the fabric so your chefs look Olympian in their kitchen.

But first, a lesson in stains, because all stains are not the same.

What’s in a stain?

Different stains differ chemically, and knowing the type you have may help you determine the best treatment. The 3 main types of stains are:  acidic (wine, tomato, coffee, chocolate), grease, and carbon (oil-based stains from soot or from the carbon black in India ink).

Most acid based stains do well treated with white vinegar. Then, pre-soak and wash.

Grease stains are treated best by rubbing them with Dawn dish soap, letting it sit for at least a half hour, and then pre-soaking in warm water.

A true carbon stain will need a solvent based emulsifier to remove it and will need to be pre-treated 2 to 24 hours. If you use dry cleaning solvents for any carbon based stains, be careful. Clothes with dry cleaning solvents on them should never be put directly into the washing machine or it could cause a fire. After pretreating the stain with this type of solvent, rinse thoroughly, and allow the chef coat to air dry before washing.

Stain removal is really a chemical reaction and the remover either: dissolves the stain (with a solvent), emulsifies the stain (or lifts it by increasing the wettability of the fabric), digests the stain (with enzymes which break the stain apart), or hides the stain (by oxidizing it). Many products can do both, but be forewarned—don’t mix stain removal products by yourself, no matter how tempting it is to combine forces and conquer. Mixing products yourself can lead to toxic fumes.

Most chef coats don’t come in with just one type of stain, so here are some tested instructions for the 3 stages of caring for your chef coat: pretreatment, washing and drying. (For additional fabric care tips, see here.)

Pretreatment of Stains—Now not Later

While in the kitchen, many chefs keep a Tide pen in their pocket or even a bottle of warm water at hand for initial pretreatment. But the real treatment starts the minute the chef gets home, and it needs to be a regular ritual. Upon arrival at home the coat should be treated by rubbing Dawn Dish Detergent directly to any stains. Wait 30 minutes, then fill a bucket with warm water and soak the coat in it (at least overnight).

Here are some other pretreatment tips that chefs claim work wonders on stains. For each, pre-treat with the product mentioned for at least 30 minutes, and then soak in warm water overnight:

Spray with 409, or a carpet cleaning product called “Kids and Pets.” Pretreat with hydrogen peroxide, or a paste of Oxyclean and warm water, or a paste of baking soda and white vinegar. Rub Fels-Naptha (sold as a yellow bar, like soap) onto the stain.

Don’t ever use chlorine bleach, which can yellow the chef coat and damage the fabric.


Correct washing of the chef coat will ensure that the stains are removed and dinginess is lifted. Use warm wash, warm rinse cycles only, and the longest wash cycle available on your machine.  Add a cup of white distilled vinegar to the rinse cycle. Don’t overload the machine. Don’t ever mix colored laundry in with your white chef coats. The following products have a reputation for keeping chef coats white (but shouldn’t be used at every wash):  Rit Color Remover or Mrs. Stewart’s Laundry Bluing which increase the reflection of light from the fabric.


Don’t ever put a chef coat in the dryer until you’ve checked it first for stains. Pre-treat, re-treat, treat stains again, before drying the chef coat. Heat sets the stain so it can’t be removed. Quality chef coats are a cotton/poly blend, typically 65/35. To preserve the cotton in your chef coat, place it in the dryer for 5 minutes only—just to get initial water out, then hang it to dry.  This removes wrinkles and ensures longevity of your fabric.

Try this care routine to keep your chef coats white and god-like. And if the routine is too much…well, you can always switch to black chef coats.

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