How to Remove Tar Stains from Clothes, Carpet, and Upholstery

Group of worker installing tar foil on the rooftop of building. Waterproof system by gas and fire torching
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Laying down road or roof tar is hot, sweaty, messy work. Getting tar stains off your clothes and out of carpet isn't nearly as difficult but it is still going to take a bit of elbow grease and prompt attention.

How to Remove Tar Stains from Washable Clothes

The men and women who do tar road and roof work know that large tar stains are nearly impossible to remove and dress accordingly for their daily work. But when a small bit of tar gets on washable clothes, it can be removed. Allow the tar to cool and harden. If you are in a hurry, you can use an ice cube placed in a plastic bag to place on the stain to harden the tar.

When the tar is hardened, start by using a dull kitchen knife or the edge of credit card to scrape way as much of the solid tar pieces as possible. Next, treat the oily/waxy component of the stain with an enzyme-based pretreater or stain remover like Shout or Zout. Work in the stain remover with a soft-bristled brush and allow it to sit on the fabric for at least fifteen minutes.

Next, treat the stain with a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent that contains enough stain removing enzymes to break apart the molecules (Tide and Persil are considered heavy-duty) or a paste made of powdered detergent and water. Scrub the stain lightly with a soft-bristled brush and rinse in hot water. Next, wash as usual in the hottest water temperature suitable for the fabric according to the garment's care label.

If traces of the tar stain remain, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach are brand names) and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product per gallon of water. Completely submerge the garment and allow it to soak for at least eight hours. Check the stain. If it is gone, wash as usual. If it remains, mix a fresh solution and repeat. It may take several soakings to remove the stain but it should come out. Be patient!

How to Remove Tar Stains from Dry Clean Only Clothes

If the garment is dry clean only, again, let the tar harden and then lift off as much of the solid tar as possible with a dull edge. 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, scrape off solids and be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag. Home dry cleaning kits are not highly effective at removing tough stains.

How to Remove Tar Stains from Carpet and Upholstery

If a bit of tar ends up on the carpet in your car or is tracked into your home and lands on the carpet, lift away as much as possible with a spoon or dull knife. If the tar feels soft, place an ice cube or two in a plastic bag and place on the tar stain. This will cause it to harden and makes it easier to scrape from fibers.

Next, use a commercial dry cleaning solvent to treat the stain. Keeping the space well ventilated, dampen a clean white cloth or paper towel with the solution. Working from the outside edge of the stain toward the center (this helps prevent spreading the stain even larger), sponge the stain with the cleaning solution. Continue blotting until no more color is transferred from the carpet to the cleaning cloth.

When the stain is gone, dip a second clean white cloth in plain water and sponge the stain to remove any traces of the cleaning solution. If you don't do this step, the cleaning solution can actually attract more soil. 

Finish by blotting with a clean dry cloth and allow the carpet to air dry. When dry, vacuum to lift carpet fibers.

The same steps can be used for all automotive and home upholstery coverings except silk or vintage fabrics. Always use the least amount of solution as possible to prevent over wetting the fabric. Excessive moisture in the cushion fillings can cause mold and mildew to grow. For silk and vintage fabrics, consult a professional cleaner.