Cleaning Off Oil and Mud

Enjoying the great outdoors often means coming home with mud and oil stains on your clothes. Similarly, anyone with pets, particularly dogs, will probably be resigned to mud stains on clothes and carpets as a fact of life. But follow these handy tips and those ugly marks will soon be a thing of the past!

Mud Stains

For once, this is one stain you don’t have to rush to treat. In fact, many mud stains – depending on the composition – are easily solved by allowing them to dry and then gently brushing the dried particles off using a soft bristle brush, such as an old toothbrush, or vacuuming. This works especially well for carpets. If the fabric is dry-clean only, dab with a little warm water, which should remove the stain without the need for a trip to the dry-cleaners. In severe cases, you can use an eyedropper to apply a solution made from 1 tbsp of liquid dishwashing detergent in 1 cup water, and then rinse with cold water. However, with delicate fabrics or if you are unsure, it is best to consult the professionals.

Some mud stains can be very stubborn – particularly those that appear after children’s sporting events – and in this case, once the dried mud is brushed off, you will need to wash the garment with a gentle detergent on as high a temperature as possible. If a stain still persists, you may need to use a pre-soak treatment or work in a small amount of undiluted detergent or commercial stain remover, which is left for a few minutes, before rinsing and blotting dry with a damp cloth or sponge. Wash again as normal.

If the stain is very old or heavy, the garment will need to be soaked for several hours. Alternatively, you can use a bleaching solution of one part white vinegar to one part water, or a paste made of household ammonia and detergent. Note, however, that the detergent in this mixture should not contain any bleaching agent like sodium percarbonate or sodium perborate, as both of these substances release hydrogen peroxide when mixed with ammonia and could cause some fabrics to lose colour. Apply the paste to the stain, let stand for 5 to 10 minutes and then wash on as hot a cycle as possible.

Remember, really old stains or those that have been “set” by ironing or the clothes dryer may be very difficult to remove.

Oil Stains

Common oils stains are the result of encounters with cycle oil, car grease, lubricating oil or even cooking oils. Whatever the type, tackling the stain quickly is the key to success.

One of the best things you can do first is to liberally cover the area with an absorbent powder, such as baby powder, talcum powder or cornstarch and leave it for a least 20 minutes (although ideally for several hours) to totally absorb the oils, before brushing it off with a dry cloth or soft dry brush. If the stain was quite fresh, you should then be able to just wash it with laundry detergent in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric. Allow to air dry. (If the fabric needs to be professionally cleaned, make sure you brush all the powder off before taking it in to the dry cleaners.)

However, if the stain is older or very heavy, you will need to use an dry-cleaning oil solvent: place the stain face-down on a clean cloth or paper towels and blot the back of it with the dry-cleaning solvent. The stain should be”transferred” onto the paper towels underneath. Rinse thoroughly and then wash as normal.

Another way to tackle the stain is to work some liquid dish-washing detergent into the stain (colourless detergent is best as coloured detergent can stain the clothing itself). Gently rub the detergent into the stain and you should see the grease gradually dissolve. Rinse the area with white vinegar, which should remove all the detergent, and then with water. Wash as usual. You may need to repeat these steps a few times with very stubborn stains.

Oil Stains Outside

Grease and oils stains on the garage floor and driveway are not only ugly and smelly but also destructive to the surface (dripping oil, grease or gasoline can actually eat into and dissolve the asphalt), as well as being a potential hazard for you stepping in the puddle and tracking oil all over the interior of the house. If you have a concrete or cement garage floor or driveway, the porous nature will make the stains almost impossible to remove.

The best way to deal with these kinds of stains is to try and prevent them in the first place. If you are doing any mechanical work to your car, protect the surface underneath with something like a vinyl sheet. If you notice your car leaking oil, get it checked and in the meantime, put some cardboard or a small container underneath to catch the drips.

Unfortunately, sometimes spills do happen and in these instances, mop up as much oil as you can immediately before it has a chance to soak into the ground. Use newspaper, paper towels, old terrycloth towels or cleaning rags but be careful about disposing of these after they are soaked with the oil, as they are a serious fire hazard. A wonderful substance for absorbing spilled oil is cat litter, poured straight from the bag. The litter contains an absorbent clay and deodoriser, which draws any liquid up and causes it to clump – and then is easily disposed of. If you do not have any absorbent substance ready, you can hose the oil spill with a little water as that will cause the oil to rise up and thus not sink into the ground. Hardware stores will also sell professional products that clean up oil.

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