Tough stains, meet science

February 09, 2015

Australians are no strangers to hard work, grease and oil stains on work uniforms can seem like constant companions.  Many times, garments with grease stains end up in the toss pile because those stains seem impossible to get out! If you think you’ve tried everything to remove stubborn grease or motor oil, you may be surprised to learn that the solution is living right in your kitchen.

Chemistry 101

Before we can talk in detail about what will remove these stains, it’s important to know why water alone won’t get rid of grease or oil. The reason why water won’t work comes down to one thing: science.

You probably learned in a school science class that water and oil don’t mix. Even when put into the same container and shaken up, within a few minutes they will separate again, with oil resting on top of the water. This separation is one reason why oil seems impossible to remove from garments. Water molecules are packed more closely together than oil molecules, so water is more dense (and heavier) than oil. Because water molecules are heavier, the water sinks to the bottom of it’s container, leaving oil to rest on top. For a huge example of this, think of the 2009 Montara Oil Spill. Oil from the the Montara wellhead stayed floating on the ocean’s surface and was able to finally be removed by burning off the oil.

Other than density, the other reason oil and water won’t mix comes from polarity. If you really paid attention in science, you might remember that a molecule’s polarity is its electric charge. Water is a polar molecule. It has a slight negative charge on one end and a slight positive charge on the other, so water molecules are attracted to each other similar to a magnet’s poles. Polar molecules can only bond to polar molecules.

Oil is non-polar, and has an overall negative charge. Oil will only bond to other non-polar molecules. For oil to be taken out of clothing, the water needs to bond to it to wash it away. For water to bond to oil, you need an emulsifier, which is a substance that bonds two liquids that otherwise wouldn’t. Luckily, emulsifiers are fairly common. You probably have one sitting right on your kitchen counter. Simple dishwasher detergent is all you need to get your garment looking like new.

Remove Oil in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Apply dish detergent directly to the grease stain. (We prefer Fairy, Aldi Brand and Earth Choice because of their value, overall ability to clean, and their environmental consciousness.)
  2. Rub in the detergent, and let the spot sit for a few minutes.
  3. Wash your garment as instructed.

This should be all it takes to get grease stains out of your clothing!

The final thing to note about removing grease or oil stains from clothing are two instances where it would be better to take your garments to a professional cleaner. One is if you are attempting to remove a lot of grease or motor oil. Washing at home leaves grease in your washing machine, which can stain other garments and make your machine smell like motor oil. The other instance is if you are trying to clean a very delicate fabric like wool or silk.

For help getting the toughest stains out of any fabric, Australian Uniform Service is your expert garment professional. Contact us today to get started with our uniform rental programme. We’ll pick up your grease-stained uniforms, and return them looking like new.