How To Remove Oil Stains From Clothes

There are more than a dozen type of stains each with different techniques for tackling them.

Part of the mix include oil stains caused by automotive oils, fuel, meat, and cooking fats and oils, through unforeseen events— like our toddler messing around with baking fat and coming over to lock in that big hug.

These type of stains require quick action the moment they occur, if at all you wish to save the integrity of the fabric and return it to it’s colorful glory.

When you acquire oil stains, treat them as fast as you can, by applying heavy-duty liquid detergent to the stain and work it into the fabric gently and in a circular motion using a soft sponge, cloth or nylon brush. Allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse with warm water before putting inside the washer to wash in the hottest setting allowed for that fabric.

Quick response is all that makes the difference when you’re dealing with an oil based stain, as you hardly would ever require any fancy ingredient other than heavy-duty liquid laundry detergents!

In the succeeding headings, we’ll discuss the critical things you need to know concerning dealing with oil stains, how to actually get rid of old and fresh oil stains, and the best practices for dealing with stains in general.

The Critical Things To Note When Dealing With Oil Stains

Pretreat fast, and use heavy duty liquid detergent or a dry cleaning fluid or stain remover.

Oil stains include:

  1. Butter or margarine
  2. Automotive oil
  3. Fuel like kerosene, petrol and diesel
  4. Facial, body and hair cream/oil.
  5. Cooking oils.
  6. Collar greasy rings.

Pretreatment is key to dissolving the elements in the stain that can hold back and set in. When you pretreat with detergent, ensure it’s a liquid laundry detergent and a heavy duty one for that matter.

These are much more stronger, effective and efficient than powdered detergents at removing stains because they dissolve in water easily.

If you opt for the more professional approach to stain removal at home, which means you’re opting to use stain removers, opt for detergent based stain removers to do the job, especially when you intend drying in the dryer!

Dry cleaning solvents are also available, and they’re solvent based, but the risk of irritation and toxicity is higher.

It’s good to put it out there though, that dry cleaning solvents are best for getting rid of oil stains on clothes, then comes solvent based cleaners before detergents based ones.

Treat Oil Stains Fast

Time is all that matters when it comes to removing oil stains, especially from nylon, polyester and other synthetic fibers which can have the stain set in and become much more difficult to remove with time.

Wish to get stains off easy and fast? Treat immediately, otherwise leave and suffer the consequences, because the oil will set in, age and become very difficult to remove!

Consider the type of fabric

Not all fabrics are created equal, and the treatment one can endure, another won’t, especially for stain removal, for example cotton can take tough scrubbing and rough agitation to an impressive extent, but wool wont, and so also silk which is mostly recommended to be dry cleaned.

So there’s a limitation when removing stains on these materials which would influence the choice of cleaner and stain remover used as well as the degree to which you complete the instructions.

Another instance is olefin. It doesn’t react well with dry cleaning fluids or aggressive stain removers as it can damage it.

Some fabrics can’t withstand hot washing without shrinking or wrapping, some can’t be put in the washer and must be dry cleaned, others aren’t compatible with certain stain removers and others might have special warnings issued out against the use of specific techniques like wringing and scrubbing.

So check the ingredients and techniques we’re providing and ensure they’re compatible with the type of cloth you have.

For dry clean only clothes, blot up the affected spot with a white paper towel, and take it to the dry cleaner within 24 hours.

Avoid The dryer

This is especially true for fabrics treated with solvent based stain removers, and those stained with fuel like kerosene and petrol as they become more flammable and putting them in the dryer won’t help matters either.

Read: Can You Put Shoes In The Dryer?

How To Get Rid Of Oil Stains On Clothes

Now after talking about all the necessary things, it’s time to tackle the stains.


Lay a clean rag flat on a working surface to catch any stains during removal. You can use multiple layers of paper towels instead.

Next, turn the cloth upside down and position the stained spot directly on the cleaning rag or layer of paper towel.

Now dampen a small white cloth with the stain remover or liquid detergent, and pat smoothly from around the stain edges towards the inside to ensure it doesn’t get bigger.

