The next time a bite of food leaves its mark on your favorite top, give this clever method, which involves cornstarch, a try.
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As you'd expect, Martha has a tried-and-true trick for one of the most frustrating mealtime experiences: a blob of oil landing on a favorite blouse or go-to pair of pants. Luckily, you don't have to part ways with a beloved piece of clothing due to this seemingly tough-to-tackle stain. Believe it or not, Martha shared this always-applicable tip in the clip above years ago on the air. Together with stain removal expert Jonathan Scheer, of J. Scheer & Co., she taught her audience—and now, us!—how to banish one of the trickiest stains without a trace.

woman removing stain from laundry
Credit: Getty / FotoDuets

What You'll Need

Before you get started, make sure you have the following essentials on hand.

  • Cornstarch
  • Toothbrush
  • Gentle laundry detergent
  • White cloth
  • Spatula
  • Cheesecloth

Use Cornstarch

It all starts with a bit of cornstarch. Whether the stain occurred on linen, denim, or terry cloth, pour a healthy dose of cornstarch all over the impacted area and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes (this will help absorb the grease, keeping it from setting fully into the fabric). Next, try to slough off as much of the cornstarch as possible with a soft-bristle brush—a toothbrush works well for this.

Start with the Least Aggressive Approach

During the segment, Scheer reminded us to work from "the least invasive and the least aggressive" method when treating a spot, and move on to a "more aggressive, and more aggressive, still" approach only if needed. That's why he and Martha next reached for a gentle laundry detergent mixed with water to treat the leftover stain. They used a 5% solution of Orvus ($41.74, amazon.com), a water-soluble shampoo commonly found at tack stores, says Martha. (Your typical liquid laundry cleanser can be substituted in for this as well). It's important to note, they say, that this detergent-and-water method is only suitable for fresh stains on water-tolerant fabrics.

Repeat Removal Method as Necessary

Turn your stained article over onto a white cloth, and then attack the stain from the back; this makes removal more effective. Once you apply the solution, tap the surface with a hard tool, such as a spatula, several times, checking the white cloth for runoff. Then, over a basin or sink, drizzle the spot with water (just a touch!) before dabbing the wet area with cheesecloth, which is very absorbent. Continue with this procedure several times until the fabric appears to be stain-free, and then throw the clothing into a cold-water wash—never hot.

Mind Your Fabric

The fabric you're working with matters, advises the duo. Scheer recommends against trying this method with fabrics that resist water, such as protein-based fabrics like silk or wool, or those containing dyes that are water soluble. It's always a good idea, they say, to test the dye composition of the textile before you work with water or a dry solvent.

Comments (3)

Martha Stewart Member
June 14, 2021
I’ve also used white chalk. Rub it into the stain and let sit. It draws the oil up and away from fabric
Martha Stewart Member
January 8, 2021
Dawn. Regular blue Dawn. I’ve used it on new grease stains, old grease stains even grease stains that went through the dryer! Dribble it on, rub it in a bit and let it sit a day or two...hasn’t missed yet!
Martha Stewart Member
January 8, 2021
Dawn. Regular blue Dawn. I’ve used it on new grease stains, old grease stains even grease stains that went through the dryer! Dribble it on, rub it in a bit and let it sit a day or two...hasn’t missed yet!