How to Get Diesel Out of Clothes (2022)

A sign with the word diesel on it.
Table of Contents

    Trucks, trains, boats, construction equipment, farming equipment, generators, motorhomes and more all run on diesel. Usually, if you need something with a little extra punch, it is diesel. If you have worked with the fuel before then you know it is infamous for two things. Stains and odors. 

    It is bad enough when diesel leaks onto the floor of a garage and stains the floor but sometimes diesel ends up on you and your clothing. Diesel fuel can be nasty stuff and it isn’t easy to clean. Special methods and cleaning solutions are needed to resolve pesky stains and even then the odor can linger. Thankfully there are some solutions.   


    A pair of blue jeans.

    A diesel stain on your favorite jeans doesn’t always mean they are destined for the trash heap.


    How do you remove diesel stains from clothing?

    So you were fueling up a diesel generator or maybe a diesel truck and some of the fuel splashed down the front of your pants. Now what? 

    Diesel can be a tricky thing to remove from cloth and the stains can sometimes seem permanent. Combined with grease stains it can seem impossible. Some people just throw the clothing away, but that’s a waste. Instead of getting rid of a nice pair of jeans or your favorite shirt just follow the steps here to remove the stain. 


    Before we dive into that there are a few things you should consider:


    • Is the stained garment labeled as “dry clean only”? If so then you need to take it to a professional dry cleaner. If you try to clean this yourself you will probably ruin the garment. Also, home dry cleaning kits won’t be effective and can even be dangerous to use when it comes to grease and diesel. 


    • The following steps are only meant for clothing. If you have a diesel stain on carpeting or upholstery you should use a different approach. We will cover that in another section of this article so keep reading! 


    • Just a reminder, diesel fumes are flammable and they can make you noxious. If you have a really bad stain you probably also have really bad fumes. Make sure that there are no open flames or electrical equipment that might spark near the stain and cause a fire. Also, open windows and doors to ventilate the area you are working in. Your body will thank you. 


    • Finally, after you remove the stain you might still notice diesel fumes. The next sections after this will cover how to get rid of diesel odors.  


    Steps for removing diesel stains 


    Step 1: Gather the right tools and supplies 

    For your supplies, you are going to need a solvent-based stain remover like OxiClean or Shout or an enzyme-based heavy-duty liquid laundry detergent like Tide. You might want baking soda as well. The baking soda is optional and it is included just to help fight the odor from the beginning. You will also need a soft-bristled brush (a toothbrush will do) and a washing machine and dryer/clothesline as well. 


    Step 2: Pretreatment 

    Begin by pretreating the stain with the solvent-based stain remover or enzyme-based heavy-duty liquid laundry detergent. Use the soft-bristled brush to rub this into the stain. More absorbent and tougher materials might need more work. Once that is done let the garment sit for 15-20 minutes so the pretreatment can fully soak in. 


    Step 3: Wash 

    Wash the item in the hottest water that the fabric can handle. Check the label on the garment for direction. 


    • Do not use any chlorine bleach with the stained garment. This can create harmful fumes! 


    • Do not wash the garment with other unstained clothing 


    After washing the item the stain should be gone. If it is still visible then repeat these first steps until the stain is gone. Old stains can be harder to get out so it is always better to clean a stained piece of clothing as soon as possible. 


    Step 4: Soak (Optional) 

    The stain is gone but the fuel odors might not be. This is the step to take care of that. Use one cup of baking soda in enough hot water to cover the garment and then let it sit like that overnight. Once the garment has soaked, wash it again like normal. In the next sections, we will cover other methods for tackling stubborn diesel odors.


    Step 5: Dry 

    If the odor is completely gone then you can now dry the garment in a regular drying machine. However, if there is any odor do not use a drying machine! This can start a fire if sparks from the machine ignite fumes from the diesel. If there is some odor left, try air-drying the cloth. This might remove the last lingering smells.         


    A crate of eggs.

    The sulfur that contributes to the bad smell in diesel is also in a chemical that makes rotten eggs smell bad.


    Why does diesel smell bad?

