If you're reading this, you might have found yourself in a bad spot regarding oil and your outfit. Whether it’s cooking oil or motor oil, any type of oil stain can be extremely difficult to remove. And though oil stains might not seem like the worst type of stain compared to some of the more colorful options out there, they can be tough to get out. Unfortunately, they also seem to linger forever in your clothing, giving it that shabby and stained look far before its time.
However, while oil stains can be a problem, we have the solution. Even if your regular liquid detergent alone isn’t up for the job of getting rid of oily stains, there are cleaning products and methods that work — and you can save your clothes. While we cannot guarantee perfection every single time, here are the general steps to remove that awful, annoying oil stain from your clothing:
Isolate and Examine the Damage
Before anything else, you need to ensure that you are not going to make anything worse. Get yourself out of the situation which caused the stain in the first place, or at least change if you can. This might not always be possible, but time is of the essence if you want to remove a grease stain successfully.
Lay out the clothing and see how nasty the stain is. Also, see if the oil has gone through any layers and take appropriate steps to protect the rest of the item if you can. It might also be a good time to think about what clothing you are dealing with and how much stress the material can take from the cleaning method. Will you need to use hot or cold water? Is it dry clean only? Start asking yourself these questions, and consult the care label if you aren't sure. Knowing what type of fabric you are dealing with and understanding the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations goes a long way toward helping you remove even the most stubborn stains without damaging your clothes.
Once you know what you are working with, start with the tips and methods below.
General Purpose Tips and Tricks for Removing Oil-Based Stains
Before looking at the exact methods below, there are some steps and tips that are universal to the process. So go through the following and keep everything in mind when you are working on the oil stain:
- Try putting a cloth, piece of cardboard or even a paper towel beneath the stain, especially if there is another layer of fabric below it. It can help absorb some of the grease and prevent the stain from spreading to other layers.
- In nearly every case, the faster you can address the stain, the better. Oil stains set in over time and can be much trickier to get out if they've been there for some time. It's not impossible to remove old oil stains, but it will require more effort than dealing with spots right away.
- Before applying a stain remover or using laundry detergent, the first step with most oil stains is to remove as much excess oil as possible. Do this by dabbing or blotting. Do not scrub, as this will force the oil deeper into the fibers or cause the stain to spread. Be careful and remove as much excess oil as you can without making the problem worse.
- Not every method is listed below. There might be other options, but they generally use more abrasive or potentially damaging cleaning products. We decided to stick with easy-to-implement methods that have a minimal chance of causing harm.
- Many types of oils could cause a stain, but, ultimately, the amount of oil and the depth of the stain matter more than the type of oil. The processes below are neutral when it comes to which oil you're dealing with. Whether you are dealing with cooking oil stains (like olive oil), motor oil or another oil substance, these suggestions are appropriate for attempting to remove the stain.
- There may be times where you need to rub or brush in a cleaning product. When doing this, make sure that you are not spreading the stain. Try to brush from the outside in, and do not be too rough. Be mindful of what type of brush you use, too. Generally, you want to use a soft brush to avoid damaging the fabric.
- Other times, patience is needed. While we would love to say that one round of cleaning works in every situation, sometimes you might need to run it through the process several times. As long as you keep seeing progress, keep going. Do not machine dry the garment until you are sure you have removed as much of the stain as possible. The heat of a dryer often sets stains, making them even more difficult (if not impossible) to remove.
- Sometimes, though rarely, there might be nothing you can do about the stain. It might be ingrained too deep or settled in for too long — or it might not be a good idea to try cleaning the delicate fabric. In these cases, you should either not worry about the stain (for the cheapest of items) or invest in going to the dry cleaner to remove grease stains from expensive garments and those that have sentimental value. They have tools and methods you don't, and it's a better option than potentially ruining your favorite clothes. At the very least, they can provide you with the information you need to determine whether or not an article of clothing is salvageable.
- Try to keep your oil-stained clothes away from the rest of your clothes when you wash them. While the chance of cross-contamination is minimal, try to reduce risk whenever possible to avoid ending up with even more stains you’ll need to remove.
- Whenever you are dealing with the stain, try to keep the article away from heat sources. This might seem obvious, but do try to be safe as most types of oil are flammable. Some oils are, of course, more dangerous than others, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
The 4 Best Methods to Remove Tough Stains from Clothing
Not every method will work best for every type of fabric or strength of stain, though you can be sure that you will find a suitable option among the four below. They all use easy-to-find cleaners, and they're all easy to implement. Go through and select the option that's right for you.
