Throughout the article, we’ve recommended products that you can purchase from your local stores. That said, online shopping has recently become a necessity because of COVID-19. As a result, we’ve included links to a few products online that we believe represent an ideal cross-section of quality and cost. The products are linked in the article and here for easy reference:
How Olive Oil Stains Form
- When olive oil is hot, it moves freely and can splatter out of the pan.
- When the oil cools, it can no longer move and sticks to itself and fabric, making it hard to remove.
What happens to create olive oil stains or other cooking oil and grease stains?
We’ve all been there: cooking vegetables in olive oil on the stove only to feel a splash on our clothes, then looked down to see the clean white cloth stained with our frying oil. Perhaps the oil was too hot, or perhaps we had excess oil in the pan. Or perhaps it escaped the frying pan into the salad and spilled oil-based dressing. Either way, we are going to need some advanced fabric care!
When cooking oils get into the fabric of your clothing, they bind to the threads at a molecular level. The smallest bits of oils, fats, and greases stick to each other and fabric. Fabric provides lots of nooks and crannies for oil to hide.
The key to removing oil from fabrics is to understand this “stickiness” and how it works. Then we’ll use that understanding to make the oil “want” to stop sticking to itself and your stained cloth. Oil sticks to itself and other surfaces because it uses less energy for oil to stick.
Not-sticking takes energy! Think about it: When any cooking oil stops sticking to the rest of the oil in the pan, there is a lot of energy present in the form of heat. Once the oil gets hot, it leaps out of the pan, cools in the air, and finishes cooling on your favorite shirt (or skirt!), where it sticks. The heat, the energy, is gone. Therefore, you can’t use paper towels to sponge the stain out of clothes even right after the stain occurs.
This is why cold or room-temperature water is a poor choice to remove an olive oil stain. There is not enough heat energy present to convince the oil to loosen its grip and remove the stain.
You can try to rinse or soak the clothing in water, but that will also disappoint. As we learned in middle school science, oils and water do not mix. The molecules are shaped so that while cooking oils like each other, and water likes other water, neither of them like each other.
When removing an olive oil stain, you’ll also find rubbing makes it worse. Rather than washing the oil out, it drives it deeper into the fabric and leaves the stains worse than when you started.
Once cooking oil is absorbed into the fabric, you can’t out-absorb it (say by using paper towels to sponge the stain) either. You can’t brush or scrub it out. Back to our energy explanation: The oil left the pan because there was so much heat energy it splashed out, then it cooled even while it was in the air on the way to you.
It’s about now that you’re asking: When are they going to get to the “how to use what we’ve learned” part of this article? Right now! There are stain removal tips at the start of each section for the homeowner with no time and a lengthier explanation of how and why things work beneath each section for the domestic engineers out there.
How to Wash Out a Stain
Wondering how to get olive oil out of fabric? Let’s explore some removal tips:
- To get oil stains out, first heat them with hot running water for 5 to 10 minutes.
- You won’t be able to complete olive oil stain removal with hot water alone.
- Use a stain removal agent specific for oil, such as a concentrated laundry detergent designed to work at the lower temperatures faucet water reaches (around 120 degrees).
- Allow the detergent to be absorbed into the stain and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then let it run under hot water for another 5 to 10 minutes until the process removes all the oil.
To wash out a stain, we have to use hot water. From an energy perspective, the hotter the water is, the better. But for safety, we’re limited on how much heat we can use.
Cleaning olive oil stains or any other cooking oil stain requires adding energy back to the oil to make it active and willing to move again. That said, it’s hard to get that much energy into your clothing without damaging it! Believe it or not, even the hottest water from your sink is not nearly as hot as cooking oil.
Water feels unbearably hot around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooking temperatures used for olive oil often exceed 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Many fabrics (and our skin!) will not tolerate this much heat!
We want to use hot water. But only safely.
To add smaller amounts of heat over time, run the stain under the hottest water the fabric will tolerate. The longer you let the water run over the fabric, the more oil it will remove. Give it a good five or ten minutes under running hot water.
As we’ve noticed, the heat used is far less than the starting temperature of the oil when it first met the clothing. We need to help the heat by reducing the strength of the bonds holding the oil together. To do this, we can use a laundry detergent by applying it directly to the cloth and rubbing it in, letting it sit for 5-10 minutes, then letting it sit under hot running water again for 5-10 minutes.
The more absorbent the fabric, the longer the detergent will need to sit to ensure we get its full benefits as a stain remover. You will get faster results using an enzymatic detergent designed to work at the hottest temperatures your kitchen faucet can reach or about 120 degrees Fahrenheit for most homes.
If you know a lot about oils you may wonder why we’re using the above numbers — remember, this is about how to get olive oil out of clothes, so it focuses on the vegetable-based oils used in a kitchen. For other oils, other techniques are more useful.
Removing Stains With Soap and Baking Soda
You can remove cooking oil stains using other products. We’ll cover some of those methods, too. The first is common dish soaps or degreasers and baking soda.
For this method, we do not use hot water first. Use baking soda as a pre-cleaner. Apply enough to cover the stain and let it sit for a few minutes. Make sure it’s in good contact with the stain, but do not rub the stain vigorously to avoid driving it into the fabric. This method works to get the cooking oil stain out by absorbing as much loose oil as we can first. Baking soda disrupts the oil sticking to itself and encourages the oil to stick to the baking soda instead. If it binds, it’s no longer sticky, and it is time to brush the baking soda off.
With this method, it’s likely the baking soda will not remove all the oil. You’ll probably have some residue. You can use common dish soaps or a degreaser like this one for the next step.
Methods We Do Not Recommend
Using hydrogen peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent and can weaken some fabrics, especially at the higher concentrations sometimes sold in stores. We do not recommend its use because other agents work as well or better and it can discolor fabric.
If in completing your washing you want to use bleach, either use a diluted bleach soak in a sink or basin or run a bleach cycle on your washer.
Methods that use hairspray, WD-40/other rust removal agents, or shampoo/aloe vera. These methods require more steps and complexity for one reason: they’re less effective on kitchen cooking oils and this article focuses, specifically, on how to get olive oil out of clothes — and then expands to other common vegetable oils used in the kitchen when cooking.
What To Do Once The Stains are Removed
Until you’ve been successful in the attempt to remove cooking oil stains completely, do not use your dryer. Allow the clothing to air dry to ensure you’ve removed the stain completely. Oil stains can hide in wet clothing, and if you air dry the garment, you’ll be able to see it more easily. Using a dryer cycle with heat can set the stain more firmly in the clothing by driving the oil into the fabric.
If the clothing is very delicate, you must know how to clean by hand washing with a delicate hand-washing detergent. We recommend the Champion product linked here as it’s specifically designed to make the process easier while being gentle on your clothes. Use as directed to finish.
We’ve covered tips and tricks for how to get olive oil out of clothes (as well as other cooking oils), pointed to some quality products to do so, discussed how to clean and do laundry, how to use bleach and when, what not to do, and gotten that cooking oil stain out of your shirt!