How to Get Engine Oil Out of Clothing

No one intends to get engine oil, clean or dirty, on their clothes, hands, or other items, but despite our best efforts, oil stains happen. 

While removing motor oil, especially really dirty oil, from clothing may seem impossible, (engine oil on white pants?) it’s not as difficult as you might think. 

Before you are ready to pitch those clothes in the rag bin, check out our (nearly) fool-proof methods for getting engine oil off clothing:

1. Hot Water

No, we don’t mean the hot water you might find yourself if your spouse sees that oily stain, but rather, use the hot water method. This method works best if the oil stain is really fresh. Put the item in the sink or tub with the oil stain facing directly underneath the faucet. Run hot water over the stain for at least 5 minutes. Check the item to see if the stain is gone. If not, try another 5 minutes. If the stain is gone, launder as usual. If this hasn’t worked after 3 hot water sessions, let’s try another method.

2. Cornstarch

If there is so much oil on the clothing that it has puddled (such as dropping an entire bucket of used motor oil over those white pants) spoon up as much as possible. Yes, we mean find a baster or the largest spoon you can find and remove as much oil as possible. Now you add sprinkle some cornstarch (or baby powder if you don’t have cornstarch) over the stain. Cover the stain completely and let it sit for at least 10 minutes. This should soak up as much oil as possible. Grab an old toothbrush and start working the cornstarch into the fabric. Try not to spread the oil around! Scrub until the cornstarch begins to make little balls (or one big one). You might need to repeat this more than once. Now you can move on to item #3.

3. Use a Degreaser

If you have used the cornstarch method or if the stain isn’t too big, you can try to break up the oil using a degreasing product. Some people swear by WD-40, but this can remove colors from some types of fabric. Be sure to test it first on a small inconspicuous spot first. Others swear by a dishwashing detergent called Dawn. For some reason, the blue colored Dawn (not the other colors) seems to work like magic on grease. 

If you are using WD-40, spray it liberally on the offending area, saturating both sides of the clothing. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Run the garment under hot water for at least 5 minutes. Repeat if necessary. 

If you are using Dawn, soak the stain on both sides. Now rub it with a toothbrush and a bit of water until you get a nice foam. Let it sit for another 5 minutes. 

Regardless of which method you are using, after you have completed the instructions above, wash the garment in the hottest water you can. Don’t put it in the dryer just yet. When the wash cycle is finished, check the stain. If it is still there, you can try repeating this method, but more than likely, this is the best outcome you are going to get.

4. Try Aloe Vera

Most people think of aloe vera as only effective on skin burns or a rash, but this plant has amino acids that react with the oil, breaking it down. Chances are you have a small plant in your kitchen or out in the garden. 

Rub some fresh aloe vera gel on the stain. Let it sit for a few minutes, then go at it with an old toothbrush or another type of brush. After a good scrubbing, let the garment sit for an hour, then wash it using the hottest water that the garment can stand.

5. Blotting and Soaking

As the title implies, if the oil stain is very fresh, get some paper towels, an old dishtowel, or a microfiber cloth. Blot as much of the oil as possible. You can even put the garment on the floor and stand on the paper towel or whatever you are using, so as much oil as possible can be removed from your garment to the paper towel. Cover the stain with a big dollop of liquid laundry detergent or dish soap. Soak the garment in a bucket of water overnight. Launder in the hottest possible water the fabric can withstand. If the stain is still visible, repeat this method.

6. Shampoo

Hair shampoo, any kind, is made to remove oil from our hair, so why not give it a try on your clothing? Cover the stain with some hair shampoo and rub it into the stain well. You can use a sponge or a toothbrush if the fabric can take the scrubbing. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then try rinsing it in hot water. Repeat if the stain is still there. If you can barely make out the stain, cover it with shampoo again and let it soak in a bucket of water overnight, then wash as you normally would. 

Some people will suggest that you use nail polish remover, but unless the nail polish remover has no added coloring (such as blue) and the garment is white, don’t trust this method! Nail polish remover can really wreak havoc on your clothing and remove the coloring the same way bleach does! 

How to Get Engine Oil Off of Your Hands

If motor oil got to your clothing, chances are that you also have that engine oil on your hands. Unlike some fabrics, getting dirty oil off your hands isn’t as hard as you might think. Grab a bottle of skin lotion. Any type will do. Saturate your hands in the lotion. Rub it in for just a minute, then get a rag (an old towel works great) and rub off the lotion. Repeat if necessary.

You should then wash your hands using dish soap or some shampoo. Both shampoo and dish soap are designed to remove grease, so this should also work on the hands. 

 One of the above methods is bound to work on your oily stain, saving your garment and the expense of having the clothing dry-cleaned.