When you work in the kitchen or garage, fats, oils, and grease leave sticky stains on your clothes that ruin the fabric. Common oil stains come from butter, margarine, olive oil, salad dressing, mayonnaise, grease, and motor oil.
Since every oil has a different composition, you’ll need different products and techniques to eliminate stains. Luckily, when you get started as soon as possible, you’ll remove the oil stain and go back to wearing your favorite shirt again.
Don’t just throw stained clothing in the washing machine–use a hands-on approach for a deep, comprehensive cleaning. With this guide, you’ll learn about the most common types of stains, which products you need, how to eliminate the stains, and tips and tricks to preserve the fabric’s integrity.
Let’s jump right in!
Solid, liquid, runny, sticky, greasy, fatty–every oil has different properties. Knowing the difference allows you to act quickly without damaging your shirt. In this chapter, you’ll learn about the different types of oil and what they do to fabric.
Common Types of Oil Stains
When you spill oil on your clothes, it’s tempting to wipe it off and move on. However, if you don’t remove the stain, you’ll have to deal with the following:
- The sticky residue that makes you feel uncomfortable
- Dark stains that you can’t remove at home
- Discoloration that ruins the color and pattern of the fabric
- An unpleasant odor that doesn’t disappear no matter how much detergent you use
- Stains that degrade the fabric, shortening the clothing’s lifespan
Eventually, you’ll give up and throw the clothing in the trash when you could have saved it if you had acted quickly enough. This costs money and forces you to buy new clothes–and when they get stained, you’ll repeat the process again.
Instead of ruining your clothes, educate yourself about stains and the ways to treat them. You’ll also learn new ways to use household items, which you can apply to other stains, spills, and incidents in your house. By the end, you’ll have a to-go kit of stain removers that you’ll grab whenever you make a mess.
Motor Oil Stains
When you work on car, truck, motorcycle, and lawnmower engines, you’ll probably get motor oil on your shirt. Motor oil is a lubricant that keeps the engine running, but it also leaves dark, deep-set stains on your clothes that reek and look like bruises. If you spend a lot of time in the garage, you’ll find yourself replacing your clothes every month or two.
Instead of buying new shirts and jeans, eliminate the problem at its source by treating motor oil stains. Commercial products, household goods, and even natural products like aloe vera remove the stain and odor from your clothes. You’ll save money and won’t have the stench of motor oil hanging around when you walk inside.
Cooking Oil Stain
While cooking oil keeps your food moist and flavorful, it creates a sticky mess when it gets on your clothes. Canola oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, coconut oil, and other ingredients are thick, syrupy, and runny. If you don’t treat the stain in time, the oil hardens and permanently discolors your favorite shirt.
Keep the right products and tools in the kitchen so you can treat stains right away, especially if you work in the foodservice industry. Some products, like baking soda and dish soap, are already kitchen staples. Don’t just run the fabric under the faucet–you’ll need to draw out the oil to keep it from hardening in the fabric. You can also find oil alternatives that prepare your food without making a mess.
While they might look solid, greasy condiments like mayonnaise and salad dressing can ruin your favorite T-shirt. Even solid butter penetrates the fabric, darkening your clothes if you don’t treat the stain. Your first instinct might be to wipe it off with a napkin, but that rubs the condiment into the fabric and creates a permanent stain. Plus, you might miss the solid parts that cling to the fabric.
When you deal with solid condiments, you’ll have to scrape off as much as possible before treating the central stain. You can blot liquid stains but lift the liquid away from the fabric instead of rubbing it in. If you have a major spill that sinks into the fabric, treat the stain as much as possible, then take in the garment for dry cleaning.
Common ingredients that contain oil include mayonnaise, salad dressing, butter, margarine, and mustard. Some surprising foods like peanut butter contain oil, so check the label before you start cleaning. You can also make condiments at home by searching the Internet for oil-free recipes.
Working in the garage or the marine, steel, mining, automotive, or agricultural industries means dealing with industrial grease. This could include sodium grease, clay grease, polyurea grease, and calcium grease. While this grease keeps the machinery running, it leaves dark, sticky residues on your skin and clothes.