Now move the stain over to a fresher area on the rag or paper towel and repeat the step until a considerable amount of the stain is gone.

An alternative method is to apply the liquid detergent and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes depending on the severity of the stain.

If you have a cotton or cotton/polyester blend, oil removal is much easier when you grab a liquid detergent, apply it around the affected spot then scrub under running water. Much of the stain will be removed by now.

Now launder in the hottest water for the cloth using a heavy duty liquid laundry detergent. Rinse and check the cloth for any trace of stain, and repeat if you find any, but avoid excessive scrubbing. Then wring properly and air dry!

Read: How To Remove Underarm Smell From Clothes

Pretreatment with solvents or stain removers

Apply solvent using cotton swab to an inconspicuous area of the cloth. Leave for 10 to 15 minutes and then rinse. Allow to dry and notice if there is any effect on the fabric, if not, then proceed with the instructions below.

Pay careful attention to the instructions on the product label and prioritize that over the instructions given below.

Apply a considerable amount of the solvent or stain remover on the stain spot using a soft cloth.

Use heavy duty rubber gloves and eyewares when using dry cleaning fluids as they are somewhat toxic. Then work it into the cloth in a circular motion and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the severity of the stain.

Rinse under running water and launder in the hottest water permissible for the cloth. Rinse and wring (if allowed) and dry on the clothesline or according to the fabric care label.

Absorb oil stains with baking soda

This applies to fresh stains as older ones cannot be absorbed by baking soda. So when you have a fresh stain, quickly grab the box of baking soda and sprinkle a generous amount over the stain spot and allow it to sit for a while in order to be absorbed.

Now scrape off excess baking soda on the stain area and wash in the washer using heavy duty detergent compatible with the cloth and also using the hottest setting for that cloth.

Prior to washing, and after scraping off excess baking soda, if you notice the stain is still somewhat pronounced, apply a liquid laundry detergent on the area and work it in, then wash as instructed above.

What About Large Stains?

For large stains, you want to create a solution of heavy duty liquid laundry detergent or stain remover and water, using ratios by the manufacturer, or use one cap full with one quart of water. Soak for upto one hour or more depending on the severity of the stain, then launder in the hottest setting for the cloth.

Rinse and check for stains, and repeat the process when you find stain spots.

Tackling Old Stains

For old stains, dry cleaning fluid or aggressive stain removers are your best bet, but make sure they are compatible with your type of fabric first. Check the product label of both the cloth and cleaner to ensure that.

Perform the procedures as outlined above, and where you need to soak, you might have to soak for longer for an effective result.

Best Practices For Dealing With Stains

  1. Always tackle stains as they form. That’s the fastest and easiest way to remove stains.
  2. Always check the fabric care label to see the kind of treatments the manufacturer recommends, then pad in the manufacturer’s instructions into ours as you follow them. For example, where we say “wring” and manufacturer says “don’t wring”, stick with the do not wring instruction!
  3. Always read and follow stain remover instructions too.
  4. Always test stain removers and solvents on inconspicuous areas of the stain first before proceeding to tackle the stain area.
  5. Do not use colored rags when treating stains, they can bleed into the stain area and cause a more complicated stain. Always stick with white rags or paper towels.
  6. Avoid the dryer especially when you use dry cleaning fluid for treatment.
  7. Do not rub vigorously on the stain spot unless the fabric is sturdy enough like cotton or cotton/polyester blends. Always start from outside the stain towards the inside to contain stain in its spot and avoid spreading.
  8. Do not iron stains as they will set in.
  9. For heavily soiled clothes, wash them separately to avoid redepositing stains to other clothes.

Final Thoughts

Removing oil stains from clothes is possible when you tackle fast by pretreating with heavy duty liquid laundry detergents or stain remover and washing in the machine using the hottest settings allowed for the fabric.

The best type of detergent for the job are the heavy duty liquid types, as powdered based detergents don’t dissolve nearly as efficiently and fast. But you can still make a paste using powdered detergents and use them as pretreatment on the spot before washing in the machine.

When it comes to stains, dry cleaning solvents are the best, and because handling the solvent at home is quite risky, take it to the dry cleaners when the cloth is dry cleanable.