Written by contributor Katie Kimball of Kitchen Stewardship.
Ranch dressing. Straining greasy homemade chicken stock. Frying asparagus in bacon grease. Random unknown alien lifeforms.
All culprits in the “Where did that grease stain on my shirt come from?” game in my real food kitchen.
As I mentioned last month in 15 Natural Solutions to Kid Messes, I can handle getting blood, strawberries, and most poop out of my kids’ clothing.
But grease stains? My nemesis.
They show up unannounced, usually only noticed after they’ve been through the dryer, making them 5,729 times harder to get out.
I had some bad ones this month, which is good for you, because I got to test lots of ideas. Here’s what works and doesn’t work to get grease stains out of clothing:
This has always been my first line of defense, with mixed results, usually heavily dependent on whether the dryer was involved, or not.
I apply dishsoap or undiluted concentrated soap directly to the stain, rub it in, add a bit of very hot water, rub some more for just a little sudsing action, and let it sit for a very long time (a day or more). I then wash in warm or hot water, provided I think the article of clothing can handle it.
Always try to make sure you’re the person to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, and remember to pull out any grease-stained clothing you’re working on to air dry. If you fail, you don’t want to let the dryer heat touch the stain as it will set it in.
Here are some results on specific brands:
Shaklee Basic H
I’d always been told that this would get even dryered-on grease stains out, but it’s been hit and miss, mainly miss, for me.
Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap
A marginal yes, but more effective on grease stains that haven’t been baked on in the dryer.
Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds
This bottle went 2 for 3 in official testing, with definite improvement, at least, on a stain on which something else had failed.
7th Generation Dish Soap
A yes on my jeans, which had been through the dryer, a “not really” on a skirt with a stain that could have been who-knows-how-old.
Ecover Dish Soap
Performed quite successfully on two shirts that had both been previously worked on with a huge “fail” before.
Overall, I’d say your strongest dish soap is your best bet – they’re created to “cut the grease” in the first place, anyway, right? Many folks say Dawn in particular is a winner.
I might be willing to turn a blind eye to whatever ingredients might be offensive in one bottle of Dawn, which I would buy for my laundry room if it could give me 100% success in saving clothing lost to the grease stain monsters. Don’t tell the eco-police on me.
Last month a few readers schooled me with the suggestion that rubbing chalk into a grease stain would get it out. Hopefully the chalk in my daughter’s game was actually “real” chalk.
I used it on this pink sweatshirt which had been dipped in homemade ranch dressing – look at the difference in how it reacted to a stain that had been around and through the wash/dry before (on the left) and the new stain that I caught pre-dryer (on the right).
The stain on the right was completely gone, but the stain on the left hung around. A unknown stain on another shirt which had been through the dryer was not touched at all, and dish soap would later work.
I would say chalk is worth a try, especially if a grease stain isn’t set in yet…but I still lean toward soap as the better solution.
I put a twist on Emily’s homemade laundry stain remover that she explained last month to the test on grease stains. In the photo of the pink sweatshirt above, you see the toothbrush rubbing in the baking soda with a bit of water. Then I sprayed with a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water.
I gave it a “fail” afterward on the pink shirt, but it got out two large mysterious stains on my son’s gray sweatpants, which may or may not have been a grease stain, but definitely had been through the dryer already:
The lesson here? Try anything!
(I did try this version of the stain remover on some mustard, my daughter’s favorite dip and therefore a frequent flyer stain on her sleeves, and it didn’t make a dent. Bummer! Next time I’ll try the borax…)
Borax or Oxygen Bleach/Vinegar
Emily’s original suggestion for removing stains, borax followed by vinegar water, did not make a dent in this uber-stubborn grease stain on my husband’s shirt. I also tried another twist on the method with that oxygen bleach shown in the photo, but to no avail.
However, on a second mysterious spot on those gray pants of my son’s, this combo also knocked out the dried on stain.
One reader surmised that if chalk knocks out the grease, maybe clay would have a similar effect and be even more “natural.” I am sorry to announce that in three trials at our house, I’d have to fall on the side of “no.” It was worth a shot!
I have this tub of Biokleen dishwasher detergent that will no longer clean my dishes, so I figured I’d try it like oxygen bleach on the clothing. I rubbed it into a stain, dry, and used the vinegar, and what a disaster!
The shirt came through the wash, twice, with white powder stains still evident (below). Do not try this at home! (I still might – might! – try it as a soaking medium, but I’m nervous about it.)
The right hand side of this stain is the failed attempt using chalk, so you can see the before-and-after shots here.
Fels Naptha soap
This one was recommended highly by a reader, but I never got my hands on any. She says it even knocks out grease stains, so a few more batches of homemade chicken stock, and I’ll probably be figuring out where to find it!
Ironically, as I finished evaluating all this laundry, another grease-stained dress came out of – you know it – the dryer. I get to experiment more! (Can you hear the thrill in my voice?)
What do you successfully use to knock out the grease stains?