Save your clothes from oil splatters and grease stains with a few household products and a bit of patience.

Carolyn Hodges, M.S., RDN
November 13, 2020
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washing stain out of clothes
Credit: Getty / Evgeniy Skripnichenko

Grease stains happen. A rogue pepperoni from that slice of pizza lands in your lap or a splash of vinaigrette from that salad ends up on your shirt. If you cook or eat (um, yeah, all of us) you're bound to end up with stained clothes once in a while. But don't toss that top into the donation pile just yet. With a few quick and easy cleaning tricks you can be wearing it again next week, no stain in sight.

1. Act fast

Don't waste any time tending to that oil splatter on your go-to hoodie or that almond butter blob on your fave jeans. Before you're tempted to throw it right into the wash (or worse, into the hamper to wait around for laundry day), figure out if it's a stain you can tackle yourself. Check the label. Everyday wear fabrics like cotton, polyester, denim and most basic blends are usually safe to deal with on your own. Specialty fabrics like silk, satin and suede may be best left to the professionals at your local dry cleaners. Regardless, the sooner you deal with the stain, the better your chances of salvaging that brand new tee (Isn't it always the brand new tee?).

2. Scrape first, blot second

Start by removing any remaining food, like that accidental shmear of butter on your sleeve, without doing more damage. Using a butter knife or the side of a credit card, gently scrape and lift off the food. Avoid using a towel or napkin to wipe it off as this can spread the food, rub it into the fabric and make a bigger stain. Then, use a paper towel or white dishcloth to gently blot (don't rub) the stain to remove as much of the grease as you can.

3. Absorb some of the oil

To absorb some of the remaining oil, sprinkle the stain on both sides with baking soda or cornstarch. Make sure you have a thick washcloth or piece of cardboard beneath the fabric so the grease doesn't bleed to other parts of the clothing. Use your fingers to gently dab it into the stain. Let it set for 30 to 60 minutes, then brush or shake it off.

4. Pre-treat with dish detergent

At this point you've likely removed as much of the grease and oil from the fabric of your clothing as you can. It's time to wash it. Remember that oil and water don't mix, so removing as much of the oil before introducing water reduces the risk of setting the stain. But before tossing it into your washing machine, try pre-treating the stain with dish detergent. Designed to cut through grease on dishes, dish detergent can help to dissolve oils in fabric, too. Use your fingers to gently rub a small bit of dish soap (not dishwasher detergent) onto the stain. Leave it to set for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse under very warm to hot water.

5. Wash in hot water and air dry

Check the clothing's label again before tossing it into the wash. Unless it states cold water only, wash the article of clothing in hot water using your regular laundry detergent. Hang the clothing to air dry. Because the hot heat of your dryer can set the stain, hanging the clothing to dry allows you to see if you were able to get rid of the stain before doing more damage.

6. Repeat if necessary

If a stubborn grease stain remains after washing and air drying, you can attempt another round of cornstarch or pre-treating with dish soap, followed by another hot wash cycle and hang dry. While not ideal, you may still be able to remove the stain. You can also try using a commercial stain remover. Either way, with a bit of patience and a handful of household basics, it's possible to remove all evidence of that unfortunate stain for good.