How to remove oil stains from paper

Oil stains can be a frustrating problem when they find their way onto important documents, artwork, or other delicate paper materials. Whether it’s a smudge from greasy fingers or a spill from a leaky pen, these unsightly blemishes can be challenging to remove without causing further damage. However, with the right techniques and a little patience, it is possible to effectively remove oil stains from paper and restore your valuable items to their former glory.

remove oil stain from paper

Identifying the Type of Oil Stain

The first step in removing an oil stain from paper is to identify the type of oil involved. This will help you select the most appropriate cleaning method. Common types of oil stains include:

  1. Vegetable or Cooking Oil: These stains are often caused by fingerprints, food preparation, or spills from cooking.
  2. Mineral Oil: This type of oil is commonly found in lubricants, cosmetics, and some printing inks.
  3. Machine Oil: Stains from machinery, such as printers or typewriters, usually contain a mixture of mineral and synthetic oils.
  4. Ink Oil: Some inks, particularly those used in ballpoint pens, contain oil-based components that can leave behind stubborn stains.

Understanding the nature of the oil stain will guide you in choosing the most effective cleaning solution and technique.

Preparing the Paper for Cleaning

Before attempting to remove the oil stain, it’s important to ensure the paper is properly prepared. Follow these steps:

  1. Blot the Stain: Gently blot the stain with a clean, absorbent paper towel or cloth to remove any excess oil. Avoid rubbing, as this can spread the stain and further embed it into the paper.
  2. Assess the Stain: Examine the stain closely to determine its size and location on the paper. This information will help you select the appropriate cleaning method and materials.
  3. Protect the Paper: If the paper is valuable or delicate, such as an antique document or a work of art, consider placing a clean blotting paper or a piece of acid-free tissue paper underneath the stained area to prevent the cleaning solution from seeping through and causing further damage.
  4. Test the Cleaning Method: Before applying a cleaning solution to the entire stain, test it on a small, inconspicuous area of the paper to ensure it does not cause discolouration or damage.

Effective Cleaning Techniques

Depending on the type and severity of the oil stain, you can employ various cleaning techniques to remove it from the paper. Here are some of the most effective methods:

Absorbent Powders

One of the simplest and most commonly used methods for removing oil stains from paper is the use of absorbent powders. Here’s how to use this technique:

  1. Sprinkle a thin layer of an absorbent powder, such as talcum powder, cornstarch, or baby powder, over the stain.
  2. Allow the powder to sit for several hours or overnight, depending on the size and severity of the stain. The powder will draw the oil out of the paper, absorbing it.
  3. Gently brush or blot the powder away, removing the oil stain with it.
  4. Repeat the process if necessary, using a fresh application of powder.

This method is particularly effective for fresh, relatively small oil stains and works well on a variety of paper types.

Blotting with Absorbent Materials

Another effective technique for removing oil stains from paper is to use absorbent materials to blot the stain. Follow these steps:

  1. Place a clean, absorbent paper towel or blotting paper underneath the stained area.
  2. Gently blot the stain with a clean, dry paper towel or cloth, pressing down firmly to draw the oil out of the paper and into the absorbent material.
  3. Replace the absorbent material as needed, continuing to blot until no more oil is transferred.
  4. If the stain persists, you can try placing a clean piece of absorbent material over the stain and pressing a warm iron (set to low heat) onto the material. The heat will help to draw the oil out of the paper and into the absorbent material.

This method is effective for both fresh and older oil stains, and it can be repeated as necessary to achieve the desired results.

Solvent-Based Cleaning

For more stubborn oil stains, you may need to use a solvent-based cleaning solution. Carefully follow these steps:

  1. Select a mild solvent, such as mineral spirits, or a commercial stain remover specifically designed for oil-based stains.
  2. Apply a small amount of the solvent to a clean, white cloth or cotton swab.
  3. Gently blot the stained area, being careful not to rub the stain too vigorously, as this can spread the oil and potentially damage the paper.
  4. Repeat the blotting process, using a clean section of the cloth or a fresh cotton swab, until the stain is removed or no more oil is being transferred.
  5. Once the stain is removed, immediately blot the area with a clean, dry cloth to absorb any residual solvent.
  6. Allow the paper to fully dry before handling or storing it.

It’s important to use a solvent-based cleaning solution with caution, as some solvents can be harsh and may cause discolouration or damage to the delicate paper. Always test the solvent on a small, inconspicuous area first.

Enzymatic Cleaners

For particularly stubborn oil stains, enzymatic cleaners can be an effective solution. These specialized cleaners contain enzymes that help break down the oil molecules, making them easier to remove. Follow the instructions on the enzymatic cleaner’s packaging, as the application process may vary by product.

One example of an effective enzymatic cleaner for oil stain removal is the Biz Advanced Stain Remover. This product contains a blend of enzymes that target and break down a variety of stains, including oil-based ones. It’s designed to be gentle on fabrics and paper, making it a suitable option for delicate materials.

Professional Cleaning

If the oil stain is extensive or the paper is of high value, it may be best to consult a professional paper conservator. They have access to specialized equipment and techniques that can safely remove even the most stubborn oil stains while minimizing the risk of damage to the paper.

One reputable provider of professional paper conservation services is The Conservation Center. They have a team of experienced conservators who can assess the condition of your paper and recommend the most appropriate cleaning methods to restore it.

Preventing Future Oil Stains

To avoid the hassle of removing oil stains from paper, it’s best to take preventative measures. Here are some tips:

  1. Handle Paper with Care: Wear clean gloves or wash your hands thoroughly before handling important documents, artwork, or other delicate paper materials.
  2. Use Oil-Free Pens and Pencils: Opt for pens and pencils that do not contain oil-based inks or lubricants. Some recommended options include:
  • Pilot FriXion Clicker Erasable Gel Pens
  • Caran d’Ache Fixpencil HB Pencils
  1. Store Paper Properly: Keep paper in a clean, dry environment away from sources of oil, such as machinery or food preparation areas.
  2. Act Quickly: If an oil stain does occur, address it as soon as possible, as fresh stains are generally easier to remove than older ones.

By following these preventative measures and utilizing the appropriate cleaning techniques, you can effectively remove oil stains from paper and preserve the integrity of your valuable documents, artwork, and other paper-based materials.


Removing oil stains from paper can be a challenging task, but with the right approach, it is possible to restore your valuable items to their former condition. By understanding the type of oil stain, properly preparing the paper, and employing effective cleaning techniques, you can successfully remove even the most stubborn blemishes. Remember to always test cleaning solutions on a small, inconspicuous area first, and consider seeking professional assistance for particularly delicate or valuable paper materials. With patience and care, you can keep your important documents, artwork, and other paper-based items looking their best.

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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.