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

Tar residue and stain on jean leg

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 5 hrs, 15 mins

Laying down pavement or roof tar is hot, sweaty, messy work. Whether you are working with tar yourself or you have an unfortunate run-in with some gooey, gloppy tar that stains your clothes or gets tracked onto your carpet, it is not impossible to get these oil-based stains out. But, it will take a bit of elbow grease and prompt attention. Take a look at how you can get tar stains out of washable clothes, dry-clean-only clothes, carpet, and upholstery.

Stain Type Oil-based 
Detergent Type Heavy-duty laundry detergent or stain remover
Water Temperature Hot

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Dull knife or scraper
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Washing machine


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


Materials and tools to clean tar from clothes

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Before You Begin

No matter the type of fabric, the first step is the same: Before using any detergents, harden the tar by freezing it and gently chipping away what you can.

If the stain occurred on a dry-clean-only garment, silk, or vintage fabric, lift off as much of the solid tar as possible and go quickly to the dry cleaner. Point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner. Home dry-cleaning kits are not highly effective at removing tough stains like tar.

How to Remove Tar Stains From Clothes

  1. Harden and Chip Away the Tar

    Never attempt to remove tar while it is soft because you will only push it deeper into the fibers. Allow the tar to cool and harden. Place ice cubes into a plastic bag, then place the bag on the stain to harden the tar. When 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 pieces as possible.

    Ice cubes in plastic bag pressed onto jeans with tar stains

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  2. Use a Stain Remover

    Once you have chipped away the solid pieces of tar, treat the oily and waxy component of the stain with an enzyme-based pretreater or stain remover. Work in the stain remover with a soft-bristled brush and allow 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. Wash With a Heavy-Duty Laundry Detergent

    If you don't have a stain remover, treat the stain with a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent that contains enough stain-removing enzymes to break apart the molecules (like Tide or Persil) 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 care label on the garment.

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

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  4. Treat Any Discoloration

    If traces of the tar stain remains on clothing, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (like OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach) 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 8 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, so be patient.

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

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

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, always, lift away or chip away as much solid matter as possible first.

What You'll Need



  • Dull knife or scraper
  • Cloths or white paper towels
  • Vacuum
Materials and tools to remove tar from carpet and upholstery

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  1. Freeze the Tar

    Place ice cubes into a plastic bag, then place the bag on the stain to harden the tar. When 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 pieces as possible from the carpet fibers. Use a vacuum to capture every bit of the hardened tar.

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

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  2. Treat Stain With Commercial Dry-Cleaning Solvent

    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 toward the center (this helps prevent spreading the stain), sponge the stain with the cleaning solution. Continue blotting until it looks like no more tar-like substances are being transferred from the carpet to the cleaning cloth. Work in a well-ventilated space.

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

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

    Mildew Alert for Upholsterd Cushions

    Always use the least amount of solution as possible to prevent over wetting the fabric. Excessive moisture in cushion fillings can cause mold and mildew to grow. 

  3. Blot the Stain With a Clean Cloth

    When the stain is gone, dip a second clean white cloth in plain water and blot the stain to remove any traces of the cleaning solution. If you do not 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. Once the stain is gone from carpet and it has completely dried, vacuum to lift carpet fibers.

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

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo