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How to Get Oil Stains Out of Clothes

Oil stain on white cloth

Oil stains must be pretreated to get them out. Unlike other stains, they shouldn’t be rinsed with water before pretreating. Removing them when the fabric is dry is key.

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By Mary Gagliardi
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Whether it’s cooking oil, greasy food stains or motor oil, these stains will come out of shirts or fabric with the right pretreating technique. Oil stains aren’t like other stains — you handle them in an entirely different way.

Remove oil stains when the fabric is dry

Grease stains are much easier to get out when you don’t rinse the stain with water before pretreating.

Use dish detergent to pretreat

One of the best things to use for pretreating oil stains is actually liquid dishwashing detergent (the kind you use for hand washing dishes) because it’s formulated for greasy dishes. Look for a traditional dish detergent instead of one made with plant-based cleaning agents.

Keep dish detergent out of the washer

Liquid dishwashing detergent generally makes lots and lots of suds, so only want to use it for pretreating and rinse it away before you put the item in a clothes washer, otherwise you’ll likely end up with excessive foam.

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Gather your supplies

  • dishwashing liquid
    Liquid dishwashing detergent

Steps to remove oil stains

  1. 1

    Apply the dish detergent

    Apply enough liquid dishwashing detergent to saturate the stain. Gently massage it completely into the stain.

    dishwashing liquid
  2. 2

    Wait 5 minutes

    Allow a little time for the dish detergent to break up all of the oil.

  3. 3


    Completely rinse all the dish detergent off the item with warm water. This is important to keep the dish detergent out of the clothes washer.

    faucet with water
  4. 4

    Machine wash with the right bleach

    If the item is white and bleach-safe, wash in the hottest water recommended on the care label using a good laundry detergent and 1/3 cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach.

    If the item has color, or is white and includes any spandex, wash it in the warmest water recommended using detergent and Clorox 2® for Colors.


    Always avoid bleaching wool, silk, leather, mohair and spandex.

  5. 5

    Air dry and check for success

    Air drying is important. Damp or wet fabric can hide residual oil that was missed when pretreating. To get any remaining oil out all the way, repeat the treatment again starting on dry fabric.

    open window with curtains

Frequently asked questions

Can you use dish detergent for oily stains with some color, like balsamic vinegar and olive oil?

When a stain has both an oily component and a color component (like greasy pizza sauce, pesto or gravy), after treating with the dish detergent, but before machine washing, pretreat the stain again with liquid Clorox 2® for Colors. It’s okay to do this right after rinsing away the dish detergent. Apply a little Clorox 2®, rub it in and wait 10 minutes, then machine wash.