    Have you ever driven past a facility that uses lots of sulfur? That pungent odor, like rotten eggs, lingers in the air. Well, in the United States diesel has very high sulfur content. Combined with the nickel in diesel it works as a great lubricant for engines. Unfortunately, it also stinks.  


    How do you remove the smell of diesel from clothing?

    If regular baking soda and air drying don’t do the trick then there are four other methods you can try to get the smell of diesel out of your clothing


    Method 1: Baking soda and vinegar 

    The only thing better than one deodorizer is two deodorizers. Just wash the garment with about half a cup of baking soda and half a cup of white vinegar and then leave it to air dry. This method is good but for really strong odors you might need to try something else. 


    Method 2: Coke and baking soda

    You’re going to need a plastic tub of warm water, a cup of degreaser, a 2-liter bottle of Coca Cola, and a box of baking soda. 

    First, put the garment in the warm water with the degreaser and let it soak for a couple of hours. Then drain the tub and rinse it out. Next, fill it back up with clean water, the 2-liter bottle of Coke and the baking soda. Mix that all up and let it sit for up to 24 hours. After that just let the garment air dry, wash it regularly and you should be odor-free. This may seem a little unconventional but some people swear by it. 


    Method 3: Listerine

    Speaking of unconventional. Listerine mouthwash is a great deodorizer. Just pour some into the washing machine and clean the garment like you normally would. This works for many odors actually. It turns out Listerine is good for more than just your teeth.


    Method 4: Fast Orange 

    Fast Orange is a product that is very effective at removing grease from your hands but it also works to get rid of diesel fuel odors. You can find it on Amazon or even at Walmart. Just put the hand cleaner into your washing machine and let it do its magic. 


    Can you wash clothes with diesel fuel on them?

    You can wash clothes with diesel fuel on them but it is always best to follow the guidelines previously mentioned. Don’t wash the clothing with other unstained garments and you should always pretreat the stain properly to make sure it comes off. 

    The most important thing to remember is that you should not place garments with diesel stains or diesel odors into a drying machine. This can cause a fire. 


    Is it dangerous to get diesel on you? 


    According to the World Health Organization:

    “Diesel is not considered to be particularly toxic and accidental poisoning is very rare. However, if diesel is swallowed, medical advice should be obtained immediately as there is a small risk of short-term lung damage if vomiting occurs or if droplets of diesel are inhaled. Long-term skin exposure to diesel may result in eczema (dermatitis)and should be avoided.”

    That’s the official word on diesel. If diesel is left on your skin for too long it will be absorbed. This can lead to eczema as mentioned but very large levels of exposure can also lead to kidney damage. 

    Diesel fumes can irritate your eyes, skin and respiratory tract and can ultimately cause dizziness, headache, and nausea. That’s just in the short term. Long term exposure can cause lung cancer, kidney damage and even increase the risk of a heart attack. 

    In short, it is always best to keep diesel off of you and your clothing. If you do get some on you you should get it off as soon as you can. 


    A person with diesel on their hands.

    An overexposure to diesel over time can be dangerous for your health. It is always best to clean it off and follow the steps mentioned here.


    How to get diesel fuel off your skin?

    If you have gotten diesel on your clothing then it is likely you have gotten it on your skin as well. If you know that you will be refueling something with diesel or that you will be working with diesel you should wear gloves, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and even eye protection. You’re better safe than sorry as they say.

    If you have Fast Orange you can use the product to quickly get diesel and grease off your hands and other parts of your body. If you don’t have that you can try this common home remedy. First, fill one bottle with vinegar and another bottle with water. You can prepare this beforehand if you think you might get diesel on you. 

    Then, if diesel gets on you or soaks through your clothes you just need to douse the area with vinegar to wash away the diesel. Follow that up with the water and dry the area thoroughly with a clean towel. 

    It might help to label the bottles “Vinegar” and “Water” so you easily know which is which. If you regularly work with diesel you can keep these nearby.     


    How to get diesel fuel off of other things.

    Diesel spills everywhere. It can end up on you, your clothes, and the ground. Sometimes you track it inside with you unaware that it is on the bottom of your shoes or you sit in a chair not knowing your backside is covered in the fuel. That creates some unique challenges. You can wash your clothes but you can’t just wash your carpeting or sofa. Here’s what to do instead.

