Today: How to Get Grease Stains Out of Clothes

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 22, 2014

Dear Tom and Ray:

This is only tangentially car-related. I know that all good mechanics wear coveralls to keep grease & other fluids off their clothing when working on cars. Assuming that even otherwise-conscientious mechanics might accidentally get some grease, oil, gasoline, etc., on their everyday clothing, what products work well to get these things out of fabrics? Or if you prefer not to mention brand names, what ingredients should one look for when shopping for a shopworthy stain remover?

-- Kenneth

RAY: You know what they say about an ounce of prevention, Ken? Well, that's why we highly recommend loud, colorful, floral-print Hawaiian shirts. You can spill General Gao's chicken on one of those, and it still looks like you just plucked it off the rack at Macy's.

TOM: I'm actually a fan of dry cleaning, Ken. Not only does it do well on greasy stains, but, as a lazy individual, I also appreciate that they fold and press it all for you!

RAY: In fact, my brother's been known to leave the house in his underwear, stop at the drive-thru dry cleaner and then dress for work at the next traffic light.

TOM: This isn't really our area of expertise, Ken. But there are two home methods that seem to work pretty well.

RAY: One is to start by soaking the stain with something like undiluted dishwashing soap.

TOM: That puts some concentrated soap to work on breaking down the grease before you even toss it in the washing machine.

RAY: Alternatively, you can pre-treat your greasy stains with one of the commercial stain-removing sprays on the market, like Resolve or OxyClean.

TOM: In either case, you want to start degreasing as soon as possible. I've found that the longer a grease stain remains on clothes, the harder it is to remove. Especially if it's on a white shirt!

RAY: So, pre-treat the stains as soon as you get home. If you're using a commercial product, follow the directions on the bottle. And then get the clothes in the washing machine as quickly as you can.

TOM: Traditionally, hot water is best for grease, as long as it's OK for the specific piece of clothing. Be sure to check the label first: You don't want to do what I did to my wife's bras once, and drop them two cup sizes in one laundry cycle. I told her she looked stunning, but she was not pleased.

RAY: And if the stain doesn't come out the first time, pre-treat it again and give it at least one more try before putting it in the dryer. Or go beg for mercy at your local dry cleaner's.

TOM: Keep in mind, also, that some automotive stains present problems other then visible blemishes. For instance, if you spill differential oil (aka hypoid gear oil) on your clothes, you can wash it 100 times, but you'll never get the horrible stink out of it.

RAY: And you'll contaminate the rest of your family's laundry. So an outdoor trash can is the place for anything doused in differential oil.

TOM: Battery acid also is a special case. Spill that on your shirt, and it looks fine ... until you wash it. Then you have an enormous hole where the acid used to be.

RAY: So be prepared for the occasional defeat, Ken. You won't get out every stain. You just have to accept that -- and hope that the money you spend on dry-cleaning and replacing stained clothing doesn't exceed the money you save by doing your own car repairs.

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