Industrial grease is tough, meaning that you’ll have to take extra steps to eliminate stains. Wiping it with a towel just smears the grease around and leaves permanent stains on your clothing. Some products specifically remove grease stains, so keep them in your garage, shop, or workspace. You can also use products like baking soda and dish soap to dislodge and remove the stain.
While lotion might seem like a clean, solid substance that doesn’t stain, most lotions contain oils that cling to fabric. A lotion contains ingredients like coconut oil, olive oil, and argan oil that moisturize your skin and make the product soft and spreadable. In particular, homemade lotions have oils and butter that stick to everything that they touch.
Despite its mild appearance, a lotion can stain heavy-duty fabrics like leather and carpet. If you don’t treat the stain in time, you’ll have to pay for services like dry cleaning. Know the differences between each fabric so you don’t accidentally damage your clothes. One product that removes lotion from cotton shirts could destroy a leather jacket.
If you pour too much lotion on your hands, don’t wipe it on your clothes. Instead, use a paper towel and wash your hands afterward. Similarly, don’t take more lotion than you need, and wipe your hands, so they’re not sticky afterward. Rub the lotion in as much as possible, so it doesn’t cling to your skin, making a mess when you touch your clothes or bedsheet.
Contrary to popular belief, immediately throwing your clothes into the washer and dryer is one of the biggest mistakes that you can make. The heat binds the oil to the fabric, making it harder to remove stains. In the next chapter, you’ll learn about the tools you need to treat oil stains. Keep these tools and products on hand in your house–you never know when you’ll need them, and you might not have time to run to the store.
To treat stains, you’ll need products that you probably have sitting around the house already. If not, stock up–you can use these products for a variety of purposes that have nothing to do with stains. Baking soda, baby powder, and cornstarch are just a few products that absorb stains from fabric.
You’ll also need tools like knives, cloths, and paper towels to remove stains after the first ingredient absorbs the liquid. When dealing with solid oils like butter, the knife actually comes first–you’ll need to scrape it off before the liquid dries on the fabric. Luckily, knives, paper towels, and dishcloths are usually within arm’s reach. Later, we’ll talk in detail about stain-removing methods you’ll use for your clothes.
Each item serves a different purpose, so learn how to use these products before you pour cornstarch or aloe vera on your clothes. Otherwise, you could cause more damage than ever, forcing you to throw away your favorite shirt. Think about the most common sources of oil stains in your house, and invest in the necessary products. But for now, dive into this guide about the best products for stain removal.
Baby powder absorbs stains and gives your clothing a fresh scent. Pour baby powder on the stain as soon as possible, then let it sit for a few hours so it can absorb the oil. Afterward, brush the baby powder off your shirt with a toothbrush. Wash the fabric afterward to remove the last of the stain.
Baking soda absorbs fresh stains, so it’s important to act before the stain hardens. Pour baking soda over the stain, then press it into the fabric and let it sit overnight. When you wake up the next morning, the baking soda has absorbed the oils. Use a towel to wipe away the powder, and hand-wash the shirt or throw it in the washing machine.
Like baking soda and baby powder, cornstarch lifts grease from your clothes, allowing you to wipe it off later. Place cornstarch directly on the stain, or mix it with water to create a paste and apply it to the fabric. Let the cornstarch sit overnight. In the morning, wipe away the cornstarch with a paper towel.
Aloe vera removes grease stains because the amino acids in aloe vera interact with the oils. Pour aloe vera onto the stain, rub it in with a toothbrush and let it sit for an hour while the aloe vera treats the stain. Afterward, wash the shirt to remove the aloe vera and excess oils.
Since dishwashing detergent is made to scrub grease off your plates and silverware, it’s also suitable for removing grease from your clothes. Pour dishwashing detergent on the stain, rub in the liquid, let it sit for five minutes and wash off the liquid with warm water. You can use the same process with laundry detergent if you don’t have dishwashing detergent on hand.
