Getting Dirty Engine Oil Out of Upholstery

Don’t ask.  I don’t even want to explain how engine oil got into our upholstery, but it might have something to do with the starboard engine access being literally in the quarterberth.  Great, just great.  This seems to be an annual occurrence, so I’ve learned to deal with it.  This time wasn’t nearly as bad as it can be, so I felt lucky.  I must admit, a better way is to cover the upholstery with an old towel before letting my husband open that side engine access panel.

Oil in Upholstery in Quarterberth

Oil in Upholstery in Quarterberth

As you may know, getting dirty engine oil out of upholstery can be challenging.  The first time it happened I was literally in tears … the upholstery had just been replaced from that horrid 1970’s turquoise velvet to a nice neutral fabric that lightened, if not brightened, up the entire salon.  Now my nice tan upholstery had engine oil freckles.  Aaarrrggg….  What to do.  I tried fancy expensive cleaners and nothing worked.

Finally in desperation, I tried Joy.  Plain old Joy, a bit of cold water, a toothbrush and a sponge.  After first testing to make sure the Joy wouldn’t upset the color in the fabric leaving me with a “scrubbed” lighter spot than the original oil stains, I applied the Joy directly to the spots and let it sit for a couple of minutes.  I cannot emphasize enough to try this on a bit of your upholstery fabric before using it where it will be seen regularly!

Joy and a Toothbrush

Joy and a Toothbrush

I gently “scrubbed” the spots with a wet toothbrush.  As expected, it foamed up like dishsoap is supposed to do.  That’s why you use as little as possible.  But after gently massaging the fabric with the toothbrush until the spots disappeared.  Then I switched to a sponge adding water to the sponge each time I rinsed it,  the Joy soap bubbles began to get more and more diluted.  Finally, the fabric appeared clean(er) and I wasn’t getting soap bubbles every time I rinsed with the sponge and fresh water.

I “rinsed” with the sponge and fresh water a few more times to try and make sure I wasn’t leaving a Joy residue in the fabric and voila.  I’m still not sure I have all the Joy residue out of the fabric, but it looks clean.  Next time the covers are laundered, it should take out any soap scum that’s left.  I usually launder all the covers (cold water on gentle, hang to dry) every other year or sometimes more frequently if we’ve used them heavily out cruising and they’ve soaked up the damp salt air.

Cleaner, Now For the Sponge to

So that’s what I did to get out my oil stains.  What do you do?  Please leave a comment and share!  THX!  Jan

The Final








  1. ted broom says:

    We have a small shopvac on board that would work great on pulling out the suds and rinse. It would help it to dry faster also
    S/V Ten-Ten
    Punta Gorda, Fl.

  2. Keep a small bottle of Dawn on hand…removes grease better than Joy (honest!) AND will suds in saltwater! They even use Dawn to remove grease from oil-laden birds after an oil spill – works like a charm!

    • Diane! I was just telling people here at the boatyard about how Winterlude should have been named Always $umthing! Most appropriate boat name right now for us! Where are you? Hoping to cross paths this winter!

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