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Here's Every Single Thing To Know About Removing Grease Stains

Photo: Miguel Andrade (Unsplash)
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Here is the most actually important thing to know about grease and oil stain removal: If you put a grease stained item in the wash, air dry it out of an abundance of caution.

The trickiest thing about grease stains is that it can be hard to tell if they fully come out in the wash, because a wet garment can obscure a lingering grease stain. That means that even if you check to see that the stain is gone, that spot check might not tell the entire truth, and you could end up chucking a grease-stained item of clothing in the dryer, which will set that stain in to the point of being almost impossible to remove. Almost. I have tricks! Which I will share, but first let’s talk about what to do in the face of other grease stain situations.

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Do this when a grease stain JUST happened:

I definitely do not know this from the personal experience of dripping pizza grease on my favorite pink workout top, because I was definitely not shoving a slice into my face on my way to the gym, but … Shout Wipes take fresh pizza grease, and other kinds of greases, out of clothes. Carry one in your wallet like a condom.

Do this when a grease stain lingered, untreated, on a washable item of clothing:

When you end up with a grease stain that you weren’t able to treat when it happened, or just didn’t notice, it’s time to get yourself a laundry Lestoil or Pine Sol, both of which can be used to pre-treat grease and oil stains prior to washing. Allow the pre-treatment to penetrate the stain for 10 minutes, then wash as usual. However! This is me reminding you to err on the side of caution and allow a grease-stained garment to air dry in the event the stain didn’t come out entirely.

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Do this when a grease stain got on something non-washable:

For reasons that I absolutely cannot explain, I get a weirdly high volume of questions from people who have dripped pizza grease on suede shoes. It’s so oddly specific! But the specific advice for removing pizza grease from suede can also be applied to all kinds of other greases — cooking oil, nut butters, salves and ointments — and to all kinds of other non-washable items, including leather, silk*, upholstered furniture, and so on. The advice is to use cornstarch thusly:

  1. Lay the item on a flat surface where it can remain, undisturbed, for 12-24 hours;
  2. Pour or spoon a generous pile of cornstarch on the grease stain;
  3. After 12-24 hours dispose of the cornstarch and brush any residue away using your hands, or an only-barely-damp cloth.
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That’s all! The cornstarch will absorb the grease, so that’s how that works! Oh also, if the state of the stain improved after the cornstarch treatment but there’s still a bit left, just repeat the process.

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*Silk actually can be washed but that’s a whole other column, and for our purposes today, it’s best to treat grease-stained silk as a non-washable item.

Do this when a grease stained item went through the dryer and is set-in:

Things get dicey when you’ve washed and dried a grease-stained item of clothing, but all hope is not lost. First of all, consider taking the garment to the dry cleaner; dry cleaning is especially effective at stain removal in a way that can often be superior to wet cleaning. But also! You should know about K2r, which is basically dry cleaning in a can. It’s very good stuff!

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About the author

Jolie Kerr

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person