Martha's Quick Tip for Removing a Fresh Oil Stain From Clothing Is Genius

The next time a bite of food leaves its mark on your favorite top, give this clever method, which involves cornstarch, a try.

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 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 genius tip in the clip above years ago while 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

How to Remove Oil Stains With Cornstarch

It all starts with a bit of cornstarch. This key ingredient works wonders to remove fresh oil stains.

During the segment, Jonathan 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 if needed. That's why—after treating the mark with cornstarch—he and Martha next reached for a gentle laundry detergent mixed with water to treat the lingering stain. They used a 5 percent solution of Orvus, a water-soluble animal shampoo paste commonly found at tack stores, says Martha. (You can use a gentle liquid laundry cleanser, as well).

Note: This detergent-and-water method is only suitable for fresh stains on water-tolerant fabrics. Set-in oil stains (which often resemble coffee stains, says Jonathan) need to be treated differently.

What You'll Need

  • Cornstarch
  • Toothbrush
  • Orvus and water solution (or gentle laundry detergent)
  • White cloth
  • Spatula
  • Cheesecloth

Follow Jonathan and Martha's steps to remove oil stains with cornstarch:

  1. 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.
  2. Next, try to slough off as much of the cornstarch as possible with your toothbrush.
  3. Turn your stained article over onto a white cloth, and then attack the stain from the back; this makes removal more effective.
  4. Once you apply your Orvus and water solution, tap the surface with a hard tool, such as a spatula, several times, checking the white cloth for runoff.
  5. Then, over a basin or sink, drizzle the spot with water before dabbing the wet area with cheesecloth, which is very absorbent.
  6. Continue with this procedure several times until the fabric appears to be stain-free, and then throw the clothing into a cold-water cycle—never hot.

Mind Your Fabric

The fabric you're working with matters, says the duo. Jonathan warns against trying this method with protein-based fabrics, like silk or wool, that resist water. Take care when working with dyed garments, as well; it's always a good idea to test the dye composition of the textile before you work with water or a dry solvent, say Martha and Jonathan.

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