Skip to content
Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Crude Oil Stains: Your Questions

By Dr. Laundry October 21, 2008

Q: How would you suggest I remove tough crude oil stains/smells from 100% cotton colored work shirts? Having a real solution to this question would be very beneficial to know for our Crude Oil Drivers and their families.

A: Boy, this a tough question, but one my sister in Texas has asked about before. The key is the crude oil definitely needs a good solubilizer/solvent to dissolve the oil stains, preferably before they are wet from the wash water. The more that’s removed, the more the odor problem should be reduced.

The other potential issue is COLORED cotton. This means that any product should be checked for “compatibility” with the dyes and direct application will not cause dye removal/fading in the treated areas. Use our modified Bleachability Test:

  • Apply a drop on a hidden color section area like inside seam, hemline or cuff.
  • Wait 1 minute, rinse and then blot with towel.
  • If no color change, it means it is safe to use the product on the item.

Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Since grease and water don’t mix, consider pretreating first. Apply a good liquid laundry detergent, like Liquid Tide, or even dishwashing detergent, like Dawn, or degreaser, like Stanley or Goo Gone. Rub into the stain and let sit 3–5 minutes. This helps solubilize the grease/oil/fluids and jumpstarts removal. The new 2X liquid detergents are more concentrated and so they probably will work well here. Hopefully, the stains are localized and not too big an area, which make pretreating much more labor intensive.
  • Always wash in the HOTTEST water recommended on the care label. The hotter the water the better the removal.
  • I would wash these items separate from other laundered items to eliminate the possibility of transfer/re-deposition onto other family member’s clothes.
  • Use at least the recommended amount of detergent, maybe a little extra. Remember you are trying to “pull” the grease/oil off the fabric and once it’s removed you want it to stay in the wash water and NOT redeposit back onto the clothes. This is one of the jobs of the surfactants in these detergents. So don’t scrimp!
  • I might be tempted to extend the wash cycle time. With a top-loading washer, you can wait 6–8 minutes into the cycle, stop the washer and spin the dial back to start for another full 10–12 minutes.
  • Finally, check for success at the end of the wash cycle BEFORE the items go into the dryer. If not satisfactorily removed, you can retreat them. Put them in the dryer and you may be driving the oils into the fibers, which makes removal in the future very difficult/impossible.
  • If this doesn’t work, then the other alternative would be commercial dry cleaner where they use solvents as the basis for there cleaning.