Laundry

This Trick to Removing Grease Stains Is Also the Simplest

Psst: You already own everything you need.

June  2, 2022
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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“You've got to spray a little water (or stain spray, like Seventh Generation) on the stain, rub the bar of Fels-Naptha into it to create a lather, then let it sit at least 10 minutes. Another fantastic stain remover for paint stains (even nail enamel!) is artist's brush cleaner and restorer (I use Windsor & Newton brand). It will soften any kind of dried paint from clothing to be gently scrubbed away. Wash as usual and your item is good as new! Sadly, it doesn't work on grout stains, however...”
— Ginger B.
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“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), reapplied it generously until I could get home and throw the jumpsuit in the wash.

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.

Here's a step-by-step recap

  1. Before you do anything else, blot the stain with a clean paper towel or cloth napkin to get off as much of the excess grease as you can. Whatever you do, don't rinse off the stain yet—it's much easier to work on dry fabric.
  2. Next, as a pre-treatment, apply a few drops of liquid dish soap to the stain and let it soak in, rubbing it gently with your fingers (make sure they're clean!) or a soft-bristled brush.
  3. Let the soap soak in for 5-10 minutes. Then rinse it out with warm water.
  4. Machine-wash the garment on the hottest cycle available with your normal detergent. Add a color-safe laundry booster, if you'd like to play it safe.
  5. A good tip I learned recently is to air-dry the garment to make sure the stain is completely gone (machine-drying your item might bake the stain in). If the stain remains, repeat the entire process.

There's also baking soda

Another popular go-to tactic for oily spills on linens, upholstery, and carpets is to sprinkle something absorbent on it—The Spruce suggests cornstarch, talcum powder, or baking soda; Good Housekeeping says you can even use salt or artificial sweetener. These will help prevent an oil stain from setting into the fabric, making it easier to lift when you're doing laundry later on—just sprinkle on, let sit for a half hour at the minimum, and vacuum up or brush off.

Even better, you can do the absorbent-powder method first, then follow up with the dish soap spot-treatment for a one-two punch. The hot water wash following the two should make the stain entirely disappear. Summer grilling season, we're ready for you!


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

This article was recently updated by our Editors because 'tis the season when greasy food splatters and spills find us regularly.
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31 Comments

Lindi September 28, 2022
Thank you for the cleaning tips! Did you know that baby powder can be used to remove oil stains? Check out our blog post to learn how to use baby powder to remove oil stains. How To Use Baby Powder To Remove Oil Stains
 
Fabiola June 6, 2022
Imagine that! A jumpsuit that's too big!!! 😍
 
Sharon June 6, 2022
Another trick I found was using 99% rubbing alcohol (or even clear vodka) to remove grease stains from already laundered and dried clothing. I frequently take dark shirts out of the laundry after pretreating stains (with lestoil, which usually works) but they are still there. I dab a little rubbing alcohol on them and they disappear! Magic! Rubbing alcohol also removes sap from cars using a cotton ball (so you don't scratch your car), do a small test first to make sure paint doesn't come off.
 
5am I. June 3, 2022
What about when you wear your glasses first time in laundy and get shocked to discover big old blotches of grease in several shirts and tees? 😫
 
cookbookchick June 3, 2022
Use Dawn liquid dish soap (must be Dawn!) directly on the stains. Rub it in, let it sit for a few minutes, and then throw your clothes in the washer. Works on old stains, too!
 
Ginger B. June 2, 2022
Since I read about Fels-Naptha soap on a blog about 10+ years ago, it's been my go-to for greasy stains and it works every time! You've got to spray a little water (or stain spray, like Seventh Generation) on the stain, rub the bar of Fels-Naptha into it to create a lather, then let it sit at least 10 minutes. Another fantastic stain remover for paint stains (even nail enamel!) is artist's brush cleaner and restorer (I use Windsor & Newton brand). It will soften any kind of dried paint from clothing to be gently scrubbed away. Wash as usual and your item is good as new! Sadly, it doesn't work on grout stains, however...
 
Becky W. March 17, 2020
My Mom had great luck with ballpoint stains on clothing using hair spray and cold water. Worked every time!
 
Sharon June 6, 2022
One time my husband left a pen in his pants pocket. It was all over his many pairs of khakis and shirts. I read about the hairspray and went to work. It took a while, but in the end I removed all of the ink stains. I now check all of his pockets before washing!
 
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 it..so now he's our dedicated stain remover!!!!!!!
 
Terry May 27, 2019
I've been using dish soap on stains for years...one 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.