While wiping the stain with a paper towel is your first instinct, this could spread the oil around, scrub it into the fabric or wipe away the dye. If you use a colored paper towel, the dye could discolor the fabric. However, you can dab lightly at the stain to blot the oil without rubbing it in.
Some methods recommend covering the stain with an ingredient like baking soda before wiping it off. When you use the method, apply the ingredient first, wipe it away with a tool like a toothbrush, then blot the remaining oil with a paper towel.
Since oil and water don’t mix, pouring water immediately over the stain won’t remove the oil. However, you can use hot water after you apply stain-removal products like dishwashing detergent. Hot water activates the detergent, loosens stains, and washes away the detergent. Plus, hot water cleans your shirt and makes it ready to wear again.
While cold water works for other stains, don’t pour cold water over oil stains. Cold water doesn’t activate the detergent, making it less effective. Use hot water between the temperatures of 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit to treat your clothes unless the label recommends otherwise.
When you spill a solid oil on your clothes like butter or peanut butter, you’ll need to wipe off the solids before they set into the fabric. Otherwise, they’ll make the fabric hard, discolored, and odorous. However, paper towels aren’t enough to blot solids off your clothes.
Grab a knife, and use the flat side to scrape the butter off your shirt. Don’t dig in too deep–you don’t want to rub the butter into the fabric. Once you’ve removed the solids, proceed with the normal treatment like applying cornstarch or baby powder.
While you don’t want to wipe the stain right away, applying an ingredient like baby powder or baking soda absorbs the liquid so you can wipe it off later. Paper towels are useful, but they don’t scrub the powder into the stain for maximum results.
Instead of a paper towel, use a toothbrush to scrub the powder or dishwashing detergent into the fabric. If you used a powder, scrub until the powder starts to make chunks. Afterward, clean off the powder and blot the remaining oil.
While you can buy expensive stain removal products, household products are often just as effective. They’re affordable, easy to use, and located in just about everyone’s house. In the next chapter, you’ll learn how to remove fresh oil stains with basic tools like dishwashing liquid, baby powder, and paper towels.
In this chapter, you’ll learn how to treat fresh oil stains so you can salvage your favorite clothes. Read the steps now so you know what to do, then refer back to this guide if you need help. These instructions teach you how to treat a variety of stains, including lotion, peanut butter, and cooking oil.
How to Get Oil Stains Out of Clothes
Whether you’re an experienced homemaker or living on your own for the first time, anyone can treat oil stains with a few basic steps. Teach everyone in your household how to remove stains, so they’re not scrambling when they make a mess and you’re not around to help them.
Act as Quickly as Possible
Before you start, remember what type of stain you’re dealing with. The treatment for butter stains isn’t the same for bicycle grease stains, so grab the right tools and products. If you use the wrong treatment, you could damage your clothing instead of removing the stain. Take note of solid stains like peanut butter because they require an extra step.
Afterward, grab your tools as quickly as possible. If you’re at home, reach for your stain-removal kit. Otherwise, use whatever you have at your disposal, even if it’s just a knife and baking soda. Consider investing in a stain removal pen so you can start treatment on the go, then fully remove the stain when you get home.
Don’t wait to treat the stain even if it’s inconvenient–some treatments take a few hours while others require letting the stain remover sit overnight. If you let the stain dry, you’ll have to work even harder to remove an “old” stain. Draw the grease out of your clothes so you can wear your favorite shirt again.
Remove Solid Grease
If you’re dealing with solid grease like butter, scrape the grease off the clothing with a tool like the flat side of the knife. Don’t wipe it off with a tissue–instead, scrape it off the surface without rubbing it in. Wiping the stain with a paper towel just rubs the stain into the fabric, making it harder to lift out the grease.
For moderately solid greases like maple syrup, use a spoon or knife to remove as much of the solid as possible. Again, don’t rub it in–just remove the top layer so you can start treating the stain underneath. You can use a paper towel if you lift the grease upward instead of digging into the fabric.
Make sure you complete this step before starting the rest of the treatment. Otherwise, you’re making the process harder for yourself by trying to treat a solid that’s caked into the fabric. Letting the solid sit in the fabric also increases the risk of hardening, odors, and discoloration.
