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

How to Remove Tar Stains

The Spruce / Madelyn Goodnight

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 5 hrs, 15 mins - 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-10

Laying down pavement or roof tar is hot, sweaty, and messy work. Whether you're handling some home repairs or manage to track fresh tar from the sidewalk onto your carpet or upholstery, tar stains can be stubborn and frustrating to remove. In addition to the task of removing the tar itself, you'll need to remove the resin and oil residue it leaves behind. However, you can take some effective at-home removal measures to eliminate tar using items you likely already have in your cupboard. Remember never to place a still-stained item into a machine dryer, as the high heat can set the stain and make it permanent. Always wear gloves and a face mask to prevent fume inhalation when handling wet tar. Home dry-cleaning kits are not recommended for removing tar stains.

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Click Play to Learn How to Remove Tar Stains From Clothes, Carpet, and Upholstery

Stain Type Resin-based, oil-based 
Detergent Type Heavy-duty
Water Temperature Hot

When to Call a Professional

If your tar-stained garment is marked as dry clean only, visit your dry cleaner as soon as possible and identify the stain. If your stained upholstery is vintage or silk, visit a professional cleaner instead of attempting to remove the stain yourself.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Clothes

  • Dull knife or scraper
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Washing machine
  • Gloves
  • Face mask

Carpet and Upholstery

  • Dull knife or scraper
  • Cloths or white paper towels
  • Vacuum
  • Gloves
  • Face mask

Materials

Clothes

  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent or stain remover
  • Ice cubes
  • Oxygen-based bleach (optional)

Carpet and Upholstery

  • Ice cubes
  • Commercial dry-cleaning solvent

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean tar from clothes

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

How to Remove Tar Stains From Clothes

You can take at-home steps to remove tar stains from your clothing but may need to repeat cleanings several times before the stain is eliminated.

  1. Harden the Tar

    Place ice cubes into a plastic bag and then place the bag on the stain to harden the tar. After the tar is hardened, use a dull kitchen knife or the edge of a credit card to scrape away as much of the solid tar as possible. 

    Ice cubes in plastic bag pressed onto jeans with tar stains

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  2. Apply Stain Remover

    Treat the oily component of the stain with an enzyme-based pre-treater or stain remover once you've chipped away the tar. Work in the stain remover with a soft-bristled brush, allowing it to work its way into the fabric for at least 15 minutes.

    Soft-bristled brush scrubbing stain remover into jean leg with tar stain

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  3. Apply Heavy-Duty Detergent

    Add a heavy-duty liquid detergent containing adequate stain-removing enzymes 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 advised by the garment's care label. Recommended detergent brands include Tide or Persil.

    Heavy duty detergent scrubbed into jean leg with tar stain for washing

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  4. Treat Discoloration

    Mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach and cool water. OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach are recommended. Follow the package directions for how much product to add per gallon of water. Completely submerge the garment and allow it to soak for at least 8 hours. If the stain is gone, wash as usual. If not, repeat the soaking process.

    Jeans with tar stain soaked in plastic bucket with oxygen-based bleach for discoloration

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Tip

Never attempt to remove tar while it is wet because you will only push it deeper into the fibers.

How to Remove Tar Stains From Carpet and Upholstery

When removing tar from your upholstery, always use the least amount of solution possible to prevent over-wetting the fabric. Excess moisture in cushion fillings can cause mold and mildew.

Materials and tools to remove tar from carpet and upholstery

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  1. Harden the Tar

    Place ice cubes into a plastic bag, then place the bag on the stain to harden the tar. After the tar is hardened, use a dull kitchen knife or the edge of a credit card to scrape away as much of the solid tar as possible from the carpet fibers. Vacuum any loose pieces.

    Dull knife scraping tar residue from carpet after soaked with ice cube

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  2. Treat the Stain

    Treat any remaining stain with a commercial dry-cleaning solvent. To do this, dampen a clean white cloth or paper towel with the solution. Work from the outside edge of the stain inward, sponging the stain with the cleaning solution. Continue blotting until it looks like no more tar is transferred. Dry in a well-ventilated space.

    Commercial dry-cleaning solvent applied to paper towel to treat tar stain

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  3. Blot

    Dip another clean white cloth in plain water and blot the stain to remove any traces of the cleaning solution. This is essential, as cleaning solution residue can attract soil. Finish by blotting with a clean, dry cloth, allowing the carpet to air dry. Once the stain is gone, vacuum to lift carpet fibers.

    Tar stain on carpet blotted with white paper towel soaked with water

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Additional Tips for Handling Tar Stains

In addition to the above cleaning methods, you can add hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to a dab of detergent and let it rest on the stain. If you don't have ice on hand to harden wet tar, you can apply a bag of frozen vegetables from your freezer to the tar, but be prepared to discard it after use. If you get tar on your hands during cleaning, apply a baking soda paste or exfoliant. Disinfect and bandage any raw areas on your skin. You should be able to remove tar stains at home, but if the stain persists, feel free to contact a professional for more specialized guidance.