How to Remove Oil Spots from Laundry


Dawn asked: Why do my dark clothes come out with spots and how can I stop it? It’s generally my husband’s and baby’s clothes, the darker materials. I wash them in warm water, but after drying, they have oily-looking spots on them. If I then spray them with Spray ‘n Wash and rewash them, my husband’s shirts usually come clean. However with my baby, I’ve used Spray ‘n Wash and added some Biz to the load, but they still look oily!

Oily spots on laundry can be caused for a variety of reasons. Look through our reasons below to help identify a possible source of the problem. Following that there is a list of guides that will help remove the stains.

Possible Causes of Oily Spots on Laundry:


  • Sometimes the problem lies in the washer itself. The transmission begins to leak oil and leaves spots all over the laundry pieces. Unfortunately, the only solution is a new transmission. This is a costly repair, and it may be cheaper just to get a new washing machine.
  • Dirt and oils can become trapped under the agitator (in top loading machines). If possible, remove the agitator to clean the inside as well as the portion of the tub that is covered by the agitator.
  • Liquid detergents can become built up on the outer edges of the tub. As it is drained through the holes, the detergent begins to build up. This can leak back into the laundry and result in spotting on the clothing.
  • If there are oily rags or cloths (even kitchen cloths and towels can be the culprit) in the laundry, the grease that is removed from the cloths may be transferring to the other clothing.
  • Reactions between laundry detergents and fabric softeners can leave spots on the clothing. If the spots come off with a simple hand washing, this may be the problem.

Removing Oil Spots from Laundry:

  1. To remove oil spots from food products, see the guide How to Remove Grease Stains.
  2. To remove spots caused by oil, see the guide How to Remove Engine Oil and Grease Stains.
  3. To remove chapstick grease spots from clothing, see the guide How to Remove Chapstick from Clothing.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • If the oily spots are appearing in the dryer, check for a tossed chapstick or other oily product that may have accidentally found its way to the dryer. An easy test for this is to place a clean, spot-free, damp cloth in the dryer. Check it for spots after it’s dried.
  • Sometimes the spots are only noticeable on dark fabrics due to the light colored stains produced by grease. They may still be present on white clothing, but not as noticeable.
  • As an additional stain removal method, some have had success soaking the affected items in OxiClean and then washing.



  1. I’m not sure why my clothing has oil spots. It’s mainly my kids’ clothes that I notice it on. But I wet the spots or the whole piece of clothing and rub some bar soap on it and throw in with a load of laundry and they always come out. I use Irish Spring soap because it is stronger and removes oils. It has worked the best for me. It’s a pain to have to do that to all the clothes, but it really does work.

  2. I too see oil spots on my clothes. I have a front loader and only noticed this with this washer. I’m wondering if the washer has something to do with it!

  3. Same problem, but only on my dark tee shirts and 99% of the time on the front.
    Dripping oil from transmission should be equal front and back?
    Happens with Ecos and Tide, both with Bounce dryer fabric softener.
    Some kind of reaction with detergent and body oils?
    Does this mean I have to stop blaming my wife?

  4. My issue with the spots is described exactly as Cyril stated it; 99% of the time the spots are on the front of the clothing and they are like grease spots, but I’m not over here eating fried chicken all day, wiping it on my clothes. This problem is driving me nuts! I would be ever so grateful to anyone who comes up with the solution. I know I can treat them after the fact and throw them back in the wash, but I would rather not have to take the extra time to treat so many pieces that come out with these spots. Plus all that additional washing is not great for wear and tear on the clothes.

  5. Platter grease (butter too) on a good blouse? Put straight Avon bubble bath on the spot, let sit a few minutes and wash. No spots!

  6. I have the same problem. I’ve had it with two different front load washers, and detergent doesn’t seem to make a difference, although some seem to exacerbate the problem. I am looking for prevention also, not after the fact spot treating. My homemade detergent is the lesser of all the evils, and next time I might add extra Zote soap in the mix to cut whatever grease or oil is causing the problem. Ugh.

  7. I am fighting this same issue! 99% of stains are on the front of my husband’s T-shirts. I am so tired of rewashing. I have tried pre-treating the entire front of the shirt and they still appear and have to be rewashed…

  8. Washer Tranny – not likely as most after 1995 have sealed transmissions. Plus I’ve had it happen on the first load of a brand new washer and tried multiple different washers.
    Trapped dirt, oil, or detergent – Again, happened on brand new washer.
    Oily rags, etc – Happens even if I wash t-shirts alone.
    Fabric Softener – Don’t use it.