Pre-Treat the Stain
After scraping off the surface layer, pretreat the stain according to the directions. Depending on the specific stain, you might blot the oil, add baby powder, make a baking soda paste, use chalk or pour dish soap on the stain. Afterward, you might scrub in the treatment with a toothbrush or washcloth, then let the treatment sit for the recommended duration.
Sometimes, the treatment only needs to sit for an hour or two. Other times, you’ll set aside the shirt and remove the treatment the next day. Make sure you leave the treatment on the clothing for the recommended amount of time–if you take it off too early, the stain will set into the fabric. Afterward, follow the instructions to wash the treatment off the shirt. This might be as simple as brushing off the baking soda and moving on to the next step.
Even when it’s tempting to wipe your shirt with a paper towel and throw it in the wash, never skip the pre-treatment process. The products that you use draw the oil out of the fabric so you can wipe it off, then wash the shirt in soap and water. If you don’t draw out the stain, hot water isn’t enough to remove oil that’s soaked into the fabric.
Check the Clothing Label
Check the clothing label before you throw the clothes in the wash. Even if an online guide recommends something different, the manufacturers know what the fabric needs. If you wash your clothes with the wrong setting, you could tear apart the fabric, discolor your outfit or cause the remnants of the stain to sink into your clothes.
The clothing label has instructions like “Do Not Bleach” and “Do Not Dry Clean.” Some labels recommend washing your clothes by hand, so the washer doesn’t ruin the fabric. If you can’t find a tag on your clothing, look up the brand online to see what the manufacturer recommends.
Wash the Stained Clothing
Washing the clothing afterward is just as important as treating the stain. Even if your clothes look clean, making a mistake could leave a stain or odor, so pay attention to what you’re doing.
Once you’ve treated the stain, throw the clothing in the wash according to the directions. Some labels recommend using specific washer settings so the temperature doesn’t set the stain into the fabric. If the label recommends hand-washing the fabric, scrub your clothing in the sink with a gentle detergent.
Dry the Clothing According to the Instructions
Once you’ve removed the stain, follow the directions to dry the clothing without harming the fabric. In some cases, the label recommends throwing it in the dryer with the rest of your clothes. Others recommend a specific setting to slowly dry your clothes, protecting sensitive fabrics. For certain materials, you may have to air dry the fabric or take the item to the dry cleaner.
Now that you know how to treat fresh oil stains, read the next chapter to learn how to remove old stains that settled into the fabric. Dried stains require a few extra steps, but with the right treatment, you’ll save your old clothes instead of adding them to the landfill. These instructions apply to virtually every type of stain, whether it’s been sitting in the fabric for a day or a month.
Remembering the source of the oil stain will save time because you won’t have to experiment with different stain removers. However, even if you don’t remember, this guide will show you how to loosen the stain.
Regardless of whether the stain has settled into the fabric for days, weeks, or months, no stain is permanent with the right treatment. Gather your tools, then follow these steps to treat your old clothes in the back of the closet.
How to Remove Old Oil Stains from Your Clothes
Old stains don’t necessarily need the toughest stain removers. Before you reach for the bleach, try tools that you have sitting around your house to draw out the oil from the fabric. You’ll treat stains at a fraction of the cost and avoid exposing yourself to harsh chemicals. Plus, harsh stain removers aren’t always the best–many products ruin the fabric instead of cleaning it.
Set aside time to treat the stains and make sure your home remedy works. If not, try these steps again instead of skipping right to industrial stain remover. Talk to a professional if you’re still having trouble with the stain.
Before you get started, gather your stain remover and a scrubbing tool like a toothbrush. You won’t have to spend money if you already have these items on hand. Otherwise, visit the grocery store and buy these items for $20 or less. You’ll use these items for future oil stains, so while you have to spend a little money up front, you’ll stretch it out in the long run.
Depending on the stain’s severity, removing the grease might take less than an hour. If the stain doesn’t come out, you might have to soak the fabric in the stain remover for a day or two.
