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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.