how to remove set in oil stains from clothes

How To Remove Set In Oil Stains From Clothes

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Picture this. You were enjoying a juicy burger or cooking on a splattering pan without an apron when an accident happened and you stained your favorite shirt with oil and grease. So, you throw your shirt in the washing machine and it comes out of the dryer with stains. Frustrated, you want to know how to remove set-in oil stains from clothes.

We've got you covered.

Oil and grease stains on clothes are frustrating. Chances are you have already considered throwing out your shirt. However, the good news is that you can remove oil stains from clothes and have them as good as new in no time. In addition, you will be using products probably already in your home, such as baking powder and dish soap.

Curious to learn how? Let's get into it.

Why Are Set In Oil Stains Difficult to Remove from Clothes?

The simple answer? Chemistry.

"How," you ask? Most oils and greases exist in a solid or semi-solid state at room temperature. This means that you will, at the very least, need warm or hot water to remove the stains.

Your clothes' fabric also plays a big role in the ease of stain removal. Polyester, for example, is tough to remove stains from because of the attraction between synthetic fibers and oils and greases. Other factors that determine your success include the color, stain and method to remove oil stains.

Oil and grease stains are pesky and stubborn. As such, they need to be removed immediately before setting in. Set-in stains are more difficult to remove and can potentially ruin your clothes. However, this does not mean impossible.

Let's get into our favorite and easy methods to remove set-in grease and oil stains from clothes.

How to Remove Set In Grease and Oil Stains From Clothes

grease stain

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Intimidating as set-in oil stains are, you can easily remove them. However, the time and effort will not be the same as if you'd have treated the stain immediately. Nonetheless, get your ingredients and buckle up; the journey to stain-free clothes begins now.

1. Dish Soap Method

What you'll need:

  • Cardboard
  • A clean and dry cloth or Paper towels
  • Dish soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Warm water
  • Laundry detergent
  • Baking soda
  • WD-40
  • Cotton swabs


i). Prepare Your Clothe

The first step is to ensure you're working on dry and not wet clothing. This is because(again, chemistry) water and oil don't mix. This means that when the cloth is wet, water will coat the fabric near the oil and you won't have anywhere to move the oil.

The second important step is to place a cardboard piece between your clothing layers. This will help prevent stain transfer to other parts of the fabric. In addition, it will provide you with a flat surface to work on.

You can upcycle a delivery box or an old cereal box for this step.

ii). Blot out the stain

Blotting helps remove excess oil on the stain. However, you ought to be careful not to spread the oil to other parts of the fabric. You can use a paper towel, napkin or soft cloth to blot. In addition, you need to avoid rubbing as it could push the oil deeper into the fabric, making your work more difficult.

Skip to step (vi.) if you are not dealing with a set in oil stain. Otherwise, continue to step (iii.).

iii). Apply WD-40 to the stain

This step applies majorly to set-in grease stains. Using a cotton swab(q-tip), carefully apply WD-40 to the oily stain. You can spray it on a small bowl or spoon, then dab it using a q-tip on the affected area. In addition, with WD-40, less is more as the product spreads to cover the stain.

iv). Sprinkle baking soda

Baking soda is great for anything, including lifting stains from clothes. Sprinkle baking soda(a little more than you think you will need) to help lift the stain.

v). Brush

Using a soft-bristled toothbrush, spread the baking soda all over the oil stain. You will start to notice that baking soda will become clumpy or form a paste as it absorbs oil and grease revived by the WD-40. Repeat the light brushing while spreading the baking soda until you have little clumps left.

Dust off the excess baking soda, then pour more on the stain. Repeat this process until no clumps are formed. Fine and dusty baking soda on the fabric means that all the oil has been completely absorbed.

vi). Apply dish soap

Here, you can choose to use liquid detergent or liquid dish soap. Pour a few drops on the stained area and use the toothbrush to brush it into the fabric. Leave the soap to sit for about 30 minutes. You can also leave it overnight and pick up where you left off the next day.

vii). Wash the cloth

Rinse the baking soda with warm water, then wash your shirt as you normally would. You could choose to handwash and airdry it or throw it in the washing machine. Remember to check the clothing before drying for stains.

Although it may be challenging to spot stains on wet clothing, apply detergent and a little baking soda, then scrub with a toothbrush if you see some. Otherwise, dry your cloth.

Tip - For fresh stains, keep handwashing instead of washing as the high temperatures could set in the stain.