    Note: This method works for smaller stains on carpets or upholstery. If you accidentally dumped an entire jug of diesel on your living room carpet you are going to need a professional. Larger stains usually require something to be totally replaced.


     Step 1: Gather your tools and supplies 

    You are going to need heavy-duty paper towels or rags, baking soda or kitty litter, and liquid dishwashing detergent such as Dawn. You will also need to find a shop vacuum, a soft-bristled brush, and a sponge. 


    Step 2: Blot

    First, blot the stain with the towels and rags to remove as much excess liquid as possible. The key here is to blot and not wipe. Make sure you don’t spread the stain around. 


    Step 3: Soak up 

    Next, use the baking soda or kitty litter and sprinkle it over the spot to help further absorb the liquid as well as the odor. Leave this in place for about four hours so it can really work on the stain. 


    Step 4: Vacuum 

    Use the shop vacuum to pick up all the baking soda or kitty litter. If the powder is still damp then repeat step 3 again and proceed from there. 


    Step 5: Apply the cleaning solution

    Mix a cleaning solution with one tablespoon of detergent and one cup of warm water. Using the soft-bristled brush, work this into the stain working from the outer edges towards the center so as to avoid spreading the diesel. 


    Step 6: Blot, rinse, and dry   


    Now blot the spot with a clean dry towel and then rinse it with a sponge dipped in regular water. This should remove any remaining soap. Let the area air dry for best results. Don’t use a hairdryer or any other heat source to dry it. If you can still see a stain after you have done all six steps then start from the top and do it all again.   


    What to do if a stain just won’t come out

    You spilled diesel on your favorite pair of pants, you’ve tried every technique in this article and the stain is still there! Wow, well, what do you do? Many people would throw away the pants and buy another pair. You shouldn’t do that though. The pants are still useful in several ways. 


    • You can still wear them as work clothes. If the odor isn’t too bad then the pants might be useful for gardening, mechanical work, or anything else that might get you dirty. 


    • If the stain isn’t too big you might be able to cut out the offending section and replace it with a patch. No reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you like the garment then you should try to save it. 


    • In a similar vein, you can also repurpose the material in the garment to make another one. Depending on how crafty you are you can make a new shirt out of the scraps of others. 


    • Speaking of scraps, worst case scenario you can cut up the garment and now you have wash rags. Use them in the kitchen, while camping, or even the next time you are handling something with diesel.  


    How to prevent getting diesel on your clothes. 

    A diesel stain can’t be prevented 100% but here are a few simple tips to help reduce the chances of one happening. 


    1. If you are working with diesel wear dark clothes that you don’t mind getting stained in the first place. 


    2. Work carefully and slowly. Fast and erratic movements can easily lead to spills. 


    3. If you are working with diesel make sure it is in a well-lit place so you can see what you are doing. 


    4. Watch your step. Throwdown wood shavings or kitty litter to help absorb diesel spills before they happen. You should also check the bottoms of your shoes to make sure you don’t bring a stain inside with you.


    5. Don’t overfill things. Just when you think you can get one more drop in a fuel tank that’s when it overflows onto you.  


    A person working in an auto shop.

    If you regularly come in contact with diesel then you should use appropriate precautions.


    Final Verdict:

    Diesel fuel is becoming less common in vehicles and industry with some articles hailing “The death of diesel” as more countries ban vehicles that use it. Still, for many people, it is a part of life. 

    Workers, outdoors aficionados, and truck drivers alike deal with diesel on a daily basis. With that comes the occasional spill, stain, and unforgettable diesel fuel smell. With the right methods, a diesel stain can just be a nuisance instead of something that destroys a garment. Lingering odors can be gotten rid of in hours instead of days. 

    As long as diesel is around these techniques will be in practice. So, next time a refuel goes bad and you find yourself with diesel down the front of your leg, don’t worry. Just follow the steps we went over and you can get back to the task at hand.      


    Bonus tip: Want to learn more about diesel? Dive into the good, the bad, and the ugly of diesel. Why do we use it? What are the alternatives? And more.  


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    Riley Draper

    Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.