Getting rid of stains on clothes

How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothing

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. Updated: October 6, 2017
How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothing

Oil stains are not only one of the most common stains we get on our clothes, they're also one of the most persistent. Although they're difficult to completely remove from clothes, it's not impossible. Most often the oil stains will come from food; a greasy fry, some bacon or even salad dressing. You can also get oil stains from working with engines or some other mechanical job, but these sort of tasks should only be done if wearing clothes you don't mind getting greasy or oily. oneHOWTO has some clever tips and tricks to know how to remove oil stains from clothing. We use some personal experience mixed with a little science for the most effective oil stain removers.


  1. Use degreaser
  2. Use baby powder & cornstarch
  3. Use laundry detergent
  4. Use washing-up liquid
  5. Add alcohol
  6. Removing oil stains from delicate fabrics

Use degreaser

There are many different household degreasing agents which you can use, but make sure you check the bottle or packaging to ensure you won't make the stain worse with its application. A degreaser does what you expect, it removes grease, However, different degreasers work in different ways.

Many people think that WD-40 is a lubricant, but as it is relatively volatile, it evaporates much too quick to work effectively in this way. What it is good for is use as a penetrating oil. While it may seem strange to remove an oil stain with oil, it is actually very effective. The penetrating oil "revives" the stain and helps you to wash it out afterwards. This is great as a pre-treatment, but it may not work on its own. It may only be the first step in removing oil stains from your clothes, but it could also make all the difference.

There are other degreasers available which will work in a similar way to WD-40. Simple Green, Clorox and many others have their own versions. However, using lots of chemicals on your clothing can deteriorate them, so be careful. Different products will work on oil stains for different types of material.

If the oil is still on the material (i.e. just as the stain occurs), then you should remove it carefully with a spoon. Collect the oil and wash the spoon before putting onto your clothes again. This is because rubbing or even blotting can cause the stain to spread and will make removing oil stains from your clothes even more difficult.

Use baby powder & cornstarch

Some stains you get on clothes will dry out and can be picked off or only require a little water to remove. However, as oil and water are immiscible, this will not work when you have oil stains on your clothes. If the oil stain is not very big, the first thing to do is try to remove as much of it as possible with a cloth or paper towel. Be careful with paper towel when removing stains as it can break down into annoying little pieces. Follow this by using an absorbent powder on the oil stain. The most common household trick is to use baking soda (otherwise known as bicarbonate of soda), but cornstarch, talcum powder or even salt can work.

These products work for removing oil stains as they are an astringent. An astringent is a chemical compound which shrinks tissue and essentially dries it our. To make it work, put some baking soda on the oil stain area. With an old toothbrush or something similar, rub the oil stain. You should see parts of the powder clump together as the oil is extracted. However, if you wet the area first with water, this will be less effective as the baking soda will remove the water also and be less effective. Repeat the process up to three times if necessary. You may also want to put a piece of cardboard behind the stain. This is because if you are rubbing the stain with nothing behind it, you will likely rub some of the oil onto the back side of the item. Putting something between them will work as a barrier and help prevent the situation from becoming worse.

How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothing - Use baby powder & cornstarch

Use laundry detergent

If the astringent baking soda or similar has not worked completely, you may need to follow it up with a little laundry detergent. If you don't have any baking soda, then you can just go straight to this step. Two minutes after you have rubbed the baking soda in, add a little laundry detergent and water to the satin. Gently rub until a foam is produced. Then, take the same brush you used before and rub the stain in a circular motion. Wash the oil-stained garment in the machine as you would normally do.

All this rubbing is usually fine for tough fibers, but if you are using them on more delicate material like linen or super soft cotton, you will need to be careful when rubbing with a brush. Gentle movements or light rubs will work best. Laundry detergent comes in two forms - powder and liquid. Actually it also comes in pod or tablet forms, but these will not be helpful when removing oil stains from clothes. Make sure to set out a good space when working with laundry detergent and be careful of your hands. While it is not as corrosive as some other household chemicals, it is very bad for your skin and can burn if left on for too long. Wear gloves and clear some space when washing out stains.

Use washing-up liquid

For larger or more stubborn oil stains, if the above trick does not work, apply a few drops of washing-up liquid to the dry piece of clothing and let it sit. You can leave it overnight to absorb the oil stain well. Then wash the garment with detergent as normal. This trick can also be applied with soap powder. Dawn washing up liquid is commonly used. It is a multi-purpose degreaser which many swear by. As you use it on dirty dishes with a lot of oil on them, they work with a similar principle. They break down the oil and make it easier to remove. However, like all of these steps on how to remove oil stains from clothing, you may need to work this step in with some of the others.

When drying the garment, make sure to air dry it. The hot temperatures of the drying machine may set any left-over oil that may remain, making it even harder to remove. This is true if you have yet to try any of these techniques. If you find an oil stain on your clothes, don't put it directly in the washer, especially not on a hot temperature setting. This is because the heat can help set the stain and make it nigh impossible to remove. The same goes for putting it in the tumble dryer or drying the stain with a hairdryer.

How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothing - Use washing-up liquid

Add alcohol

Alcohol of 90% volume or more is another of the most effective home remedies for stubborn oil stains. This type of alcohol is often known as rubbing alcohol and is a special product not for human consumption. The alcohol works to break down the stain as would other solvents. While it is the alcohol which is the active ingredient, it is not advisable to use an alcoholic drink such as whisky to remove an oil stain. This will only make matters worse and is also a waste of a perfectly nice beverage.

Apply a few drops of alcohol to the stain and let sit for two minutes. After this time, put the garment to soak in water and soap or detergent powder for ten minutes. Then wash the oil stained clothes by hand, rubbing gently with warm water. If the stain doesn't go away, repeat this step. Do not forget to wear latex or nitrile gloves. This is because alcohol can break down regular rubber gloves and cause a nasty problem.

How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothing - Add alcohol

Removing oil stains from delicate fabrics

If the stained garment is made from softer delicate fabrics such as suede, velour or chamois, you should first try the astringent technique. Apply salt or something similar to the stain and leave for 2 - 3 hours. Then, grab a brush and rub gently, first in the direction of the hair and then in the opposite direction. Wash the garment as you normally would.

Other delicate clothing material will also need an equally delicate approach. Unless you are confident in your materials, check the label before you try to remove any stains. These labels (or tags as they are also known) will show you information on how to treat the clothing. These include washing temperatures, bleaching possibilities, ironing setting and others. They will be helpful in working out how to best treat the oil stain.

How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothing - Removing oil stains from delicate fabrics

Oil stains are hard to remove with a normal hand or machine wash, but if you try one of these household tricks, the oil stain is sure to disappear. Remember to carefully read the label for washing instructions before washing the garment and act as soon as it happens. If you have an oil stain on your shoes, find out how to remove it here. You may also be interested in how to remove nail polish stains from your clothes.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothing, we recommend you visit our Home cleaning category.


  • Before trying any of these home tips, test the solution or remedy on a hidden part of the fabric to make sure it doesn't cause any damage.
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How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothing