How to Remove Oily Stains

January 11, 2014

There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it, once a week, to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to keep the conversation going.

Today: There's a simple solution to an oil slick on your favorite napkin -- no clean-up crew required (but Dawn still comes in handy).

How to Remove Oily Stains, from Food52

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We're no strangers to stains. We frequently battle beet stains on our cutting boards, and even though we eat pomegranates the un-messy way, we still get berry stains on our linens. Truth be told, not very many of us are fans of cleaning up -- unless we have pretty new tools to distract us -- but stains happen, and need to be dealt with.

This week, twinjadojo was battling bagna cauda stains on cloth napkins, and asked the community to share reliable methods for removing oily stains from table linens: 

Fancy potions need not apply. 

  • Follow creamtea's simple steps: "Sprinkle powder on the stain (flour, baking soda, or baby powder). Tap it into the stain and let it sit to absorb. Brush off the excess, then apply Dawn dishwashing liquid directly to the stain and dab (don't rub) that in. Launder in the warmest water allowable for the particular fiber that your linens are made of. Repeat the process if any of the stain is left after the first try."
  • Another option for the powder you sprinkle on can be cornstarch, adds Pegeen.
  • For an alternate strategy, boulangere suggests rubbing the stain with white chalk.

The only thing better than successfully cleaning a stain: not getting a stain in the first place.

  • Nataliesztern swears by Scotchguard -- she sprays it on all of her new linens (tablecloths, napkins, and clothes too).
  • If you go this route, head Pegeen's word of caution: "Just a note that not all fabrics are Scotchguard safe. It may cause some dyes to bleed. The can of Scotchguard will caution you to test a small sample of the fabric in an inconspicuous spot to be sure."

How do you get rid of oily stains? Tell us in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Agnes Armstrong
    Agnes Armstrong
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    connie solberg
  • Audrey Wagman
    Audrey Wagman
  • juzybcn
  • sue williams
    sue williams
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Agnes A. December 3, 2017
Plain old shampoo (without added conditioners) is the best. I've used this many times when traveling, and now use it at home. Just dab the shampoo onto the oily stain, wait 15 minutes, then wash as usual (warm water is best).
connie S. October 30, 2017
Stay away from Scotchguard.....this chemical is already in wide use on textiles and food paper coatings and is in the blood of newborn babies and in polar bears at the north pole.....PFOS is a substance that has been proven a carcinagin, even in small amounts. read the article that juzybcn (below) has a link to-for your knowledge.
Audrey W. October 29, 2017
For red wine or berry stains in washable fabrics, I place the stained area tightly over a mesh strainer and pour boiling water over the stain. It disappears before my eyes.
juzybcn August 15, 2017
Careful with recommending Scotchguard:
sue W. July 18, 2016
For oily stains, try pretreating stain with Lestoil all purpose cleaner then immediately launder as usual
Ahuvah B. June 16, 2014
Old dried oil stained clothing? Use Dawn dishwashing soap and place a dollup on the stain then rub the soap into the garment. Sometimes you might want to use a brush (I use a toothbrush). Rub the soap in for a minute or two and then pour white vinegar on top of the soap. Wash the garment like normal and repeat 1-3x if necessary.
ntt2 January 26, 2014
I have a related question - any wisdom on fading old stains on vintage linens?
Sue January 17, 2014
shampoo rubbed into the stain before laundering works as well. Has gotten out old previously laundered stains as well as new.
Franziska January 11, 2014
Any normal dishwashing detergent. Doesn't have to be a specific brand. Put some onto the stain and into the washing machine with it. Works every time.
gigiaxline January 11, 2014
Dawn dish detergent rubbed directly on the fabric before even gets out old stains (once I found out about Dawn I tested on some of my old favorite tee shirts I couldn't bear to throw out).
Paul @. January 25, 2014
Dawn has worked very well for me as well, much better than pre-treating with laundry detergent, shout or oxy clean. I know they also donate it for use on animals affected by oil spills too!