1. Using Baking Soda
We start with the basics. You can use baking soda to help get rid of stains and help deal with all sorts of problems around the house. To use it on your oil stain, use the following steps:
- Prepare the garment appropriately as described above.
- Apply the baking soda to the stained area.
- Wait 24 hours for the baking soda to work. For this reason, we recommend that you do this in a place that won't be disturbed.
- Check for progress. If baking soda alone isn't working, also apply a warm water and vinegar solution.
- Lightly scrub the affected area. Rinse with water when done.
- Repeat as needed or until you feel the need to try a more powerful method.
- Once the stain is gone, toss the garment in your washing machine and wash using your regular detergent.
2. Using Baking Soda and Dish Detergent
Sometimes, just baking soda isn't enough for your stain. For these more demanding situations, we recommend a combination of baking soda and a compatible dish detergent. Dish detergent is made to break up food oils, so it only makes sense to use it when attempting to remove oily stains from your favorite clothes. To get the most out of these products, go by the following steps:
- Start by using the above tips to prepare the garment to the best of your ability.
- Lay out the garment flat on an appropriate surface.
- Put a few drops of dish soap on the stained area (for larger stains, you might want to use a bit more). Brush in the dish soap using a toothbrush or your hands.
- Once the dish soap is in, sprinkle some baking soda on the stain. Scrub this in as well. Try not to be too harsh with the scrubbing, as you might damage your clothing. And take care to avoid spreading the stain.
- Wait for about an hour to give the pre-treatment time to work.
- Rinse the area with water at a temperature appropriate to the fabric.
- Check to see if the stain is gone. If so — congratulations! All you need to do is wash in hot water (as long as it is safe to do so) and dry your clothing as usual. If not, then you might need to repeat the process.
Note: For the above methods, corn starch is a suitable substitution for baking soda. It also absorbs oil and can pull greasy stains out of clothing.
3. Using Chalk
Many people might not think of using chalk to get rid of stains, but it can be just as effective as baking soda in some cases. It's also simple to use. Just do the following:
- Prepare your clothing according to all the tips above and place it on a flat surface where it will not be disturbed. We also recommend centering the stain on the surface for ease.
- Either rub chalk on the stain until it is covered or apply chalk dust over the stain. Be liberal with the application. The chalk won't hurt anything, and you should have the stain covered entirely if possible.
- Wait for the chalk to work. Try not to disturb it while waiting. The longer you wait, the better off you will be, though about three hours should be sufficient.
- Check to see if the chalk is working and brush it off the garment. Apply more and wait if needed.
- Wash the piece of clothing in your washer like you would at any other time. Air dry and then review whether the stain persists. If it does, you might want to try another method.
We would note that since many people don't want chalk dust in their home (understandably), you might want to do this outside or in your garage.
4. Using Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera is one of the most useful things you can have around the house — and for the health benefits alone, you should have some on hand. However, aloe vera gel, in particular, can have some cleaning properties and can cut into that grease stain. Here's how to use it properly:
- Soak the area or garment in water that's an appropriate temperature for the fabric.
- Apply the aloe vera gel to the stain, and then scrub or brush it in lightly. We recommend a circular motion for this.
- Wait at least 15 minutes for the aloe vera gel to take effect. You can wait longer, though you don't want it to dry out.
- After doing this, rewash the garment. Use the proper water temperature for the fabric.
- Check to see if the stain is removed, and do not use a dryer for the moment. Air dry if possible.
What Makes Oil Stains So Tough?
While oil stains might not be the worst out there (we give that title to certain types of paints), they can be rough on people for several reasons:
- They're so easy to come by. No matter what you wear, it's hard to avoid eating, and oils and grease are common in so many foods. Just a typical day of cooking can lead to stains, whether you're wearing an apron or not.
- They might not be so easy to notice. A bright blood or ketchup stain is something you (or someone else) will notice immediately. An oil stain is often dull, and it might be far too late for easy removal by the time you see it.
- Oil and water don't mix, meaning oil stains might resist the usual rinsing we might try with other stains. It requires unique, though very commonly found, cleaners and methods.
- Oil stains, like many types of stains, can set into the fabric over time. If heat is applied, the stain can effectively "bake in," which is why putting a stained item in the dryer is a bad idea.
Oil stains can be a real blight on your day and can ruin an otherwise great piece of clothing. But, fortunately, there are ways to get the oil stain out with minimal damage to your clothes and hopefully without as much work as you feared. So be patient with the methods, try not to panic (even if it is your favorite shirt) and let the products do the work.