Written by Grove Collaborative

Stain Busters: How to get oil stains out of clothes

Last Updated: September 30, 2020


Looking to remove oil stains quickly and effectively? Follow our step-by-step guide to get oil stains off your clothes — and off your mind.

Spills happen, but Grove Collaborative has you covered with Stain Busters. Each week, we’ll tell you how to tackle a different tough stain around the home or on your clothes. Red wine, grass stains, ink ... no stubborn stain is a match for our grime-busting guides.

There’s nothing more frustrating than oil and grease stains on clothing. It happens so innocently, too. A big bite of a juicy hamburger or a quick slurp of buttery noodles — or hovering over a splattering pan without an apron — and suddenly you’ve got a mess. Accidents happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to toss your favorite shirt. You’ve got to at least try to save it. Below, our handy guide outlines the best tips to help you remove stubborn oil and grease.




How do you get oil stains out of clothing?

What makes oil stains difficult to remove?

There’s no question, grease and oil leave behind some of the most stubborn stains on clothes. They can be difficult to clean out completely, although the sooner you attempt it, the better. Your success depends on the stain, the material and color of the fabric, and the way you try to clean it.

Though the stains may not look like much at first, they tend to darken the fabric over time as they set, which is why it’s important to work to remove them as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more absorbed the oil and grease will become. Once it dries, the stain will be much harder to remove and may ruin your clothes beyond rescue.

Step-by-step instructions to clean oil stains

Step 1: Blot out the stain

Try using a paper towel or napkin to blot out as much of the oil as possible as soon as you notice a stain. It will make it easier to clean out the stain completely once you start washing it. Try not to rub, as that will only push the grease deeper into the fabric fibers and make it less likely you’ll be successful at fully removing it.



Step 2: Apply dish soap

Place the fabric on a flat surface and put a few drops of dish soap on the stain. Rub the fabric together with your hands or rub the soap in with a toothbrush to loosen the oil and grease.



Step 3: Rub baking soda (for stubborn stains)

In case of stubborn stains, sprinkle some baking soda on the stain, along with the dish soap, and then scrub with a toothbrush. Let it rest for a while until the baking soda dries slightly and covers the stain in a hard paste.



Step 4: Rinse and soak in hot water

Once you’ve let the dish soap and baking soda work their magic — usually for about an hour — you can then rinse the fabric with hot water. Afterward, dip the cloth in hot water and leave it for another hour.



Step 5: Wash and air dry

Once the stain is all but gone, wash the cloth in a washing machine in warm water and let it air dry. If the stain is not completely removed, repeat the steps once again.



Step 6: Soak in bleach and water (for stubborn stains)

While we’re not big fans of bleach due to its effects on the environment, we know sometimes stains require drastic measures. If the fabric is washed and dried, but is still stained, dip it in warm water mixed with color-safe bleach and let it sit for about an hour. Wash and dry as normal.

Grove Tip

Don't wait to attack a stain

The key is to clean it as soon as the fabric becomes stained. The longer you wait, the more absorbed the oil and grease will become. Once it dries, the stain will be much harder to remove and may ruin your clothes beyond rescue.

Oil stain removal tips & tricks

What home remedies remove oil stains from clothing?

Liquid detergent, white vinegar, and warm water can perform quite the magic stunt on clothes stained with oil.

How do you get motor oil out of clothes?

Oil is oil, whether it’s motor oil or cooking oil. Therefore, you remove it from clothes the same way: Try to blot out as much of the stain as possible, apply dish soap (and maybe some baking soda for tough stains like motor oil) and scrub with a toothbrush, rinse and soak in hot water, and then run through the washing machine.

How do you get oil stains out of jeans?

You should approach oil stains on jeans like you would stains on any other piece of clothing, and since jeans are typically made from natural fibers, they tend to be more amenable to stain removal than clothing made from synthetic fibers. First, blot (don’t scrub!) the stain so it doesn’t settle into the fibers. If you’re out at, say, a restaurant and can’t remove your jeans, you can try using salt or artificial sweeteners on the stain to soak up the oil until you can give your jeans a deep clean at home using the dish soap and wash method.

Is hot or cold water better for removing stains?

Oils and greases are semi-solid at room temperature, meaning that it needs to be liquefied to be fully removed. The best way to liquify grease in fabric is to use warm or hot water when washing.

How do you get dried oil stains out of clothing?

Dried oil stains are much more difficult to get out of clothing, but there are a few tricks you can try. First, you’ll need to attempt to return the oil stain to a liquid state by using hot water — or if that doesn’t work, adding a little more oil might help revive it. Most people have the best luck with WD-40, spraying it into a bowl and applying with cotton swabs, being careful to not let the oil stain through to the back of the clothing item. Then, soak up the stain using a few repeated brushings/scrubbings of baking soda, treat with dishwashing liquid, and wash and dry and usual. Side note: Never put an oil-stained garment in the dryer. The high heat will cause the oil to set and make it nearly impossible for stain removal.

Are oil stains permanent?

They can be. The trick is to blot them quickly and treat them quickly. The longer you wait, the more likely they are to be permanent. Unfortunately, even after your best efforts at oil removal, you are sometimes left with a stain that’s there to stay. The fibers of your fabric may contribute to how stubborn your grease stains are. Synthetic fibers such as polyester are incredibly tough to clean because the oil and excess grease particles are attracted to them like white on rice. That means that without proper care and attention, stains like these could become permanent and result in throwing your favorite shirt to the trash pile.

Is white vinegar a degreaser?

Yep, white vinegar (also known as distilled vinegar) can be used solo as a degreaser. Simply cut with water (usually 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) and apply to the grease. Usually, the vinegar smell will dissipate once the item is dry, especially if you run it through the wash. Always test in an inconspicuous area before applying to stains.

What mistakes should you avoid when removing oil stains?

Here are the top three mistakes to avoid when dealing with an oil stain:

  1. Rubbing: Always blot, never rub, a stain, including oil stains.
  2. Waiting: Always try and address an oil stain immediately — yes, even while out — so it doesn’t have time to settle into the fabric and dry.
  3. Using cold water: Since oil stains are, well, oil, and oil and water don’t mix very well, avoid using water on an oil stain unless it has dried (and then, use hot water). Instead, blot using a towel to try and lift the oil from the fibers.

Remember, speed is the name of the game when getting oil out of clothes. Work fast and you should be able to remove an unsightly oil stain from your clothes easily. Good news for that favorite shirt!


Looking for more cleaning how-tos and other sustainable swaps you can make at home? Grove has you covered with our buying and cleaning guides. And let us know how if you have any cleaning questions (or share your own tips using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If you're ready to take on stains, shop Grove Collaborative's cleaning essentials for the cleaning tools to tackle the job.

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