However, actually working on the stain won’t take long–you’ll just have to apply the stain remover, scrub it into the fabric and wash the item when you’re done. Just make sure you rinse the item immediately. Letting the stain remover sit too long could damage the fabric.
- Soak the stain in water for ten minutes to loosen up the grease.
- Cover the stain with a grease remover, like soap, baby powder, detergent, or cornstarch. Do some research first to ensure that your chosen stain remover won’t damage the fabric. If it does, see what the manufacturer recommends.
- Use a toothbrush to scrub the stain remover into the grease.
- Let the stain remover sit for at least an hour so it has time to treat the stain. If a few hours isn’t enough, let the fabric sit for 24 hours unless the clothing manufacturer recommends otherwise.
- Rinse the clothing item with warm water.
- Throw the clothing item in the washing machine, and wash it at the hottest temperature approved by the manufacturer.
- Air-dry the clothing item or place it in the dryer according to the label instructions.
- Check the fabric to see if the stain has disappeared. If you still see the stain on the fabric, repeat this process until it’s clean.
If you’ve repeated these steps twice and they still don’t work, try letting the stain remover settle into the fabric for a longer period of time or scrubbing the stain as thoroughly as possible.
Experiment with different stain removers like dish soap, homemade remedies, and aloe vera as long as they won’t damage the fabric. Different types of grease respond to different treatments.
When all else fails, take the item in for dry cleaning. Your local dry cleaner has access to tools and products that you may not find at the grocery store. Some fabrics need dry cleaning from the beginning because home remedies are too harsh for the fabric. Always check the instructions–you don’t want to ruin your wool shirt or fine leather jacket.
How to Treat Oil Stains on Shoes
Shoes might endure a lot of wear and tear, but you don’t have to let oil stains discolor your favorite sneakers or leather boots. Treating oil stains on shoes is similar to the process of treating your clothes. Grab your tools, find a toothbrush and lift grease out of the fabric to make your shoes clean and fresh again.
Before you start, consider the types of shoes that you’re dealing with. The wrong stain remover could damage sensitive materials like leather and suede. Check the manufacturer’s instructions before you treat your shoes. If you’re still not sure, play it safe and take your shoes to the dry cleaner.
Otherwise, choose the right stain remover for your shoes. If you have a fresh stain, blot the solid grease before you start treating the stain. Afterward, apply the stain remover to the surface. Don’t scrub the stain remover into the shoes unless the manufacturer recommends otherwise–you might scrub the grease deeper into the fabric.
Let the stain remover sit for at least an hour. If you have a stubborn stain, you might have to leave the shoes alone for a day or two. Otherwise, carefully wipe off the stain remover without scrubbing the fabric. Check the stain, then repeat the process if your shoes are still discolored.
Old stains are particularly challenging. But with a little knowledge, you’ll clean shoes, shirts, and jackets that you haven’t been able to use for months. Look up manufacturer instructions, and if possible, try to recall the source of the stain. This allows you to treat the stain without damaging the fabric. Otherwise, make an educated guess when you choose a stain remover.
Now that you know how to treat old stains, keep reading for tips and tricks on removing grease from your clothes. You’ll become so knowledgable that friends and relatives will ask you for advice–and maybe talk you into treating their old shirts and jackets.
If not, take time to upgrade your technique–you’ll spend a little more time now, but it’s better than repeating the process over the next few days. Once you’ve read this chapter, you’ll know how to reintroduce your favorite shirt to your wardrobe.
Tips and Tricks for Removing Oil Stains
If the basic steps don’t work, use these tips and tricks to remove the toughest grease and oil stains. Most of these tips apply to virtually every type of stain. As you become a stain removal expert, you’ll develop your own technique that includes simple steps, additional advice, and the knowledge that you gained along the way.
Get Started Immediately
While there’s no “expiration date” on when you can treat stains, if you wait for the oil to set into the fabric, you’ll deal with stiff, hardened grease instead of fluid that you could draw out with baking soda. If possible, jump into action within seconds to tackle the grease stain.
