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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Machine Oil Stains

By Dr. Laundry September 5, 2011

Q:  What is the best way to get machine oil off my husband’s work shirts after they have sat in a hamper for two days?

A:  With dark, grimy machine oil it’s important to use a good solvent to dissolve the oil stains, preferably before they are wet from the wash water, so pre-treating is important.  Checking for colorfastness is also important, and you can do that as follows:


  1. Apply a drop on a hidden part of the garment like a hem, inside seam or cuff.

  2. Wait 1 minute then rinse and blot with a towel.

  3. If there is no color change then you can safely use the product on the item.


With that, here are some suggestions:

  • Apply a good liquid laundry detergent or even dishwashing detergent, like Dawn, degreaser, Stanley or Goo Gone. Rub into the stain and let sit 3-5 minutes. This helps solubilize the grease/oil/fluids and jumpstarts removal. Hopefully the stains are localized and not spread out all over, which makes pre-treating more difficult.

  • Always wash in the hottest water recommended on the care label. The hotter the water, the better the removal.

  • Don’t underuse detergent—you probably need 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 detergents.

  • Finally, air dry the items and check for success.  You have a much better chance of completely removing the stains if they are not heat set in a dryer.  You can retreat if necessary. 


Readers – have you experienced trouble with machine oil stains?  What’s worked best for you?