How to Get Motor Oil Out of Clothes |

If you’re a fan of changing your own motor oil or work at a garage, chances are some of that oil is going to end up on your clothing. While most mechanics or car enthusiasts are ready for the mess and grime that comes with tinkering around engines and other equipment, it still stings when your favorite work shirt gets doused with motor oil stains.

However, keep in mind that your chances of removing the stain increase exponentially if you act quickly, before the stain sets into the fabric. Pretreating is recommended. If detergent isn’t readily available, use dish soap, liquid hand soap, or any soap that is available.

And whatever you do, don’t fret. Even though oil stains can be tough, they’ll come out easier than you may have thought possible if you try one of the following methods. Added bonus: These same techniques can help remove grease and oil from household materials, like drapes and tablecloths.

Cornstarch or Baby Powder

When motor oil seeps into your jeans or shirt, your first move should be to grab some cornstarch or baby powder. These common items can be found in most homes and will help remove the stain by immediately absorbing the oil. Then, follow these steps:

  • Scrape off any excess oil, making sure not to rub it deeper into the fabric.
  • Blot the stain lightly with a paper towel or automotive towel.
  • Sprinkle a handful (or more, depending on the size of the stain) of cornstarch or baby powder onto the clothing and let it sit for at least 20 minutes and as long as overnight.
  • Remove the cornstarch or baby powder with a paper towel or small brush.
  • Put a few drops of a grease-fighting dish detergent onto the stain and use your thumb and finger or a small brush to rub gently to remove any oil remnants.
  • Put the clothing in the wash and launder according to the instructions on its tag.
  • DO NOT DRY the clothing unless you are 100% certain the stain is gone. If you dry stained clothing, the stain will set into the fabric and be even more difficult—if not impossible—to remove.


This is perhaps the easiest method for removing motor oil stains, as well as other stubborn clothing stains. It is effective because it allows the detergent to achieve a better bond with the oil that has set into the fabric. To see if it works for you, follow these steps:

  • Go to the sink and run the water, letting it get as hot as possible.
  • Plug the sink and let about a gallon of hot water collect before adding one-half of a tablespoon of laundry detergent.
  • Check the label on your stained clothing. Unless the care instructions say otherwise, use a clean toothbrush to rub a bit of detergent directly into the stain.
  • Place the stained clothing in the sink and let it sit for two to three hours. This will allow the detergent to break down the oil.
  • Put the item in the wash and launder normally.
  • Once again, do not dry unless you can see that the stain has been removed.

Nail Polish Remover

The nail polish remover available at drugstores contains acetone, which is an organic solvent. It helps remove oil by bonding with its molecules, weakening the presence of the stain, and therefore making it easier to remove. Follow these steps:

  • Grab a Q-tip or cotton swab and dip it into the nail polish remover.
  • Blot at a hidden section of the stained clothing—for example, inside a shirt or under the collar—to make sure it won’t damage your clothing.
  • If all is good and it doesn’t do any damage, pour about a teaspoon of nail polish remover directly on the stain.
  • Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then rinse it off.
  • Again, put the item in the wash and launder normally.
  • Do not dry unless you can see that the stain has been removed.

Treating Rugs or Carpets

In the event someone tracks motor oil inside a home or office environment, these techniques are usually effective with other fabrics, including rugs.

However, if oil seeps into indoor rug or carpet fibers, you’ll need to modify your approach a bit by placing a heavy object like a large book on top of a clean cloth after you’ve thoroughly blotted and then applied cleaning solution to the stain. The weight will help the soap bond more strongly with the oil molecules. Let it sit for a few hours and vacuum the area after it air dries.

Of course, if any stain proves stubborn, it’s best to call a professional dry cleaner to handle the job. Taking matters into your own hands after trying these initial methods will usually do more harm than good.

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