Tips for Cleaning Oil Stains From Clothing

Sometimes, things go wrong, like when the butter you were about to put on your knife accidentally drops onto your shirt, or when you discover motor oil has magically appeared on your clothing. Although oil and grease stains are difficult to get rid of, the good news is that they can be removed. Fortunately, these oil stains are easy to remove with common household items. The longer the stain sits, the more difficult it will be to remove, so get to it as soon as possible. Never rub or scrub an oil stain, as this only serves to further embed the stain into the fibers of the fabric, making removal even more of a chore. Make sure the stain is completely gone before drying the item, as the dryer's heat has the potential to permanently set the stain.

Types of Discoloration  Oil-based Types of Detergents  Heavy-duty Aquatic Environment  Hot Cycle Type Depending on the fabric, the answer is different.

To find out if the garment can be washed or if dry cleaning is required, look at the label.

As annoying as it is when your favorite shirt gets a stain, there are measures you should take quickly if it needs to be dry cleaned. Use a dull knife or the edge of a credit card to scrape away the solids from your favorite dry clean only shirt or jacket if you accidentally spilled olive oil or sweet potato pie on it. Use a dry white paper towel, a slice of white bread, or cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb as much of the oily liquid as possible, then blot the stain dry.

Spot treating the oil stain with a dry cleaning solvent may work if the stain is small. Oil stains can't be removed with a regular stain remover pen. Immediately take the stained item to a dry cleaner and make sure they know what it is.

  • Bread, talcum powder, cornstarch, or baking soda
  • Disinfectant sprays and gels
  • Detergent for large loads of laundry
  • Hot Water

Never rub or wipe an oil stain, as this will only spread the stain even further into the fabric fibers.

    • Any solid matter (like that blob of butter) should be removed as soon as possible by gently lifting it away with the edge of a dull knife or spoon.
    • Absorb as much oil as you can by sprinkling cornstarch, baby powder, baking soda, or even using a piece of bread. Powder absorbs oil in about 15 minutes, on average.
    • Soften the stain by brushing the powder away from it.

    Following these instructions will make removing stains in the laundry much less of a hassle.

    Ulyana Verbytska's The Spruce.

  1. A solvent-based spray or gel stain remover should be used as soon as possible in the laundry room to prevent the stain from setting in.

    In order for the stain remover to be most effective, give it 15-30 minutes to do its work. Since the oil molecules will be broken down by the enzymes, they will be more easily flushed out of the fibers of the fabric.

    If you don't have any kind of solvent-based stain remover, try applying some heavy-duty liquid detergent like Tide or Persil directly to the stain and working it in with a soft-bristled brush like an old toothbrush or by gently rubbing the fabric together with your fingers. Make a paste of the detergent powder and some warm water, then apply it to the stain.

    The Spruce by Ulyana Verbytska

  2. Put it through a standard wash cycle in the amount of detergent and the hottest water allowed for the fabric.

    If the fabric is synthetic and can't be washed in hot water, like polyester, stretch the pretreated stained area over a bowl and pour a steady stream of hot water directly onto the stain.

    Ulya Verbytska's The Spruce.

  3. Before drying, check the stained area to see if more treatment is required.

    Drying an oil-stained garment at high temperatures will only make the stain more permanent. If more cleaning is required, repeat the process.

    Ulyana Verbytska's "The Spruce"

    Oil stains on upholstery can be removed using the same methods and cleaning products suggested for carpet. Caution should be taken when wet cleaning because too much water in the cushions can lead to a deterioration of the fabric.

    Always refer to the manufacturer's care label before attempting to clean any upholstered furniture. There is a tag with cleaning instructions under the cushions or the skirt of the sofa.

    Sprinkle cornstarch on the affected area, and if the upholstery is made of silk or is antique, consult a professional before attempting to remove the stain.

  4. Remove any solid oil from the fibers of the stain as soon as possible using a dull knife and treat the stain.

    Short Stories: "The Spruce" by Ulyana Verbytska

    • To remove an oil stain, dust it with cornstarch, baking soda, or talcum powder.
    • Use a brush with soft bristles to work the powder into the carpet.
    • For at least fifteen minutes, let the absorbing powder sit on the stain.
    • Get rid of the dust by sucking it out.  

    Spruce, by Ulyana Verbytska

  5. Use a clean white cloth or paper towel and dry cleaning solvent (carefully following the manufacturer's instructions) to blot the stain. Blot the carpet until no more oil is absorbed by the paper towel or cloth.

    A Spruce Tree by Ulyana Verbytska

  6. DIY cleaning solutions are easy to make and can be used in place of dry cleaning solvents or specialized carpet cleaning products.

    • Dilute one tablespoon of dish soap in two cups of hot water and use it to wash dishes by hand.
    • Put in one table spoon of common ammonia
    • Cleaning the stain requires wetting it with the cleaning solution and a sponge or soft bristled brush, and then blotting it dry with a paper towel.  

    When combining ammonia with another detergent, read the label to make sure chlorine bleach is not an ingredient. A toxic gas is created when ammonia and bleach are mixed.

    In Ulyana Verbytska's The Spruce.

  7. Use a cloth dampened with plain water to wipe the area down to remove all traces of soap. Use a clean cloth to blot dry. To remove all traces of the stain, follow the procedure again.

    Be sure to thoroughly rinse the area, as any leftover residue will only serve to attract new dirt.

    Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

There is still a chance that an oil stain can be removed from clothing, even if it is old, washed several times, or was overlooked entirely. Cotton fabrics are the only ones that should undergo this treatment.

  • Spread the garment out on the towel and make sure the stained area is isolated from the rest of the garment.
  • Apply WD-40 to the stained area by spraying it directly onto the spot with the included nozzle attachment, or by spraying it onto a cotton swab or a piece of paper towel and dabbing it on the stain. It only takes a small amount of WD-40 to get the job done; don't go crazy!
  • Brush the area with a soft bristled brush after sprinkling it with cornstarch, talcum powder, or baking soda. The powder will form clumps, which will begin to pull the oil(s) from the stain. Take out the lumps Some iterations of this process may be necessary before you have completely smooth powder with no clumps.
  • Spray the affected area with a stain remover or industrial strength laundry detergent, and scrub with a soft bristle brush. Give it 30 minutes to soak before washing normally.
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