the sad tale of an oil stain, or how i was misled by the internet

Last week, while enjoying a lovely lunch at a restaurant with my mom and my partner, an oily sauce jumped out of a bowl and splattered on my shirt. All right, it didn't actually jump out, truth is I can be a clumsy eater. But the sauce went on my shirt. Ugh.

This wasn't one little dot, which can be annoying enough. This was an entire collection of splats, re-decorating the front of my shirt. Double ugh.

Because I was busy with family and friends, I wasn't able to immediately soak or stain-treat the shirt. It ended up sitting for a couple of days before I washed it.

When I got home a few days later, I stain-treated and washed the shirt several times. I used my preferred stain-removing spray, OxiClean, and also soaked the shirt in a solution of OxiClean powder, each time putting it in the washing machine on warmer water than I would normally use. The stains did get lighter, but they did not come out.

Next I Googled "how to remove oil stains from clothing". I found answers at: WikiHow, Wise Bread, About.com/Laundry, and a blog called the Northern Belle Diaries. There were other sources, but I judged these four to be most reliable. (Another source that is generally good, eHow, recommended what I had already done.)

One method was common to those four sources: putting 10W-40 or other motor oil on the stain, letting it soak in, rinsing it out in hot water, then laundering in the washing machine again.

It seemed strange and a bit shocking to put motor oil on my shirt. But the shirt was unwearable in its present condition, so I felt I had nothing to lose.

I followed instructions.

The stain did not come out.

Neither did the motor oil.

My shirt now has huge black oil stains all over it.

If the stain had not come out, but the shirt was in no worse shape, I could have tried another method. But now it's too late.

On reflection and hindsight, I might have tried a less drastic method before resorting to the 10W-40. Some sites mentioned baking soda or baby powder. However, I have tried those methods in the past and found them useless.

So what happened?

Is this idea of removing oil with more oil a myth, kind of like using tomato juice to remove skunk odor from a dog's fur? (Trust me, it doesn't work. Use baking soda and hydrogen peroxide.)

Does that mean people publish how-to articles on sites like About.com and WikiHow without actually trying it first?

Are these websites simply repeating what other sites publish, the way people do with Wikipedia, potentially spreading misinformation along with good information?

Does this method actually work, even though it didn't work for me?

I wish I could post before, after, and after-after photos, but, not knowing that my shirt would be ruined, I never thought to take a pic. Just imagine a lovely cobalt-blue, hip-length, gathered-V-neck cotton shirt (similar to this) with motor oil all over it.


Update. Catching up on impudent strumpet, I've learned there's a word for the internet phenomenon I was trying to describe above: citogenesis, courtesy of the inimitable xkcd.


M@ said...

I certainly can't explain the motor oil thing, but I certainly understand the idea behind it.

I have stunned people in the past with this little gem: if someone writes on a whiteboard in permanent marker, write over the permanent marker (after it dries) with a dry-erase marker. Both will usually wipe away. The idea is that the wet dry-erase ink will act as a solvent on the permanent ink, and thus both will be erasable.

The reason I bring this up is that it doesn't always work. SuMei recently tried this on a piece of stained glass (on my suggestion) and it didn't work. Luckily she tried in on scrap glass first so I didn't ruin her piece!

But that's the same problem. I know it's a good trick for dry erase boards. Not everyone knows this and it's always surprising the first time you see it. So I'm anxious to tell people about it because it's so easy and logical and relatively risk-free.

I assume that's what motivates people to post these kinds of solution. They work in a particular situation and one assumes they will work in all similar situations. And it feels helpful and useful to post the information -- or worse, to re-post the information without trying it oneself.

Sorry to hear about the ruined top, in any case!

131220 said...

Some of those "tricks" only work on certain kinds of fabrics as well. I tend to gravitate to user-posted solutions that have reviews on them as well, especially when I'm looking for recipes.

laura k said...

Thanks, M@! Interesting.

131220, all the posts said they tried it on cotton. The shirt was 100% cotton.

And none of the sites had reviews, unfortunately. There are "reviews" of a sort on Yahoo Answers or Ask.com, but I dislike those types of sites and don't use them. But thank you!

laura k said...

I assume that's what motivates people to post these kinds of solution. They work in a particular situation and one assumes they will work in all similar situations. And it feels helpful and useful to post the information -- or worse, to re-post the information without trying it oneself.

Right. Certain things might feel helpful... but if you haven't tried them yourself... etc. etc. :/

gingercat said...

I used to work at a dry cleaner. The old now not allowed dry cleaning chemical would get any grease stain out. Now that I don't work at a dry cleaners and have to use what's on the market. I use laundry miracle. It's available at some home hardwares.It will remove grease stains but usually requires a couple of treatments to finally get rid the grease spots.

Stephanie said...

How frustrating and sad.

I can't say I have ever heard of using motor oil as a stain trearment and as I think about it, it just seems maliscious. Years ago, I had occasion to spend a lot of time in and around an auto garage. The biggest complaint always surrounded getting motoroil out of clothes.

Believe it or not I have been using hydrogen peroxide and baking soda on everything with great success! Have also been succesful using sunlight laundry bars for pre-treating. Sometimes I add borax to the wash as well.

Sorry for your nasty experience.

laura k said...

Thanks, Stephanie.

Long ago, I used to spend a lot of time with an auto mechanic, and the best thing to remove oil stains was something very oily. It came in a big tub, sometimes called "waterless soap". There's one called "Goop", there used to be one called "Dax", although that doesn't seem to exist anymore.

You used it without water, rubbed it in, then rinsed it off. Worked beautifully... but it was oily. Although not oil.

