How to Get Grease and Oil Out of Clothes

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Dropped pizza on your lap? All is not lost—especially if you act fast. Follow these steps to remove even the most stubborn grease stains.

No matter how neat you try to be, eating gets messy sometimes. A splash of salad dressing dribbles onto your shirt or a bite of greasy hamburger squirts down to your pants. When this happens, you’ll be glad you know this information on how to get oil stains out of clothes instead of having to go searching for it. That’s because you need to act fast. Sure, that’s also true when getting other food stains, like chocolate stains and mustard stains, out of your clothes, but it’s doubly true here. Grease and oil are notoriously difficult to remove from fabrics, as you probably know all too well. What you might not know is that they’re actually attracted to synthetic fibers like polyester. Plus, these stains get darker as they age, and once they dry, they’re usually permanently set. How long do you have to take action? Usually just a few minutes.

While that may sound dire, it’s not. Chances are, you have everything you need to remove these stubborn stains in your home already. Plus, while it is tougher to remove dried oil stains from clothing, it’s not impossible. You’ll just need to use a little more elbow grease (pardon the pun) to get the job done. Read on to learn the steps you’ll need to follow when the inevitable happens. For other tricky stains, be sure to bookmark our guides on how to get coffee stains out of clothes and how to get red wine out of clothes.

how to clean oil stains out of clothesAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.comA few tips before you get started

  1. As we mentioned above, the first rule of removing grease and oil stains from clothes is to act immediately. Once the stain dries, there’s a good chance it will be set into the fabric. If that happens, all is not necessarily lost, but salvaging your item is definitely more of a long shot. If that happens or if you’re dealing with an old oil stain, repeat the steps below with the solutions several times to try to get the stain out.

  2. Always read the tag on your garment before you get started. Some fabrics, such as wool, cashmere, lace, and silk, are inherently delicate. Be sure to follow the recommended instructions for care or else you’ll have a whole different problem on your hands. If you are using any sort of stain remover on a delicate fabric, perform a spot test in an unseen area first. It’s important to know how to remove stains from these materials so you don’t accidentally ruin them.

  1. Never put clothing labeled “dry clean only” in the washing machine. Take it to your local dry cleaner or use an at-home dry cleaning system like Dryel. Speaking of which, here are a few cleaning secrets only professional dry cleaners know.

  2. If you know how to remove blood from clothes, or something like turmeric, you know that cold water is key in the process. Warm or hot water can actually set protein- and tannin-based stains. However, the opposite is true with oil-based stains, which are more likely to be dissolved in hot water. Therefore, always wash clothes with grease or oil stains in the warmest water recommended for the fabric.

With that in mind, here are the household products that are the most effective at tackling oil stains. Just make sure to follow their accompanying directions exactly for the best chances of success. Translation: Don’t skip any of the steps!

Liquid dish soap

Liquid dish soap is perhaps the single best product for removing dirt and oil stains from clothes. Good-quality dish soaps like Dawn are formulated to fight heavy-duty grease on pots and pans, and they work equally well on fabrics and clothing. And no, in case you’re wondering, they’re not too rough on most materials. (FYI, liquid dish soap can also help you get rid of sweat stains.)

Start by covering the stained area with liquid dish soap. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes so the soap can absorb as much of the grease and oil as possible. Don’t scrub the stain, since this might embed the oil further into the fabric. Next, launder the item with your regular detergent in the washing machine in the warmest water recommended for your fabric. Hang dry or place in the dryer when you’re through.

Infographic explaining how to remove oil stains from clothing.Emma Kumer/rd.com

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Baking soda

If you’re wondering how to get cooking oil out of clothes, there’s a good chance you’re already standing in the kitchen. Don’t wonder about it too long—instead grab a box of baking soda from the cupboard. Baking soda is absorbent and will draw in the oil, lifting it away from the material. Just sprinkle the baking soda over the surface of the stain, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then, shake off the baking soda. Apply a small amount of dish soap to the stained area. Do this even if the stain is no longer visible. (Grease stains get darker over time, so they have an annoying way of popping up later, even after you think they’re gone.) Wait 10 minutes. Then place the item in the washing machine with laundry detergent in the warmest water allowable for the garment. Dry as usual in the machine or on a line. While baking soda can help fight a variety of stains, you’ll need different solutions if you’re trying to remove grass stains or makeup stains from clothes.

Baby powder

Baby powder is absorbent, so it can remove grease and oil stains just like baking soda can. The steps you’ll follow are exactly the same. Cover the surface of the stain with baby powder and give it 30 minutes to absorb the grease. Shake off the excess, and cover the area where the stain used to be with liquid dish soap. Wait approximately 10 minutes, and then throw the clothing in the washing machine on the warmest setting permissible for the fabric. Hang or machine-dry when the wash cycle is through. If this white powder is making you think of a different type of stain, find out how to get deodorant stains out of your shirts, too.

Chalk

Believe it or not, chalk is just as absorbent as baby powder and baking soda. The only difference? Since chalk comes in a stick, not in a powder, you’ll need to rub it over the surface of the stain. Do this with great care, being as gentle as possible, so you don’t press the stain further into fabric or spread it onto new areas. Although chalk is usually washable and not generally known to stain, use white chalk to be safe. Let it sit for 30 minutes, and then flick off the excess chalk very lightly with the tip of your fingernail. Cover the area where the stain used to be with liquid dish soap for 10 minutes. Then, wash it on the warmest recommended setting with your normal laundry detergent. Dry as usual.

how to clean grease stainsAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.comWD-40

You may know WD-40 as a lubricant for power tools or squeaky hinges, but it can also be an effective stain remover when you need to remove grease and oil stains from clothes. WD-40 is a solvent that breaks down any type of oil, which comes in handy if you’re looking at something like an olive oil stain. Simply cover the stained area with WD-40, using the straw applicator to make sure you’re applying it to the right area. Let it dwell on the area for about 30 minutes. Next, cover the area with liquid dish soap, and let it sit for 10 more minutes. Launder as usual in the washing machine with laundry detergent on the warmest setting your fabric permits. Hang or machine-dry the garment when you’re through. FYI, here are 5 times you should never use WD-40.

Store-bought stain removers

If you’d rather use a store-bought product, OxiClean MaxForce Stain Remover Spray is one of the best stain removers on the market, especially when it comes to getting oil and grease out of clothes. Be sure to spot-test in an unseen area of your garment before using it. Once you’ve determined it’s safe, saturate the stained area with the spray. Next, let it sit. If your fabric is prone to color changes and fading, do not allow it to sit for more than 5 minutes. For other fabrics, it can sit for up to a week before you wash as usual with the warmest water your fabric allows. Hang or line-dry afterward as usual. Next, check out more of the best stain removers for clothes everyone should own.

Sources:

  • Handy: “How to Get Oil Stains Out of Clothes”
  • Dawn: “How to Remove Grease Stains from Clothes”
  • Apartment Therapy: “If You Ever Spill While Cooking, You Should Stash Some Chalk in Your Kitchen”
  • Esquire: “Here’s How to Never Worry About Grease Stains Again”

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Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest covering travel, lifestyle, history, and culture. Her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, NPR, Al Jazeera, Wine Enthusiast, Lonely Planet, HuffPost Food, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @TamaraGane