The Stain-Removing Laundry Trick You'll Use for the Rest of Your Life

Psst: You already own everything you need.

May 20, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland

Sometimes I feel like I can’t have nice things. Because in a world of nice things, there is also burger grease.

Take, for example, the cautionary tale of my favorite jumpsuit. I loved it, but it was too big for me and had languished, unworn, in my closet for more than a year. One day, inspired to invest in what I had rather than buying new things, I splurged: I took my jumpsuit to an old-school tailor in New York. I watched as he expertly pinned it to fit me just so, paid 50 percent upfront, and went home to await his call.

A week and a half later, my jumpsuit was ready. I’d never had anything tailored to me before, and it was perfect, from the cross-front neckline to the neat seams to the pant legs, which hit just right at my ankle, not a centimeter off. As a finishing touch, the tailor had steamed the green-grey cotton fabric until it was butter-soft and smooth. I was so pleased, I wore my jumpsuit right out of the tailor’s and straight to a coworker’s farewell party a few blocks away. And I felt great in it for a glorious 15 minutes, imagining all the good times to come.

But then, the sliders came out, and I caught a waft of them as the server dipped the tray beneath my nose.

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“Now I use Lestoil directly on grease stains on my clothes before washing in warm water (not cold). Might take a couple of treatments, but it works.”
— Karen C.

“Mini slider?” he said.

I can’t turn down a good burger, new jumpsuit or no new jumpsuit, and before he could finish “slider” I was taking my first bite. Which is exactly how the burger grease came into play—all down my front, to be specific.

Fortunately, previous incidents had prepared me for this moment. I beelined to the bar, side-stepping so no one could see my torso, and asked the bartender for some regular old dish soap on a cloth so I could pat the soap onto the stains. When I could duck out, I dashed to the closest convenience store, where I bought a small bottle of the stuff for $1.99 (clear, to be safe), dotted it on generously, and reapplied until I could get home and throw the jumpsuit in the wash. (Follow the directions on your garment, but I’ve found it’s always best to use warm water, not cold, on grease stains for best results.)

Dish soap works well as a holdover measure on oily stains because it’s engineered to cut through the fat and food on your plates—and it’s cheap, multipurpose, and convenient. Chances are, you’re within a few paces of a bottle no matter where you are, at home, or at a restaurant or bar. No need to go searching for expensive, speciality laundry potions when time is of the essence.

I’m happy to report that the stains came out, and my jumpsuit has gotten plenty of wear. But now I make sure to stash some dish soap, decanted into a travel-size container, in my bag. Just in case someone comes by with a tray of sliders.

Do you have any clever tips for stains? Let us know in the comments.
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Annie Quigley

Written by: Annie Quigley



Becky W. March 17, 2020
My Mom had great luck with ballpoint stains on clothing using hair spray and cold water. Worked every time!
Karen C. June 27, 2019
I grew up going to the Jersey shore, where oil tankers leaving NY harbor would "rinse" out their tanks with sea water. All that oil would wash up on the beach in blobs, and we kids would come home with it on our feet. My grandmother would make us sit on the stoop and use Lestoil to clean it off before we were allowed in the house. Now I use Lestoil directly on grease stains on my clothes before washing in warm water (not cold). Might take a couple of treatments, but it works.
Marsha S. June 27, 2019
We've been using Palmolive for years! Works like a charm! My husband first tried now he's our dedicated stain remover!!!!!!!
Terry May 27, 2019
I've been using dish soap on stains for caveat I've discovered when using a)enzyme-based soap (like Seventh Generation) on b) fabrics with a no-iron finish: The enzyme apparently eats away the finish on the garment, which doesn't "bleach" it per se but leaves a "light" patch that is only visible in certain lighting. It's an odd effect and it took a time or two to figure out what had happened, but since discovering this I've made a point of using something else (usually Fels-Naptha soap) on my husband's slacks and button-up shirts.
sms May 26, 2019
I’m a baby powder aficionado as well. I carry a tiny one in my carryon which has saved my limited wardrobe while traveling.
susan May 26, 2019
thanks for the great article. this is really nitpicky, but you didn't catch a "waft" of the burgers - you caught a "whiff"
Deb May 26, 2019
I just did this to get coffee out of a pair of white jeans! Soaked in Dawn soap, vinegar and water and the stain is gone! The stain had been there for 8 hours so had set in. It really works, I love Dawn soap.
cookbookchick May 26, 2019
I’m a Dawn fan, too. It even works on old, previously laundered grease stains.
Whitney May 26, 2019
I have found when using this technique, the fabric has changed color. Is there a way to avoid this?
Whitney May 26, 2019
Sounds like a plan if you’re going home right after removing the stain! How do Day at the event, and walk around with a big wet stain on your chest while it dries.
creamtea May 20, 2019
for wine stains on tablecloths, I immediately cover with a mound of salt to absorb, then launder; if I can't do that immediately, up to 24 hours later, I boil a kettle of water, arrange the stained section slightly stretched over a colander in the sink and with the kettle slightly elevated, pour the boiling water directly onto the stain. I sometimes have to repeat a couple of times but it generally takes out all or most of the stain.
IRENE D. May 24, 2019
club soda works great on wine stains, they practically disappear
Richard May 20, 2019
Use either liquid Tide or Persil Laundry Detergent. Rub a tidy dot into the stain gently with your finger and then do the same on the reverse side of the stain.
Another way is to go to the Dollar Tree store and buy a 32 ounce spray bottle of “Totally Awesome Stain Remover” and follow the above mentioned procedure. The key is to get the stain early.
As for dish detergent, Palmolive is the strongest grease fighter ever made.
Cliff May 24, 2019
Dawn is the best dish detergent grease fighter....used in many commercial kitchesn.....
Lori W. May 26, 2019
Dawn was create to cut grease was used of birds during the Valdes oil spill. Noting is better
mdelgatty April 1, 2020
Does anyone know what's special about Dawn? I used to use dish detergent for grease stains very successfully, but it is much less reliable now. I've speculated it's because there are so many different types of grease nowadays, and I haven't yet found anything that works on all of them. I've also wondered if the Dawn you get in the US is a different formulation from Canadian Dawn...
[email protected] June 15, 2021
It specifically is a degreaser.
Michelle M. May 20, 2019
If you forget dish soap when traveling, your travel-size shampoo works nearly as well. Shampoo also designed to cut through oils.
IRENE D. May 24, 2019
baby powder absorbs grease really well to
Vickie May 20, 2019
I learned from midwives at a home birth that hydrogen peroxide will easily take out blood. Even dried - as long as it’s treated before washing.
Michelle M. May 20, 2019
Peroxide needs to be throughly rinsed out immediately after use or color fade of fabric is almost inevitable. Oxyclean dissolved in warm water is good for blood as well.
Ozlem May 20, 2019
Also for any oil -based stain (that maybe you didn't catch right away or you had no access to dishsoap at the time of the stain)- baby powder! Just lay the garment out, tap some onto any oily spot and let sit for a bit before washing like you normally would - gets it right out!
Michelle M. May 20, 2019
I’m gonna try it. Thanks!
creamtea May 20, 2019
I use cornstarch or flour tapped into grease stains (on tablecloths for example), allow to sit for a few minutes, shake of and treat with Dawn dish soap prior to washing.