How To Get Oil Stains Out of Clothes

Removing oily food stains such as cooking oil is an easy, although sometimes a lengthy process if more than one treatment is required or the fabric is delicate. Oil can be hard to see on white or light colored fabrics. On dark colors the oil will deepen the color or even look like a black spot.


As with most stains it is important to remove oil before washing and drying, especially when using a heated clothes dryer, as this can set the stain into the fabric. If the oil is mixed with other ingredients (for instance a salad dressing) you may have a combination stain on your hands that may need additional treatments to completely remove the stain.

Equipment Needed

  • Clean white cloths

  • Paper towels or coffee filters (May use light brown, unbleached)

  • Baking soda or cornstarch

  • Enzyme cleaner (Puracy natural stain remover or Zout)

  • Petroleum-based liquid dish detergent (Dawn)

Steps Involved

1. Removing the excess oil

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If the item is soaked in oil remove as much as possible by drawing it out with a dry paper cloth or the baking soda or cornstarch. This saves time cleaning and the possibility of the oil spreading to other parts of the garment when you remove it, which in the case of a shirt sleeve or pant leg is likely. Wet fabric is easily damaged. Avoid aggressive techniques such as brushing and rubbing to prevent damaging the fabric as the stain may be gone only to be replaced by a blemish.

  • Place the oil stained area on a pad of white cloth or paper towel (or other absorbent colorfast material) and another on top and press the oil into the cloths. Repeat using a fresh cloth until no more oil is released.

  • If possible pour baking soda on a flat surface and place the stained area on top of the powder, add baking soda on top so the oil is drawn out of the fabric on both sides (especially good for thick fabrics such as denim).

  • Allow the powder to absorb the oil for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Check periodically; if the powder is fully soaked with oil gently shake it off and add more. For pants legs or other areas where the cloth is “doubled-up” fold a cloth or paper towel (or use a few coffee filters) and place between the layers to prevent the oil seeping into the clean fabric (ideally, pour powder on the cloth so the oil can be absorbed from both sides of the fabric). Then pour more powder on the exposed side.

  • Remove the powder, which by now should be wet with oil by shaking the garment and using either a blunt knife or a soft bristle brush.

2. Treating with Enzyme stain remover

  • Cover the affected area with the product.

  • Very gently massage the product into the fabric on both sides. Do Not Rub.

  • Allow to the product to work for a least 20 minutes or up to 8 hours.

  • Rinse the stained area with fresh tepid water, blot the excess water and allow to air dry (not in the clothes dryer).

  • Check periodically. If you see that the oil remains (generally the fabric will be darker in the stained area), add more product or move to “Treat with dishwashing liquid).

  • Once the oil has been removed (or at least it looks that way) wash as normal.

  • Allow to air dry. If there is any residual oil remaining the dryer’s heat will set the stain into the fabric.

  • If you still see oil (the fabric will be darker), either repeat the steps from Treat With Stain Remover or try using more dishwashing liquid.

3. Treating with Dishwashing liquid

  • Pour the undiluted dishwashing liquid directly on the oil stain on the front and back of the fabric. Gently work the soap into the stain with your fingertips by pinching and very gently massaging the cloth rather than rubbing. Go slowly and allow the dish detergent to do its work. A soft bristle brush can be used on the reverse side of heavier fabrics, place the brush on the fabric and gently work the soap into the fabric using bristles in a gentle circular motion.

  • Brushing using a sawing motion and rubbing hard can damage the fabric and possibly remove color from fabrics such as denim. It can take a few applications to remove all the oil so be patient.

  • Add a little tepid water to slightly dilute the soap. It will retain its strength while allowing it to penetrate deeper into the fabric. Keep gently working the solution into the fabric and stop once it has foamed.

  • Rinse the soap out using fresh tepid water (some oils can solidify in cold water and heat can set the stain).

  • Check (preferably in daylight) that the stain has gone; if not use more dishwashing liquid, otherwise launder as usual. Oil stains can be hard to detect when the cloth is wet and even some colors will hide the stain so if you use liquid detergent pour some directly where the stain was as an added precaution.

  • Line dry the item. If there is undetected oil still in the fabric the heat of the dryer will set the stain into the cloth. Periodically check the fabric as it dries to ensure the oil has gone, otherwise repeat the steps.

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