    These answers are not helpful. The stains are ALWAYS on the front of my dark colored cotton t-shirts, never on the back. GE claims the stains are already there before washing, you just can’t see them. I cook a lot so I can definitely see this being an issue. Just eating can be the cause. It is the answer that makes the most sense because they are always on the front of the shirts. GE says to pump up the temperature, pre-soak, or use more detergent. I know my darks are always in cold water so I guess I either need to change that or pre-soak.

  9. I am having the same problem, but on front and back of clothes and am looking for a solution to STOP it, not jut treat it after the fact. We went out and bought a new washer after changing detergents, dryer sheets, etc… and they are still doing it. It is my clothes, my kids’ clothes, and my husband’s clothes and I am too scared to wash any new things because we can’t afford to keep buying clothes. It is mostly cotton that it shows up on…does anyone have tips of WHAT can be causing it and how to stop it? I am driving myself crazy!

  10. I have been getting oily spots on my cotton blouses. I use Woolite for the detergent and vinegar for the rinse, and hang to dry…I took some of them to the dry cleaners and they got the stains out, but I can’t afford to dry clean cotton blouses that often. I sometimes use a stain remover for the armpit stains…just a huge mystery.

  11. I’m pretty sure it’s sunscreen. I put sunscreen on before I get dressed and let it dry; do not have stains on my clothing. Husband and son get dressed, then sunscreen. Their clothes have dark greasy spots all over.

  12. I am almost in tears. I actually sold my home because I could not do laundry. Oil grease spots appearing on all of my clothing. I moved, bought a new washing machine and same problem. No one I know has this problem. It happens no matter what detergent I use, even Woolite. It happens on the front of the shirt only. I don’t use fabric softener. I don’t want to buy new clothes because I know they will be ruined. I took one shirt to the cleaner and he could not get the stain out. Any help you could offer would be great. One thing is for sure; I will not be moving again.

  13. Robyn: You are not alone–there are hundreds of posts on the internet from people with similar problems (including me)… read above and do a web search. This did not happen to people before the year 2000 or so. Many ways to get the spots out, but first isolate the source: (1) Stop all fabric softeners in washer AND dryer. (2) Clear washer with a couple of extra-hot empty washer loads using white vinegar or a commercial product. (3) Check for melted Chap-Stick or other gunk in dryer drum. (4) Wash some stain-free clothes and drip-dry on a hanger (is the washer and not the dryer)? Then, the opposite: wet (but don’t wash) some clean clothes and run the through the dryer. Which set got stained? (5) Do an experiment: buy a half-dozen garments and NEVER let them be anywhere near eating, food, cooking, or garage/handyman work (i.e., sources of fat or grease). Do THEY get the stains too? Don’t give up–read up.

  14. You guys!! Same issues here for almost three years…grease-like spots on all my dark clothing. Bought a new washer/dryer, using only homemade powder detergent and it’s still happening. I finally got a recommendation today to check my water heater for sedement that could be building up in my pipes and causing spots?? It is my last resort. :( Any thoughts on this?

  15. It is semen stains, and I am not joking at all. That is why it is only on the front of shirts. Use tissues to wipe semen up.

  16. I find stains mostly on my husband’s shirts (front & back), but not all the time. I have a HE machine & have tried different detergents. Good to know it’s not just me. But I would like a solution. Will try using less detergent. Like others, I’d prefer a solution BEFORE washing rather than getting the stain out after the wash.

  17. I am having the same issue and am about to go nutty!! We thought it was our washer so we went out and bought a new washer and dryer and still have weird dark spots on our clothing after they are washed! And… It’s only on the front! Someone help!
    Also, I’ve tried multiple detergents and do not use fabric softeners! We’ve had our water tested for iron and a couple other things and everything comes back fine!! Someone please help, but it’s nice to know were not the only ones with this mystery.

  18. Iakuretiya says:

    I had the same problem. I had to throw some cloths because of that. Finally I found that the greasy stains are due to fabric softener. After I found out, I had no stains after washing without fabric softener. If you already had the stains, wash the stains with anti-grease dish washing liquid.

  19. If someone could invent a fashionable and accepted MAN BIB, I think my stain problems would go away.


  21. Is is possible that it’s the water softener for the house that’s doing it? I have this problem on ALL of my clothes. I use powder detergent, no Downy or anything, and yet I have to rewash at least 4 items per load after putting a touch of blue Dawn on the spots and rubbing it in. This is crap!!! I have a front loading machine that was made in 2010 so I doubt it’s the transmission. So frustrating.

  22. I was told there’s nothing you can do. It’s the chemicals they put in your county water system.

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