Here’s How to Get Pesky Oil and Grease Stains Out of Clothing

published Oct 13, 2022
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Blotting at a grease stain on a blue t-shirt, with dish soap and a cloth

Of all the possible laundry offenders, grease and oil stains are some of the peskiest. Not only do these spots seem to stand out like a sore thumb on your clothes, but they’re also notoriously difficult to remove.

According to Laura Goodman, senior scientist at Procter & Gamble, you have basic chemistry to thank for these stains’ resilience. Most greases and oils are semi-solid or solid at room temperature, which means removal requires warm or hot water. It also depends on the fabric: Goodman says synthetic fibers like polyester are especially tough to treat, because grease and oil are attracted to them. And since synthetic fibers are becoming more and more popular, you may find yourself struggling with these annoying stains more often. 

And yet, removing oil stains from clothes definitely isn’t impossible if you time it right. The key, Goodman says, is to act as quickly as possible—ideally, as soon as the stain happens. Once it dries or sets, that annoying oil stain will be a lot harder to get out. 

If you’re hoping to get an oily stain out of your clothes—whether fresh or set-in—here is everything you need to know, according to laundry experts.

How to Use Baking Soda to Remove Oil Stains

Laundry expert Patric Richardson, owner of the Minneapolis-based boutique Mona Williams, says baking soda works by pulling oil out of fabric and into itself. If you can’t wash something—like a heavy coat or a piece of furniture—Richardson recommends using baking soda as a first line of defense before you treat the stain. Here’s how: 

  1. Remove any excess oil with a paper towel or cloth.
  2. Sprinkle baking soda on the affected fabric and allow it to sit for 24 hours. 
  3. After a day passes, vacuum or brush the baking soda away. 
  4. Spray the affected area with a vinegar and water solution. 
  5. Scrub with soap and a brush, then rinse. 
  6. Repeat the process if the stain remains.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to Use Chalk to Remove Oil Stains

Technically, Richardson says, chalk should remove oil from your clothes the same way baking soda does: by literally pulling the oil from the fabric and into itself. But he doesn’t recommend chalk for large or set-in stains. Instead, try this trick on small grease splatters, like if you’re cooking and a dot of grease ends up on your shirt.

  1. Remove any excess food and oil from the garment with a clean paper towel.
  2. Cover the entire spot with chalk, allowing a few minutes for the oil to completely absorb. 
  3. Wash the soiled item as soon as possible after the stain occurs.

How to Remove Set-In Oil Stains, Step by Step

Set-in oil stains can be intimidating—and, admittedly, they do require some work (and the right ingredients) to remove. If you didn’t have a chance to remove your oil or grease stain immediately after it happened, follow these steps:

1. Work on the stain while the fabric is dry. 

It’s not a good idea to rinse your garment with water before you work on the stain. “It’s much easier to work on a dry fabric because oil and water don’t mix,” Richardson says. “So when you wet the fabric, what happens is the water coats all the fabric around the oil so you don’t have anywhere to move the oil away.” 

2. Place a piece of cardboard behind the stain.

Putting a piece of cardboard between layers of your garment will help you avoid transferring any oil to other parts of the fabric. Upcycle something around the house, like an old cereal carton or delivery box.

3. Blot the stain with a clean, dry cloth. 

You want to try and remove as much excess oil as possible. Blot carefully to avoid spreading the oil to unaffected parts of the fabric. If you don’t have a cloth, a napkin, tissue, or paper towel will also work. 

4. Apply dish soap to the stain.

Liquid dish soap is effective at cutting through grease on clothes, just like it does on your dishes. As a pre-treatment, apply a few drops of liquid dish soap to the stain and let it soak in, rubbing gently with fingers, a clean, soft-bristled toothbrush, or a cloth to help work it in. You’ll want to let the dish soap soak in for about five minutes.

5. Rinse with warm water, then launder as usual.

Wait five minutes after applying the dish soap, then rinse with warm water. Wash the item in hot water with your normal detergent plus either bleach (for white items) or a color-safe laundry booster (like OxiClean or The Laundress’ Bleach Alternative, for colored items).

6. Air- or line-dry your item.

Since grease stains are hard to see on wet garments, Goodman recommends waiting to machine dry until you’re sure the spot is actually gone. If any stain remains after air drying, repeat the dish soap treatment and launder again in hot water. Don’t machine-dry your item because the high temperature could set the stain, making it even more difficult to remove. 

Can you remove grease stains after washing and drying?

It’s not the ideal scenario, but Richardson says you can remove oil stains on fabric even after it’s washed and dried, it’ll just require an additional step. The heat involved in a dryer cycle essentially “bakes” the oil into the fabric, which can result in discoloration. So you’ll need to pre-treat it again, but this time with an enzyme-based cleaner and your normal pre-treatment. “I just treat the stain again like I did the first time, let the pre-treatment dry, then use the enzyme-based treatment,” he says. “Then I’d just launder again as normal.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Does WD-40 remove oil stains from clothes? 

Strangely enough, WD-40 can remove oil stains from fabric. In general, Richardson says, oily will remove oily. “The problem is, then you have to get the WD-40 out, too, since it will sometimes leave its own residue,” he says. 

Since WD-40 isn’t all that eco-friendly of a stain-removal option, Richardson suggests using an oil-based soap instead, whether dish soap (just note dish soap is acidic and can be hard on clothes), Murphy’s Oil Soap, or Stain Solution from The Laundress.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: How to Get Oil and Grease Stains Out of Clothes