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How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothes

Updated on October 26, 2011

How to Remove Oil Stains from Clothes

Many people consider an oil-stained garment to be a write-off - often it is either simply thrown away, or it is relegated to the housework or rags bin. However, if your favorite t-shirt is stained, don't despair. This article will show you how to remove oil stains from clothes (assuming the stain is fresh), and that it's easier than you think.

Please note that this article is for regular fabrics only - not something like silk. If you've stained silk, take it to a dry-cleaner's as soon as you can.

Don't Panic

The first step is: don't panic. Oil stains aren't that difficult to remove. In most cases, small stains disappear when your garment is laundered normally. Most detergents are very good at getting rid of oil and fat since they have to get rid of sweat stains, and sweat stains are basically salt and fat or oil (the water evaporates quickly). If you have a large stain, then make sure to follow the instructions below carefully, and you'll be fine.

Oil, as we all know, doesn't like to mix with water. This actually makes it easier to clean the clothes, as most of the color, whether from machine oil or from cooking oil, is bound up in the oil itself. If there's a lot of oil, simply washing the garment will make it worse, as soap and detergents are designed to mix oil and water together. This, the first thing to do is:


Absorb the Oil

The first thing to do is to cover the stain with something that will absorb the oil. Flour, corn starch, or even fine sand will do the trick. Let the powder do its thing for a few minutes, then brush it off. Most of the oil should already be gone by this point.

Another good thing to do at this point is to push some warm water through the cloth behind the stain. That is, from the side opposite the stain. This should push out some more of the oil. You can skip this if you're in a hurry.


Before you wash, you can optionally apply some pre-wash stain remover (like Vanish) to the stained area. Remember to follow the instructions on the label carefully, and check to make sure it won't damage the fabric in some way.


Wash the garment normally. Ideally, you want to check the label, and wash it at the highest temperature possible. Since many detergents and stain removers already contain powerful chemical concoctions to remove oil, even a regular wash should suffice. In case it didn't, however, make sure to air-dry the fabric, as using a dryer would make things worse (it would heat the oil, causing it to spread through clothes that are already clean).

If the oil stain isn't gone already, repeat the pre-wash and wash steps.

At this point, you should be good to go! If the stain is an old one, or it's particularily tough, it might not have fully disappeared. In that case, please see below.

Tough Stains

For particularly tough stains, you might want to invest in some perchloroethylene, or 'perc', which is the stuff dry-cleaners use. Be very careful, and only use tiny amounts. It's best if you ask someone at your local dry-cleaner's how to use it, and always, ALWAYS follow the safety advice on the label. Perc is dangerous and toxic, and should only be used with great care.


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    • Coeus profile image

      Coeus 6 years ago from All over the world and then some.

      Thanks James Melbin for the kind comment!

    • Coeus profile image

      Coeus 6 years ago from All over the world and then some.

      Glad I could help, TToombs08!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 6 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Awesome! My husband is a mechanic and occasionally, he tosses his oily clothes in with the rest of the laundry and I end up with oil stains on my 5 year old's clothes (like his favorite Elmo shirt - ACK!). Thank you for helping me save the Elmo shirt!

    • James Melbin profile image

      James Melbin 6 years ago from Nigeria

      this article is woow!

    • thooghun profile image

      James D. Preston 6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      A very concise and no-nonsense article, well done Coeus.


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