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How can I Remove Tar from Clothing?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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Before the development of today's stain treatment products, the only reliable way to deal with tar on a shirt was to buy another shirt. Fortunately, times have changed in the stain removal world, and there are a number of proven methods to get tar out of clothing. A professional dry cleaner can use a number of strong chemicals to completely remove tar even from white fabrics, but there are also home remedies that work nearly as well.

Most cleaning experts agree that exposure to a heat source is the worst thing for tar-stained fabrics. Heat will set the stain permanently, so never place any tar-stained clothing in a dryer or on a clothesline until you are confident the entire stain has been removed. Immediate treatment with mineral spirits or a stain removal spray should keep the tar stain from setting into the fabric permanently.

One suggested way to remove tar deposits on clothing is to apply a plastic bag filled with ice cubes to the affected area. Freezing allows you to remove deposits too large for stain treatment. Once the tar has become cold, it can be scraped off with a knife or peeled off in sections.

After the initial glob of tar has been removed, some residue often remains. There are a number of products and procedures available to remove tar stains from clothing, ranging from white kerosene to bacon grease. Almost all of these home remedies rely on the behavior of most tars once they encounter detergents, other oils or solvents. Roofing and roadway tars are usually made from a low grade form of motor oil, which means the stains can be broken down in much the same way.

Some suggested ways to remove tar involve chemical solvents like white kerosene, mineral spirits, paint thinner and gasoline. If you try using any of these chemical agents, remember how flammable they are and how important ventilation is. Experts suggest dabbing the affected areas with the solvent until the tar stain disappears. Clothes treated with flammable solutions should be washed separately and in the hottest, soapiest water possible. Inspect the clothing carefully before putting it into a dryer.

Another way to deal with tar stains involves cleansers and natural oils. Some sources suggest using the commercial product WD-40 to break up the tar before it can set permanently in the fibers. Baby oil is also mentioned as a possible tar remover, especially on fresh stains. Citrus-based cleaning oils can also remove tar if scrubbed into the fabric vigorously. Commercial laundry stain removers and pine oils can also be used. Follow the directions on the labels and test the product on an inconspicuous spot if you are concerned about compatibility.

A more organic way to remove tar from clothing is to use lard or bacon grease. Those who have used this method say that it can take care of deposits in a dryer as well. The idea is to slather the lard or grease liberally over the tar stain and scrub. Once the item is laundered in very hot water and detergent, the grease should pull the tar stain out of the fabric.

When in doubt, you can always bring the tar-stained clothing to a professional dry cleaner for treatment. Make sure the dry cleaner knows the source of the stain and any home remedies you have already tried.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to HomeQuestionsAnswered, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon992291 — On Aug 28, 2015

How do you remove tar from white clothing? All those recommended products would stain a white garment.

By anon989576 — On Mar 12, 2015

Citrus King by Citrus Depot is the best orange based cleaner I've ever tried. It's much better than gook off.

By anon347437 — On Sep 07, 2013

Baby oil worked well. Thanks for the info.

By anon339693 — On Jun 26, 2013

What about tar from logs near the ocean? How do I remove it from a cotton skirt?

By anon333779 — On May 07, 2013

To remove tar from a car, use peanut butter.

By anon244734 — On Feb 02, 2012

Tar is not soluble in water, correct? That would make it a polar covalent or a nonpolar covalent bond. Meaning it does not dissolve in water. Some polar covalent bonds can dissolve in water, but only with a high electro negativity like a 1.6. So if covalent and most polar covalents do not dissolve in water, how do you dissolve them? You could use methanol or possibly another covalent or polar covalent bond to remove the tar and stain.

A non polar covalent bond is any molecule with an electro negativity rate of 0.0 to 0.3. A polar covalent bond is any molecule with an electro negativity of 0.4 to 1.7.

An ionic bond (soluble in water) is any molecule with a electro negativity of 1.8 to 3.3. Good luck with your stain problem.

By anon204884 — On Aug 10, 2011

To the person with tar in the washer and dryer: I found I could use nail polish remover. I just had tar in my dryer from washing guys' clothes and I got the polish remover and got the tar out with a cotton ball and it wipes out clean, but watch the fumes. I even used polish remover to get the tar off my legs and arms. You have to rub but it does come off.

I have roofing tar running down the side of my house and I tried gas but it made a mess. I rinsed with hot soapy water and also clean water so my house would not burn down. I am at a loss about what to use. It would take a lot of nail polish remover if I went that way. Any ideas?

By anon163724 — On Mar 28, 2011

I sat in tar on the beach this weekend in my yoga pants, 87 percent nylon and 13 percent spandex. After reading comments I went the natural route, which worked great. The freezing with ice only got little tiny pieces off so I had bacon grease in the refrigerator and used that. After about five applications of bacon grease alternating with Dawn dishwashing soap under the hottest water I could stand, the tar is completely gone. However, they are black so I don't know if they left a stain. Happy with the results!

By anon161643 — On Mar 20, 2011

Washed my girlfriends work jeans that had tar on them in our new washer and dryer. The washer's fine but the dryer has tar spots all over it now. I tried dawn soap and hot water with a dish sponge Those new clorox scrubbie wipes got some of it off but it still is a mess. What else can i do?

By anon128902 — On Nov 21, 2010

Toothpick, you need to use a clay bar to get rid of tar and other stubborn dirt from a car body. Should be able to get one from somewhere like Halfords or search online.

By anon101251 — On Aug 02, 2010

WD- 40 works great on clothes. just spray it on, rub a bit, then wash. Quick and easy!

By anon89886 — On Jun 13, 2010

The easiest and most effective is petrol, or gas from the gas station. you only need a little on a cloth.

By anon81403 — On May 01, 2010

Turtle Wax Bug and Tar Remover! You can find it in auto parts stores.

By anon43211 — On Aug 26, 2009

Baby oil seems to have removed the beach tar (endemic in Santa Barbara County) from my khaki shorts. Thanks for the info!

By anon36710 — On Jul 14, 2009

Goo gone worked on my boyfriends motorcycle when it became splattered with tar. Good luck!

By anon35046 — On Jul 01, 2009

I am an oil painter, so I used the mineral spirits on my husbands shorts and then laundered them in hot water; worked great. There was also tar on our microfiber sofa. I used some pink artists brush cleaner on a white cloth to rub out the tar followed by blotting it with water. The sofa looks fantastic!

By toothpick — On May 31, 2008

does anyone have any suggestions on how one would remove tar from the paint on their car?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to HomeQuestionsAnswered, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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