2. Baking Soda and Vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar make up a powerful duo that could end the next world war. You can count on this couple to clean grout off your tiles or deal with a burnt pot.

Seriously though, what can't these two ingredients do?

What you'll need:

  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Paper towels
  • Dish soap
  • Spray bottle
  • Water


  1. Use a cloth to blot the excess oil.
  2. Sprinkle baking soda on the stain and leave it to sit overnight.
  3. Dust off the excess baking soda.
  4. Make a 1:1 water and vinegar solution.
  5. Use a spray bottle to wet the stained area.
  6. Make a soapy solution and apply it to the area using a toothbrush.
  7. Rinse.
  8. Check for stains. Repeat if any are still there.
  9. Wash and dry your clothing.

3. Chalk

Chalk works similarly to baking soda and is more suitable for small and not old stains.

What you'll need:

  • Paper towel
  • Chalk
  • Water


  1. Blot the stained area using a paper towel.
  2. Cover the oil stain with chalk.
  3. Leave it to sit as it absorbs the oil or grease.
  4. Brush off the chalk.
  5. Wash your shirt.

4. Oxygen Bleach

Believe it or not, you can use oxygen bleach for oil stain removal. You can find colored oxygen bleach for removing oil stains in colored clothes. Additionally, you can count on this method for fresh and set-in stains.


  • Damp your clothe.
  • Put it in the washing machine and pour the recommended amount of oxygen bleach.
  • Slightly fill up the washing machine and leave your clothing soak in oxygen bleach for about an hour.
  • Start the wash cycle at the warmest temperature the fabric allows. You can check this information on the care label.
  • Check for evidence of the stain.
  • Air dry to prevent setting in the stain for fresh grease stains.

5. Paint Thinner

Sometimes you may be dealing with motor oil and not cooking oil. Fortunately, you can use a paint thinner to remove engine and motor oil stains from clothes.

What you'll need:

  • Paint thinner or mineral spirit
  • Paper towel
  • Cardboard
  • Toothbrush
  • Hot water
  • Dish soap or liquid detergent


  1. Place the cardboard between the garment's layers.
  2. Blot excess oil with a tissue, paper towel or cloth. Keep replacing the paper towel to avoid transferring the oil to clean areas.
  3. Place tissue paper on top of the cardboard to help collect excess oil.
  4. Dip a toothbrush into the paint thinner. Then, gently brush the bristles into the fabric to spread the paint thinner.
  5. Change the tissue paper every few times.
  6. Repeat step 4 until all the oil stains are gone.
  7. Use clean tissue paper to blot excess moisture from the garment.
  8. Using a toothbrush, apply hot water to the stained area.
  9. Pour dish soap on top and brush it with the toothbrush. Dish soap will help remove grease stains left.
  10. Rinse with warm water.
  11. Machine wash the garment and only dry if you don't spot more oil stains.

6. Dish Soap and Baby Powder

What you'll need:

  • Baby powder
  • Liquid soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Liquid detergent


  1. Cover the grease stain with baby powder.
  2. Use a toothbrush to rub the powder into the fabric fibers.
  3. Make a soap solution in a small bowl.
  4. Soak the stained cloth area in the solution for about thirty minutes.
  5. Lift the oil stain by brushing the area with a toothbrush.
  6. Wash as you would normally with cool water and liquid detergent.
  7. Dry if all oil stains have been lifted.

What To Avoid When Removing Stains Out of Clothes

1. Rubbing

Rubbing an oil stain will only deepen it into the fabric's fibers. Instead, blot the stains gently to avoid spreading.

2. Waiting

When you want to remove oil stains, the first thing you should do is to avoid waiting. The longer the oil and grease stay on your garment, the deeper it penetrates, making it difficult to clean out. In addition, washing your stained clothes in a washing machine will further set in the stains due to the high temperatures.

3. Using Cold Water

As mentioned earlier in the article, oil and grease often exist in solid and semi-solid states at room temperature. For this reason, you will need warm or hot water to remove oil stains. In addition, oil and water don't mix; hence using it in the early stages will make your work more challenging.


Oil stains are irritating and frustrating and make a new cloth look old and ugly. However, from this article, you can see that removing oil stains from clothes is super easy and will mostly require products you already have in your home. So, if you were planning to remove oil stains from your shirt or dress, we hope that this article will come in handy.

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Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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