How to Remove Grease and Oil Stains

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Dear Home Ec 101:
I was somehow elected to carry the 25 pound turkey from the kitchen to the dining room on Thanksgiving. I didn’t drop it, but I did tip the cutting board it was resting on enough so that the turkey drippings flowed down my leg onto the kitchen floor – making the one dog in the kitchen at the time VERY happy. Obviously I couldn’t disrobe at that point, but as soon as dinner was over I removed the pants, sprayed them down with stain remover, and washed. I thought they looked ok when they came out of the washer, so I dried & folded them, and stuck them into my suitcase for the trip home. Fast forward to this morning when I pulled them out of my suitcase and went to iron them, lo and behold a HUGE stain down the entire right leg of my pants. Any suggestions for removing the set in grease stain or are my favorite pants gone forever? They are cotton and light tan in color.
Greasy in Greeberville

how to remove grease and oil stains

Heather says:

Unfortunately it sounds as though your favorite pants may be ruined.

When treating grease stains, they should be treated as soon as possible otherwise the fats and oils wicks into the fibers where it can become very difficult to remove.

The aerosol or petroleum based spray pretreatments seem to work the best in these cases. If you don’t have any of this on hand, heavy duty laundry detergent may work. If you only have powdered laundry detergent, mix it with a little water to make a paste and apply to the stain directly.

What we’re trying to do is get as many of the greasy molecules as we can into solution and out of your pants. The only way this will happen is if the pretreatment gets as deeply into the fabric as the stain. This is why the sprays seem to work better than the dribble on type. They penetrate more deeply¹.

Dawn dish detergent (the plain blue original one) gently worked into the stain can also be a great pre-treatment for grease stains. Some people swear by Lestoil, but I’ve never tried it.

Launder immediately, but do not place the stained item in the dryer. Check the item carefully for the stain and repeat the above steps if it is still there.

If only a color from the original stain remains, rewash the item with color safe or oxygen bleach.

If it seems as though the stain is gone, allow the item to air dry completely and check again.

how to remove stains from clothes
Click the picture for more tips!

There may be hope, for grease stains set with heat, but not a lot. Don’t get too excited. With colorfast fabrics you may try an overnight pretreatment with a petroleum based spray pretreatment. If the stain is so bad the item is ruined, what do you have to lose? Another last ditch effort on a set-in grease stain is to try applying dry cleaning stain solution to the underside of the fabric.  Have the fabric resting on a pad of rags or old towels. You don’t want to just let this stuff spill onto any old surface.  Be careful and clean up any spills. Dry cleaning stain solution isn’t something to play around with.

Good luck and file your Thanksgiving pants disaster under the heading live and learn.

Send your questions to

¹You know I’m fighting the terrible urge to yell, “That’s what she said!”

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12 thoughts on “How to Remove Grease and Oil Stains”

  1. It sounds nuts, but if all else fails you might try putting them in a dishpan or baking dish and pouring a can of Coke over the stain, and leaving overnight.

    When my husband worked in an oilfield that was the only way I could get his FRCs clean.

  2. Another thing to try, kind of a last ditch effort though, is spray with WD40. Really saturate it! Rub in very well. Now treat with Dawn or some other treater known to work on grease. Launder. Do not heat dry; hand dry and see how it did getting the stain out. Repeat if it didn't work completely.

    What happens is the WD40 acts as a solvent getting the grease sorta moving and loose. The oils and solvent in the WD40 combine and then the grease pretreater gets it out in the wash.

    Worse case scenario, you still have stained pants.

    Another friend couldn't get a stain out so she stained the whole garment with the same stuff.

  3. I'm one of those who swear by Lestoil for grease stains, and I haven't had it fail me yet. (It's what my mom always used and it always worked, so I haven't tried anything else.____Don't be stingy with it — saturate the entire area and rub it in well. Let it sit for a few minutes (not hours or days) then toss it in the washer.

  4. I've always used ammonia for getting oil out of clothes. put really hot water in a washtub or bucket with a liberal amount of ammonia and soak for a few hours. Then put in the machine for regular washing. You probably want to sit the tub in a well ventilated area while it soaks, since it will be a bit stinky.

  5. This response arrived in my email from Karen and I thought I would pass it along.

    I have a husband who can attract oil and grease. My problem solver has been Fels-Naptha soap! Using an old toothbrush with HOT water make a foam and apply to stain set for 10 minutes, then add to laundry.
    For a year now I have used a laundry soap I make myself. (… It has saved me money that at this time can be used on bills.

  6. Dawn dish soap (the original kind- the scented ones don't work as well). I swear by it. I have never used it for getting that large of a stain off, but I use it with almost every washload. If you have a shirt that has a 'shadow' stain from food, put enough Dawn on it to saturate the stain and leave it overnight. Wash as normal. Every now and then, a tough stain will pop up that I have to treat twice. It even works if the stain is dried in.


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