When you don’t have a choice, attack the stain as soon as you get home. The stains might look the same, but oil that you spilled an hour ago is easier to remove than a grease stain that hardened last month. Just be prepared to exert more time and effort than you would with a fresh stain.
Remove Excess Oil First
If you spill a solid oil, like butter or margarine, don’t apply the stain remover directly to the oil. Instead, use the flat edge of a knife to carefully scrape away the solid without pushing it deeper into the fabric. Otherwise, the solid melts or sticks to the fabric and makes a bigger mess.
Likewise, use a towel to blot heavy liquids, like cooking oil or maple syrup. Blot carefully, so you don’t drip the liquid over other parts of the shirt. Never tilt the fabric forward to drain off the oil–you’ll just get syrup everywhere. Instead, remove as much of the surface layer as you can so you’ll have less to treat later.
Don’t Rub it In
When most people spill oil on their clothes, they grab a napkin, rub at the stain and move on with their day. This reduces the stain’s appearance in the short term, but when they get home, the stain has hardened and soaked into their clothes. If they don’t know how to treat set-in stains, they throw away a shirt that they could have salvaged.
Even if you’re in a hurry, resist the urge to rub the stain in with a napkin or dishtowel. Instead, blot the oil to pull it out of the fabric without rubbing it into the shirt. Afterward, treat the stain as usual. You’ll eliminate the stain more quickly because it didn’t sink into the fabric beyond the surface level.
Give it Time
While you want to wear your favorite shirt again right away, keep in mind that it could take 24 hours or more to remove the stain. Be patient and let the stain remover sit for as long as possible. Some stains require only a few hours, while others need a few days. Luckily, if you wash off the stain remover before it’s done, you can always try again or experiment with a different product.
Don’t assume that you failed just because you didn’t eliminate the stain on your first attempt. Old and stubborn stains need two or three tries before the oil finally loosens from the fabric. Even if the stain doesn’t disappear right away, you’ll notice that it slowly fades until it disappears for good.
Use a Scrubbing Tool
Don’t count on your fingers or a paper towel to scrub away the stain. When you’re brushing your teeth, would a towel or toothbrush be more effective? Stains require the same level of care. Use a scrubbing tool like a toothbrush to attack the grease with soap or baking powder and rub it into the stained fabric.
Scrub for at least a few minutes to ensure that the stain remover sinks in. If it doesn’t work, tackle the oil with the toothbrush again. Brush the area around the stain as well to ensure that you get all the grease.
Check the Material Afterward
It might sound like common sense, but don’t immediately hang the shirt in your closet after you remove it from the dryer. Check the fabric to see if the stain has disappeared. While the shirt might look clean at first glance, oil stains produce subtle texture changes and discolorations that you’ll notice later.
If the stain lingers, repeat the treatment process. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with hard fabric, vague odors, and dark colors that ruin your shirt’s pattern. You can still treat old stains, so don’t assume that you have to throw away your shirt if you don’t notice anything for a week or two.
Make a Stain Removal Kit
When you spill oil on your clothes, it only takes milliseconds for the grease to seep into the fabric. Instead of wasting time searching for stain removal products, keep a stain removal kit at home.
Include tools like commercial products, scrubbing tools, and household staples, like baking soda. Store the kit in your bedroom or bathroom, so it’s always within reach.
For emergencies outside the home, keep a stain removal kit in your car. Store a stain remover pen in your bag so you can quickly tackle stains when you’re at a restaurant, movie theater, or friend’s house. Just don’t rely on the pen to remove the stain entirely–if the stain’s still visible, start a full treatment when you get home.
Oil makes a thick, syrupy stain that quickly sets into the fabric. But with the right tools and techniques, you can treat any stain, no matter how large, old, or stubborn. Dig ruined clothes out of the closet to refresh the fabric or clean butter off the shirt that you stained minutes ago with these simple steps that require basic household goods.
If you have any comments or questions, leave them in the comments section to join the conversation. Share this post with friends to spread the knowledge, and check out our other posts for more household tips and tricks.