And I'm not sure that was recommended for fabrics, just hands.

Baking soda is great for laundry, and great for neutralizing smells.

laura k said...

Gingercat, do you mean PERC? Is that actually not allowed anymore, or maybe you're referring to something else.

I don't know Laundry Miracle. I have tried Shout and Out and various products. Oxiclean is really good and can be used on carpets, couches, etc.

Sarah O. said...

Jolie Kerr, "Ask a Clean Person" is pretty good with the research and the comments sections always have lots of anecdotes about failures and successes with various methods. Seems like for bike grease, motor oil, and gasoline, the best easily-found cleaning solution is Pinesol or Lestoil (as a spot treatment pre-laundering). Apparently Goop is still around and also used as a stain treatment.

laura k said...

Sarah O, thanks so much for that!

When I Googled it, I found that Ask A Clean Person runs on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks. What's up with that?

Jolie Kerr has a Tumblr (I have no idea why people like Tumblr, yuck) and she's on Twitter: @joliekerr.

karen said...

Once upon a time I worked in a restaurant located in a local historical house. For several years the women's uniforms consisted of a flowered dress and a long white pinafore. The house soup was a paprika-laden goulash and a popular dinner entree was a pork curry with apples and crab. In the kitchen, few things are as staining as paprika and turmeric; few things are as attractive to staining spices as stark white aprons on waitresses who would like to look tidy. (Another waitress used to say, " oh, you know: in kitchens things just go leaping about!")
I used to spray my apron with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and then roll up and leave alone for an hour before I washed it. Worked like a charm. Might bleach a coloured fabric though.
Also, when I saw 10w30 in your post I first saw wd40. Might that work? It's supposed to work various miracles.

laura k said...

Salt and lemon juice, I'll try it on something white! How did you spray the lemon juice? Diluted, or squeezed directly from the lemon, or...?

The articles that menion motor oil all say "10W40 or whatever non-cooking oil you have". The difference in the numbers is just the weight or viscosity of the oil. I can't imagine the results with an even heavier oil would have been any different.

johngoldfine said...

Like Karen, I first read your 10W40 as WD40. Apparently WD40 is a solvent and can lift and disperse grease.


Still sounds pretty much like a nothing-left-to-lose last resort.

laura k said...

Ohmygod. Wait a second. Did I ruin a shirt - and write about it - because I read WD40 as 10W40???? I've never heard of WD40. Several links said "WD40 or any other non-cooking oil". I think I read that as 10W40.

Oh. My. God.

I've just checked, and three of the four sites DID say WD40, and one said 10W40.

I've never heard of WD40 and my brain took it in as 10W40. Even when I read Karen's comment.

And you know what? This is a typical Laura mistake. I am not very meticulous, not nearly as detail-oriented as I should be.

Well, well. I'd like to think the stain wasn't coming out anyway!

laura k said...

As you might surmise by the inarticulate nature of my last comment, I am shocked and appalled by my mistake!

laura k said...

Applicable Seinfeld:

"For I am Costanza, lord of the idiots!"

That's what I feel like!

johngoldfine said...

Forget idiots!

This is your opportunity to get into a much better relationship with the universe, Laura--get yourself and Allan a can of WD40 and live live live!

laura k said...

Ha ha ha, thanks, John. Allan also dismisses my insistence that this was an idiotic blunder. I'll never know if WD40 would have removed the stain, but I'll choose to believe it would not have.

johngoldfine said...

My favorite hand goop is not Goop but GoJo--probably more for the fact that it tags the first two letters of my first and last names and then reverses the order from JoGo to...GoJo. It just must be better than anything else on the market with a wonderful name like that!

johngoldfine said...

Hey, Laura, I was once in a hurry and feeling sorta vague anyway and so topped up my brake fluid reservoir with steering fluid--they are not by any stretch the same. That was a world of shit!

How about a contest for wmtc readers? Notorious, infamous, and egregious duh moments?

laura k said...

John, you are very kind to match my fluff-headedness with yours. :)

A contest is a good idea. As long as it doesn't devolve into one of those "most embarrassing moment" things. I always think, who wants to re-live our most embarrassing moment, which undoubtedly happened in childhood and still causes us to cringe?

deang said...

And while we're talking about fluff-headedness, I've long thought that "misled" should be the past tense of the made-up verb, "to misle."

laura k said...

the made-up verb, "to misle."

Can you use it in a sentence? :)

Stephanie said...

So, looking after a few days and the discovery of WD40 has me in stitches.

Have you thrown away the t-shirt yet??

I was at my mechanic's to have the snow tires put on and since we have a very jovial relationship I told him your story WD40/10W40...He told me that you must go to your nearest Canadian Tire or automotive parts supply and look for the product called "brake and parts cleaner". He showed me the can (an alcohol based aerosol) sprayed some on my hand (acts as a dispersant). He swaers your stained clothes will come clean, perhaps a couple washed required.

I hope you still have the T-shirt.
If so give it a try, I trust him and his experience.

laura k said...

I threw out the shirt. You'll forgive me if I don't share your amusement over this.

Stephanie said...

Laura, I am sorry that sounded insensitive. It just took me by surprise and struck my funny bone.

Of course you were very frustrated and not amused.

laura k said...

No problem, Steph. I'm sure it's a very funny story. Just not to me!

Rhonda said...

I have used 10W40 on an oil stains, you have to use liquid dish detergent. saturate the spot and rub in the soap, then launder as usual.

Rhonda said...

once you use the 10W40 you have to saturate the spots with liquid dish detergent which cuts grease and launder as usual