Skip to content
Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Grease and Oil

By Dr. Laundry November 10, 2009

Q. Hello, I have some expensive and nice sheets that have (2) issues:
1) The pillow cases are badly soiled from hair and they are discolored. You can almost feel the oil in them.
2) The sheets have grease on them from a malfunction in the washing machine.

These sheets are all cotton, and I was hoping to just dye them a dark color to cover all this as they are fairly new and I like them a lot. I am just afraid the dye would not stick to the material with the oil on there. Any suggestions would help, they are light colored and at this point I just want to get the oil and stains out. Oh—and I have a front load machine.

A. So, there’s no doubt that we need to get the machine grease and body soil completely off the items IF you are to have a chance at dying them another color. Any residual oil will either prevent the dye from attaching, or absorb extra dye making the oily spot(s) more visible.

For cotton items, I would recommend trying to pretreat using either liquid laundry or dishwashing (Dawn) detergent. Apply, rub into the spots, wait 3-5 minutes, then wash in the hottest water recommended on the care label. You might want to pause the washer and let the items soak for an extra 10-15 minutes during the wash cycle. Check for success after washing and before tossing the items in the dryer, as you may need to repeat the process (alternative is to air dry). If the body oils have been there for a while, they will be tough to get out totally.
For a little extra kick on the body soil, you can always test the sheets/pillowcases to see if it’s safe to use liquid bleach. I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tspn Clorox® Regular-Bleach in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden area like inside seam, hemline or cuff; wait 1 minute and then blot with towel); no color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item. Now you have a couple of choices: I would consider doing a quick liquid bleach soak (1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach in gallon of cool water for 5 minutes) then wash immediately in the hottest water recommended on the care label using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach. Check out the Laundry 101 video on my blog (http://www.drlaundryblog.com) for a demonstration of the test.