How to get oil stains out of clothes – easy methods to shift ugly marks

From motor oil to olive oil, these simple methods will shift stains even after washing

baking soda, lemon and vinegar cleaning
(Image credit: Alamy)

Oil stains never happen on your oldest, comfiest pair of jeans – accidents happen, and when they do, it's always on a new, more special item. Whether it's an unfortunate salad dressing spill on a white dress, smeared butter on kids' clothes or motor oil on jeans, we have the best, tried-and-tested methods to banish stubborn oil stains on clothes and other fabrics.

Doing a little work to remove dried-on olive oil stains or swiftly eliminating a fresh stain before doing laundry will be much more effective than throwing the garment straight in the wash and hoping for the best. 

Don't panic, and don't assume it's beyond fixing.

How to get oil stains out of clothes 

There are various grease-busting laundry stain removers available at Walmart and Amazon, and these may well be all you need. In the meantime, try the budget-friendly and eco-conscious methods recommended by the professionals below.

1. Use dish soap

kitchen sink with dish soap

(Image credit: Getty images / Jonathan Kitchen)

'Soap is oil's worst enemy,' says Nick Valentino professional mover from Bellhop Movers

Using dish soap is the best cleaning tip for removing oil stains – and getting rid of chocolate stains – because of a simple chemical reaction that happens when it comes into contact with water and oil, also known as emulsion. As we all learned in chemistry, water and oil do not mix. But because dish soap is attracted to both oil and water molecules, it forces them to mix together. Therefore, applying dish soap to the stain will dissolve the oil and help get it to budge.

'It's best to start right after the spill happens if you can. Remove the garment and start blotting as much of the oil as you can with clean, dry rags or paper towels,' says Nick. 'After that, get the spot wet and pour a healthy blob of dish soap on the spot before scrubbing it hard with a sponge or toothbrush. 

For especially dark stains, like from motor oil, Nick says that adding some baking soda, at Walmart at this point can work wonders. Once you've scrubbed as much as you can, rinse the item and check the stain. Repeat the process if needed before putting it in the washing machine on the highest setting for the type of fabric to get rid of the remaining residue.

2. Choose powerful natural cleaners

bottle of white vinegar beside a container of sugar and a scrubbing brush

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Oil stains are the worst, and can be even trickier to remove than red wine stains or spilled wax, but natural cleaning methods, such as cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, are surprisingly effective. 

Combine equal parts baking soda and white vinegar to make a paste. Apply it to the oil stain with a clean cloth and leave it to work for around 30 minutes before gently scrubbing it with an inexpensive soft-bristled brush, at Walmart. Rinse the garment and then wash it as usual. 

It's not something we have tried, but aloe vera gel is also said to help with removing oil stains when combined with water.

Inspect the stain after washing and repeat the laundry process if you need to before putting it in the dryer. Letting it dry before the stain is completely gone can set the stain in and make it harder to remove...

3. For dried oil stains

laundry room with wooden drying rack and shirt

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Harder, but still perfectly possible. Scrape off any excess dried oil with a spoon or blunt butter knife, and then follow cleaning professional Karina Toner's advice and create a paste by combining lemon juice and salt.

'Apply the paste to the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Scrub the stain gently with a soft-bristled brush, then rinse with water and wash as usual,' says Karina.

You can also combine salt and lemon juice, says cleaning expert Karina Toner from Spekless Cleaning. 'Apply the paste to the stain, let it sit for up to an hour, and then scrub the stain gently before rinsing and washing as normal, she says. 

If you're dealing with dried-on makeup, there are a few options for removing makeup stains to try.

Karina Toner
Karina Toner

Karina is the Operations Manager at Spekless Cleaning, a trusted maid service based in Washington D.C. The team has over five years of experience providing top-quality cleaning services for both residential and commercial clients. Karina oversees every aspect of the business, ensuring that every client gets the same top-notch service and a spotless clean every time.


How can I get an oil stain out of clothes that have been washed and dried?

If the oil stain has had time to set in, consider using something stronger like rubbing alcohol. Cosmetic dermatologist Dr Jake Woods from Gya Labs suggests soaking the item in warm water for 30 minutes, applying a small amount of rubbing alcohol or vinegar on the stain, and leaving it for 10-15 minutes. Then, rub the stained area gently with a soft-bristled brush, rinse, and wash as usual.

A final tip is to try try using chalk to get rid of oil stains or even cornstarch, at Walmart. 'You can also sprinkle cornstarch onto the stain and let it sit for several hours or overnight,' says Karina Toner. The cornstarch will absorb the oil from the stain. In the morning, simply brush off the cornstarch and wash the fabric.

Millie Hurst
Section Editor

Millie Hurst is a freelance lifestyle writer with over six years of experience in digital journalism. Having previously worked as Solved Section Editor at Homes & Gardens and Senior SEO Editor at News UK in London and New York, Millie has written for an array of homes brands including Livingetc and Real Homes and was formerly Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home. She has written and edited countless features on home organization, decluttering and interior design and always hopes to inspire readers with new ways to enjoy their homes. She lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and loves to weave nature-inspired decor and nods to time spent in Italy into her own home.