How to Get Tough Grease Stains Out of Clothes and Carpet

removing butter with a dull knife

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Grease and oil stains are some of the toughest stains to tackle in the laundry room. Natural fiber fabrics like cotton and linen are easier to clean; but if the fabric is a man-made synthetic like polyester or nylon that are made from petroleum, the grease molecules form a strong bond with the fibers that is difficult to break.

From cooking oil to butter to motor oil, follow these steps to remove the greasy stains.


How to Remove Oil Stains From Clothing, Once and For All

How to Remove Grease Stains From Washable Fabrics

The key to removing a grease and oil-based stain from any fabric is to use an enzyme-based heavy-duty detergent or stain remover and the hottest water possible that won't damage the fabric.

Begin by removing any grease solids with the edge of a dull knife or spoon. Rubbing will only push the grease deeper into the fibers. If the grease is a liquid, blot with a plain dry white paper towel. You can also sprinkle the stain with a bit of talcum powder or cornstarch to help absorb the grease. Leave the powder on the stain for at least fifteen minutes and then brush away.

sprinkling the stain with powder

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

As soon as possible, head to the laundry room and pretreat the stain with a solvent-based spray or gel-like Zout or Shout or Spray 'n Wash. If you don't have a solvent-based stain remover, apply a heavy-duty liquid detergent like Tide or Persil (these are leading high-performance brands that contain the necessary enzymes to break apart the grease molecules) directly to the stain and work it in by gently rubbing the fabric together with your fingers or use an old soft toothbrush. If you only have powdered detergent, make a paste with a bit of warm water and apply to the stain.

Be patient and allow the stain remover to work on the stain for at least 15 minutes - 30 minutes is even better. This will allow the chemicals to break apart the grease or oil molecules and make them easier to flush out of the fabric fibers.

After pretreatment, wash the garment as usual in the hottest water recommended for the fabric along with the recommended amount of detergent for a regular load of laundry. 

If the fabric is a synthetic like polyester that wouldn't normally be washed in hot water, stretch the pretreated stained area of the fabric over a bowl and pour a steady stream of hot water directly onto the stain and then wash in cold or warm water.

Inspect the stained area of the garment before drying and repeat the treatment if necessary. Never place a grease-stained garment in a dryer, the high heat will make the stain even more difficult to remove. Repeat the cleaning steps if necessary.


If you have lots of clothes or linens with heavy grease stains and odor like auto mechanic or fast food line cook uniforms, wash them separately from other laundry. It is possible for heavy grease to redeposit on other fabrics. To remove the odor of stale grease, use an in-wash fabric refresher like Febreze or add 1/2 cup non-sudsing ammonia to the wash cycle.


Never mix ammonia and chlorine bleach in any laundry load because toxic fumes can occur.

How to Remove Crude Oil Stains From Swimwear

After crude oil spills along our coastlines and waterways that devastate lives and the environment, it seems almost petty to discuss removing crude oil stains from beachwear. But, as we continue to vacation along our coasts and support the local economy, a bit of elbow grease should help save your beachwear for future wearings.

Crude oil stains make clothing more flammable than normal. Be sure to handle the swimwear, towels and other garments carefully. They should not be washed with other clothing. If after treating and washing you can still smell fuel, do not place the towels or clothing in the dryer. It is best to air dry everything to prevent possible fires.

Treat the stain with a solvent-based stain remover or heavy-duty detergent as suggested for any grease stain and wash in hot water. After washing, inspect the laundry and repeat the treatment if necessary.

Special attention must be paid to swimwear to keep it looking its best. In addition to the steps already mentioned, follow these tips for handling swimwear in the laundry.

How to Remove Grease Stains From Dry Clean Only Fabrics

When that blob of butter hits your favorite dry clean only jacket, use a dull knife or edge of a credit card to lift away the solids. Blot away as much of the oily liquid as possible with a dry white paper towel or even a slice of white bread or you can sprinkle the stain with cornstarch or talcum powder.

If the grease stain is small, you may be able to remove it by spot treating with a dry cleaning solvent. As soon as possible, head to the dry cleaner and point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner.

If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

blotting a grease-based stain

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

How to Remove Grease Stains From Carpet

Whether the stain is dropped food or grease tracked in from the garage, the key is to treat the stain promptly. Lift as much of the grease solids as possible away from the fibers using a dull knife. Do not rub because it will only push the oil deeper into the carpet and make the stain larger.

Sprinkle the stain with cornstarch, baking soda, or talcum powder to absorb the oil. Use a soft bristle brush to work it into the carpet. Allow the powder to sit on the stain for at least fifteen minutes. Use a vacuum to remove the powder. 

Be sure to "rinse" the area with a cloth dipped in plain water to remove any soapy residue that will actually attract more soil. Repeat the cleaning steps until no more stain remains.

person removing grease from carpet

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

How to Remove Grease Stains From Upholstery

The same cleaning techniques and products recommended for carpet can be used to remove butter stains from upholstery. If you use the wet cleaning steps, be careful not to over wet the fabric because excess moisture in the cushions can cause a problem.

If the upholstery is silk or vintage, sprinkle with cornstarch and call a professional before attempting to remove the stain or find more stain removal tips.

Article Sources
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  1. Cleaning and Disinfection for Households. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention