How to get oil stains out of clothes

We’ve all been there – you’re cooking a delicious meal, you’ve got the oil heating up in the pan, and suddenly it splatters all over your clothes. Or maybe you’re changing the oil in your car and a few drops end up on your shirt. Oil stains can be one of the most stubborn and frustrating types of stains to get out of fabric. But with the right techniques and some elbow grease, it is possible to remove those pesky oil spots and get your clothes looking good as new.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process for removing oil stains from all kinds of fabrics, from delicate silks to sturdy denim. We’ll cover the best pre-treatment methods, the optimal washing techniques, and some handy home remedies you can try. By the end, you’ll be an oil stain removal pro, able to tackle even the greasiest of marks with confidence. Let’s dive in!

get oil stains out of clothes

Oil Stains on clothes

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of stain removal, it’s important to understand a bit more about how oil stains work and why they can be so tricky to get out. Oil stains, whether from cooking, automotive fluids, or other sources, are composed of lipids or fatty compounds. These lipids don’t dissolve in water, which is why regular washing with just soap and water is often not enough to remove them.

Oil stains also tend to penetrate deep into fabric fibres, making them even harder to reach and lift out. Over time, oil can oxidize and “set” into the fabric, turning the stain yellow or brown and making it even more stubborn.

The type of fabric the stain is on can also play a big role. Delicate fabrics like silk or satin may be more prone to permanent staining, while sturdier materials like cotton or polyester can often withstand more aggressive stain removal techniques.

Common Sources of Oil Stains

  • Cooking oil – from splashing or spilling while cooking
  • Motor oil – from working on cars or machinery
  • Lotions, creams, and other beauty products
  • Salad dressings, mayo, and other food-based oils
  • Grease and lubricants from machinery or tools

Pre-Treating Oil Stains

The key to successfully getting oil stains out of clothes is to act quickly. The sooner you can start the stain removal process, the better. As soon as you notice an oil stain, gently blot the area with a clean, absorbent cloth or paper towel to soak up as much of the excess oil as possible.

Next, you’ll want to pre-treat the stain before washing. There are a few different options for effective pre-treatment:

  1. Dish Soap: Apply a small amount of liquid dish soap directly to the stain and gently rub it in with your fingers. Dish soap is formulated to cut through grease and oils, making it a great pre-treatment for oil stains. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before washing.
  2. Laundry Detergent: For a stronger pre-treatment, use a small amount of your regular laundry detergent, either powder or liquid and rub it into the stain. The surfactants and enzymes in the detergent will help break down the oil. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes before washing.
  3. Baking Soda Paste: Mix a tablespoon of baking soda with just enough water to form a thick paste. Spread this paste over the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes before washing. The baking soda will help absorb and lift the oil.
  4. Cornstarch: Sprinkle a light layer of cornstarch over the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The cornstarch will help draw the oil out of the fabric fibres. Brush off the cornstarch before washing.
  5. Hairspray: Believe it or not, the alcohol in hairspray can be effective at dissolving oil stains. Simply spray the stain, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then wash as usual.

No matter which pre-treatment method you choose, be sure to blot the area gently with a clean cloth or paper towel before washing to remove any excess oil or product.

Commercial Pre-Treat Products

For even tougher oil stains, you can also try using a commercial pre-treat product designed specifically for grease and oil. Here are a few top-rated options:

  • Zout Laundry Stain Remover – Uses a blend of surfactants and enzymes to break down oil and grease.
  • Persil ProClean Stain Fighter – Contains optical brighteners to help lift oil and food stains.
  • OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover – Uses oxygen-based cleaning to tackle tough stains like oil and grease.

Always follow the product instructions carefully and test on a small, inconspicuous area of the fabric first.

Washing Oil Stained Clothes

Once you’ve pre-treated the stain, it’s time to wash the garment. For best results, wash the item in the hottest water safe for that fabric. The heat helps to further break down and lift the oil.

If the stain is on a delicate fabric, you may want to try a gentler, cold water wash instead. Avoid putting the item in the dryer until you’re sure the stain has been fully removed, as the heat can set the stain.

You can also try these additional tips for washing oil-stained clothes:

  • Use an enzyme-based laundry detergent. The enzymes help target and break down the lipids in the oil.
  • Add a bit of white vinegar to the wash cycle. The acidity in vinegar can help cut through grease and oils.
  • For tough stains, you may need to wash the item multiple times, re-treating the stain between washes.
  • Avoid using fabric softener, as it can make it harder to remove oil stains.
  • If the stain persists after washing, try spot-cleaning the area with a small amount of rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. Test first on a hidden area of the fabric to ensure it doesn’t cause discolouration.

Home Remedies for Oil Stains

In addition to commercial pre-treatments and laundry techniques, there are also several household items you can use to tackle oil stains. These DIY solutions can be particularly handy for quick touch-ups or when you don’t have access to specialty products.

  1. Baby Powder or Cornstarch
    Sprinkling a layer of baby powder or cornstarch over a fresh oil stain and letting it sit for at least 30 minutes can help absorb the oil. The powder will draw the oil out of the fabric, making it easier to brush or dab away.
  2. Shaving Cream
    The surfactants and emulsifiers in shaving cream can be effective at lifting oil stains. Rub a small amount of shaving cream into the stain, let it sit for 10-15 minutes, then wash as usual.
  3. Rubbing Alcohol
    For a stronger DIY treatment, try applying a small amount of rubbing alcohol directly to the stain with a clean cloth. The alcohol will help break down the oil. Just be sure to test it first on an inconspicuous area of the fabric.
  4. Lemon Juice
    The citric acid in lemon juice can also help cut through grease and oils. Squeeze fresh lemon juice directly onto the stain, let it sit for 30 minutes, then launder as usual.
  5. Chalk
    Believe it or not, regular old chalk can be an effective oil stain remover. Rub a piece of white chalk directly onto the stain and let it sit for an hour or more before washing. The chalk will absorb the oil.

No matter which home remedy you try, be sure to thoroughly rinse the area with water before washing to remove any residue. And again, always test any solution on a small, inconspicuous area of the fabric first.

Specialty Oil Stain Removers

If you find yourself dealing with oil stains frequently, it may be worth investing in a specialized oil stain remover product. These are designed specifically to target and lift greasy, oily marks. Some top options include:

  • Lestoil Heavy Duty Cleaner – A heavy-duty degreaser that can tackle even the toughest oil stains.
  • Puracy Natural Stain Remover – Uses plant-based enzymes to break down oil and grease.
  • Biz Stain Fighter – Contains optical brighteners to help lift oil and grease.

Always spot-test these products first and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Preventing Future Oil Stains

Of course, the best way to deal with oil stains is to prevent them in the first place. Here are some tips to help keep your clothes oil-free:

  • Wear an apron or smock when cooking or doing messy tasks to protect your clothing.
  • Apply a stain-repellent treatment to high-risk garments like work shirts or pants.
  • Blot up spills immediately with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  • Pretreat stains as soon as possible, before they have a chance to set.
  • Avoid wearing your “good” clothes for activities where oil stains are likely.

Stain Repellent Treatments

To help prevent future oil stains, you can also treat your clothes with a stain-repellent formula. These work by creating a barrier on the fabric that makes it harder for oils and other liquids to penetrate and stain the fibres. Some top options include:

  • Scotchgard Fabric Water Shield – Helps repel water, oil, and grease-based stains.
  • Kona Stain Repellent Spray – Plant-based formula that creates an invisible barrier.
  • TriNova Stain Repellent – Works on fabrics, carpets, and upholstery.

Apply these repellents according to the product instructions, focusing on high-risk areas like collars, cuffs, and the front of shirts.

With the right pre-treatment, washing techniques, and a few handy home remedies, you can successfully remove even the toughest oil stains from your clothes. Just remember to act quickly, use the right products, and never put a stained item in the dryer until the stain is fully removed.

By following these steps, you’ll be able to keep your wardrobe looking fresh and clean, no matter what life (or your cooking) throws at you. Happy stain removal!

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.