How to Remove Oil Stains From Clothes

How to Remove Oil Stains

The Spruce / Hilary Allison

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 45 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 6 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10 to 20

Mishaps happen, and that butter you just put on your knife plops onto your shirt, or you find motor oil has mysteriously appeared on your clothing. Whatever kind of oil or grease stain it is—automotive oil, car door grease, cooking oil, butter, or margarine—while difficult to eliminate, the good news is that it is possible to remove. Some household products you likely already have on hand can help get rid of these types of oil stains. Try to remove the stain as soon as possible, as the longer it sits, the harder it is to remove. Whatever you do, don't rub or scrub oil stains, or you can embed them into the material fibers further, once again, making them difficult to remove. And, make sure that the stain is gone before putting that piece of clothing in the dryer, as the heat from the clothes dryer can set the stain in permanently.

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

Stain Type   Oil-based
Detergent Type  Heavy-duty
Water Temperature   Hot
Cycle Type Varies depending on the type of fabric

Before You Begin

Check the care label on the clothing to see if it is washable or dry clean only to determine your next steps.

We all know how frustrating it can be when a favorite piece of clothing gets a stain on it, but there are steps you should quickly take if can only be dry cleaned. So when that olive oil or a piece of sweet potato pie dribbles on your favorite dry clean only shirt or jacket, use a dull knife or the 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, a slice of white bread, or you can sprinkle the stain with cornstarch or talcum powder.

If the oil stain is small, you may be able to remove it by spot treating it with a dry cleaning solvent. A stain removal pen will not be effective in removing oil. As soon as possible, head to the dry cleaner and point out and identify the stain.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Washable Clothes

  • Dull knife or spoon
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Bowl (optional)

Materials

Washable Clothes

  • Cornstarch, baking soda, talcum powder, or piece of bread
  • Spray or gel stain remover
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Hot Water

Instructions

How to Remove Oil Stains From Washable Clothes

When any type of oily stain happens never rub or wipe it because that will push it deeper into the fibers of the fabric.

  1. Remove the Oily Solid and Sprinkle Powder

    • Gently lift away any solid matter (like that blob of butter) with the edge of a dull knife or spoon as soon as possible.
    • Sprinkle on some cornstarch, baby powder, baking soda, or even use a piece of bread to absorb as much of the oil as possible. It usually takes about fifteen minutes for the powder to absorb the oil.
    • Brush the powder away from the stain with a soft-bristle brush.

    These steps will make stain removal in the laundry room much easier.

    Sprinkling baking soda on an oily stain

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  2. Pretreat the Stain

    Head to the laundry room as soon as possible, and pretreat the stain with a solvent-based spray or gel stain remover.

    Allow the stain remover to work on the stain for at least 15 to 30 minutes. This will allow the enzymes to break apart the oil molecules, making them easier to flush out of the fabric fibers.

    Tip

    If you don't have a solvent-based stain remover, apply a heavy-duty liquid detergent like Tide or Persil directly to the stain and work it in with a soft-bristled brush like an old toothbrush or by gently rubbing the fabric together with your fingers. If you only have powdered detergent, make a paste with a bit of warm water and apply that to the stain.

    Pretreating the oily stain with detergent

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  3. Wash the Clothing

    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.

    Tip

    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.

    Washing the stained garment as usual

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  4. Check the Stained Area

    Inspect the stained area of the garment before drying and repeat the treatment if necessary.

    Warning

    Never place an oil-stained garment in a dryer, as the high heat will make the oil even more difficult to remove. Repeat the cleaning steps if necessary.

    Checking the stained area

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

    How to Remove Oil Stains on Upholstery

    The same cleaning techniques and products recommended for carpet can be used to remove oil 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.

    Before cleaning any furniture, always follow the manufacturer's care label on cleaning upholstery. This tag can be found under the sofa cushions or fabric skirt with letter codes that indicate how to clean the furniture.

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

  5. Remove Oily Solids

    Treat the stain promptly by lifting away any oily solids from the fibers using a dull knife.

    Using a dull knife to remove an oily stain

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  6. Powder and Vacuum

    • Sprinkle the stain with cornstarch, baking soda, or talcum powder to absorb the oil.
    • Work the powder into the carpet with a soft-bristled brush.
    • Allow the absorbing powder to sit on the stain for at least fifteen minutes.
    • Vacuum to remove the powder. 
    Sprinkling baking soda on the oily stain

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  7. Treat Stain With Dry Cleaning Solvent Option

    Blot the stain with a dry cleaning solvent (making sure to follow the product instructions) and a clean white cloth or paper towel. Keep blotting until no more oil is transferred from the carpet to the cloth or paper towel.

    Treating the stain with dry cleaning solvent

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  8. Treat Stain With a Cleaning Solution Option

    If you do not have a dry cleaning solvent or carpet cleaning product you can mix up a cleaning solution yourself.

    • Mix one tablespoon of hand dishwashing detergent in two cups of hot water.
    • Add one tablespoon of household ammonia.
    • Wet the stain with a sponge or soft-bristled brush dipped in the cleaning solution, then blot with a dry paper towel until the stain is removed. 

    Warning

    Check the label when mixing ammonia with another detergent, to make sure that chlorine bleach is not an ingredient. Never mix ammonia and bleach together as the combination produces a toxic gas.

    Using a cleaning solution on an oily stain

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  9. Rinse and Blot

    Rinse the area with a cloth dipped in plain water to completely remove any soapy residue. Blot dry with a clean cloth. Repeat the cleaning steps until no more stain remains.

    Tip

    Rinse the area very well as any residue left in the carpet or upholstery will actually attract more dirt.

    Blotting the area with plain water

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Additional Tips for Handling Oil Stains

If the oil stain on clothing is older, or got missed and went through the washer before you noticed it, there is still a possibility it can be removed. This process should be used only on cotton fabrics.

  • Place the clothing on a towel, and make sure to have the stained spot separated from any other part of the clothing.
  • Spray WD-40 with the nozzle attachment it comes with, or onto a cotton swab or a paper towel, and carefully dab it on the stained area. A little goes a long way, do not use a lot of WD-40 as it will spread.
  • Sprinkle the area with cornstarch, talcum powder, or baking soda, and brush with a soft-bristled brush. The powder will clump up and start lifting the oil(s) out of the stain. Remove clumps. You will have to repeat this step a few times until there are no clumps, just fine powder.
  • Put stain remover or heavy-duty laundry detergent on the area and brush with a soft-bristled brush. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes before laundering as usual.