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How to get oil out of clothes: step by step, with expert tips

Here's your step by step guide to removing oil and grease stains from clothes, including expert laundry advice and simple but effective stain-removal tips

Oil stains are extremely difficult to remove from clothes just with a normal machine wash. That’s because oil – and grease – are hydrophobic, which means they don’t break down in water.

So what do you do if your frying pan spits oil at your T-shirt when you’re making tea or your child sticks their hand in the butter (like they do!) and then decides wipe their greasy hands all over their top?

We asked laundry expert Dave Lambert, co-founder of cleaning firm Laundry Republic, for his advice, and worked with him to come up with this simple step-by-step guide for getting oil stains out of clothes at home.

Step-by-step guide to getting oil stains out of clothing


You Will Need

  • Bicarbonate of soda or cornflour/cornstarch
  • Washing up liquid
  • Washing machine
  • Laundry detergent, (optional)

Total time:

Plus drying time

Step 1

Washing instructions on clothes label

Check the care label on your garment. This will guide you on the best way – and the right temperature – to wash your item without causing any damage.

If it has a circle symbol on it, either with no letters inside it or with a P, F or A inside it, this means your garment is suitable for dry-cleaning, which is something you may want to consider. “Dry cleaning is the gold standard for removing oil,” says laundry expert Dave Lambert, “since it has the ability to dissolve grease. And certainly, if your garment is marked ‘dry clean only’, don’t attempt to clean it at home.”

If you can clean your garment at home and you’d rather not spend money on dry cleaning or the care label has a circle with a cross through it (not suitable for dry cleaning), then move on to our next step.

Step 2

Washing white shirt by baking soda.

Try to soak up any excess oil.

To do this, laundry expert Dave recommends covering the stain with a layer of Bicarbonate of soda or cornflour (cornstarch) and then leaving it to sit for 15 to 30 minutes. This will hopefully absorb the excess oil and allow you to brush it off.

Step 3

woman shaking bicarbonate of soda off a shirt

Standing over the sink, shake any unabsorbed bicarbonate of soda or cornflour off your garment.

Step 4

Removing stain from white shirt measuring determent by hand

Next, you need to break down the oil with an emulsifier. Dave recommends using washing up liquid for this.

Drip or pour a small amount of washing up liquid onto the stain, rub it in gently and allow it to sit and soak in further for 15 to 30 minutes.

Step 5

Pouring washing powder in washing machine

Now pop your garment into the washing machine and to wash it at the highest temperature recommend by the care label. Do not try and wash it in cold water, as this may cause the stain to set.

You may want to add a stain-removal agent, such as Vanish Oxi-Action, to the wash, too. Lisa Williams, Executive Housekeeper of The Grand hotel in York recommends doing this, “as it gets out oil stains not only from cotton fabrics but also from delicates like silk and wool”.  Take a look at our pick of the best washing powders, liquids and pods for more recommendations.


Step 6

washing machine in mid cycle

Wait for the washing cycle to finish.


Step 7

hands taking shirt out of washing machine

Once the wash cycle is done, check that the oil stain has gone. If the stain is still there, repeat Steps 2 to 6  again. Do not dry your garment until the stain has been completely removed.

Step 8

Hang your garment up to dry. If you’re not able to dry it outdoors, try our ideas for How to dry your clothes indoors.


Buy everything you need to remove oil from your clothes

Top tips for removing oil stains from clothes

Hotel laundry expert Lisa Williams gave us these top tips for dealing with oil stains:

  • Always blot your stain
  • Take action as soon as possible. The longer you let oil sit on an item, the deeper it will seep into the fabric causing staining, so get blotting and washing as soon as possible.

About our experts

Dave Lambert is Co-Founder and Director of Laundry Republic. They offer laundry services in lots of buildings and residential areas all around London and knows everything there is to know when it comes to laundry.

Lisa Williams is the Executive Housekeeper at one of the most popular five star hotels in York. She knows everything there is to know about laundry and cleaning.


About the author

Chloe is a Digital Reviews Writer and Coordinator for Immediate Media’s Parenting team, specialising in household and trying to help parents save money. She researches and writes articles, recommending the best products, ranging from best cordless vacuums to best playpens. She has a First-Class Honours Psychology degree where she developed a strong interest in child development.

Pic credit: Getty Images

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