How to Remove Oil from Concrete: Tips from the Pros

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Oil spills don’t have to ruin your pristine concrete floor. Whether it’s a fresh spill or a stubborn stain, our comprehensive guide will teach you tried-and-tested methods to remove oil from concrete and make your floor look like new again.

Let’s dive in.


Step 1: Use an Absorbent

The moments immediately after you spill oil on your garage floor are critical. 

Here’s where you want to have an absorbent material on hand. Absorbents are most effective for small accidents or recent spills. 

How to Use an Absorbent on an Oil Spill:

  1. Initial Cleanup: Start by blotting the oil spill with paper towels or clean rags with gentle dabs. Scrubbing will make things worse by pushing the oil further into the concrete.
  2. Generously Apply Absorbent: Well cover choosing the right absorbent for an oil spill in the next section. No matter which you choose, sprinkle it liberally over the stain to ensure the entire oil spill is covered.
  3. Give it Time to Work: Let the absorbent sit for several hours or overnight, depending on how much oil has spilled. The idea is to give it ample time to pull the oil out of your concrete floor.
  4. Clean Up: After the waiting game, sweep or vacuum up the absorbent. You may need to repeat this process or use a solvent for stubborn stains or spills. 

Now that you understand the process, let’s dive deeper into the absorbents you can use. 

Each has its strengths and occasional drawbacks. Stay tuned as we delve into some favorites and when to use each on your garage oil spill.

Cat Litter

I’m more of a dog person, but I still have cat litter in the house. The granular texture makes it an exceptional absorbent for fresh oil spills on concrete. 

For best results, liberally cover the entire oil stain with cat litter. Then, carefully spread the cat litter around the oil spill with your feet or a sturdy broom. After allowing it to sit for at least 24 hours, sweep away the litter. 

While effective, using kitty litter on an oil spill can sometimes be dusty or leave a slight residue. Keeping pets away from the treated area is critical to prevent ingestion.

Powdered Laundry Detergent

Believe it or not, the same detergent that powers through dirt in your laundry is also adept at tackling oil stains on concrete. Start by sprinkling powdered laundry detergent on the oil spill. Next, introduce some water to form a thick paste. Use a scrubbing brush to work the detergent into the stain. 

Let this sit for about 15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. If you have access to a power washer, using it will enhance the cleaning power. 

Be aware that some detergents contain chemicals that could potentially harm the environment or irritate skin. Using gloves is recommended.

Baking Soda

Baking soda, which can be found in most kitchen pantries, can be a very effective cleaning agent for concrete oil stains. 

Mix baking soda with water into a paste, then apply it to the stain. Allow this to dry for several hours or even overnight. Scrubbing and rinsing should then lift the stain. 

Sometimes baking soda can leave a white residue, but this can be cleaned using a water or vinegar rinse. Vinegar is also a great way to clean concrete.

Sawdust

Common sawdust is not only biodegradable but also a potent absorbent. 

To use sawdust, distribute it generously over the oil stain and press down firmly. Let it work for several hours or overnight before sweeping it away. 

Unfortunately, sawdust isn’t the best option for stubborn or aged stains. Remember that sawdust can be combustible, so always handle it with care.

No matter which absorbent you choose, the key is to act quickly to prevent oil from seeping into the concrete floor. 


Step 2: Use a Solvent or Degreaser

Once the liquid oil has been soaked up, it’s time to address the oil stain on your concrete floor. Many formulated concrete cleaners include solvents or degreasers. 

Solvents help break down the bond between the oil molecules and the concrete, making it easier to rinse away the residue. This is most effective on fresh to medium-aged stains, where the oil hasn’t had time to deeply entrench itself within the concrete.

Here’s a streamlined guide on how to use solvents:

  1. Application: Generously apply the solvent to the stained area. Depending on the specific solvent you’re working with, you may need to dilute it with water or combine it with other ingredients to increase effectiveness.
  2. Wait: Allow the solvent to penetrate the concrete, which can take a few minutes to several hours. This waiting period lets the solvent seep into the concrete’s pores and loosen the oil’s grip.
  3. Scrub and Rinse: Use a sturdy brush or even a power washer to scrub the area. This will lift off the loosened oil. After washing, rinse the area thoroughly with clean water and give it ample time to dry.

There are a wide array of solvent and degreaser options. Choosing the right one for your situation can make all the difference.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the most commonly used solvents, complete with their advantages and drawbacks:

Oil Eater

Oil Eater is a high-performance commercial product specifically formulated to tackle oil stains on concrete. Infused with biodegradable surfactants and emulsifiers, Oil Eater breaks down the oil molecules for an easier cleanup. 

It’s versatile, too, effectively tackling fresh spills and stubborn, older stains. Dilute it with water per the label’s instructions before applying it to the oil stain. Let it sit for about 15 minutes, scrub, and rinse. 

While highly effective, Oil Eater can be a bit pricier than other solvents. Sometimes, it may lead to concrete discoloration if left too long.

Oven Cleaner

Oven cleaner, or brake cleaner, has a potent combination of lye and other chemicals to effortlessly dissolve oil. Simply spray on, wait 10 minutes, scrub, and rinse off. 

Use caution when cleaning up oil spills with these sprays. The chemicals can be pretty harsh on the skin and some types of concrete.

Paint Thinner

If you’ve mistakenly dripped paint on your driveways or garage floors, you’re probably already familiar with paint thinner. This solvent can be effective on fresh to medium oil stains. 

Using paint thinner on oil spills is simple: pour, wait 15 minutes, scrub, and rinse. However, it’s not the most environmentally friendly option and can discolor some concrete types.

WD-40

When you think of WD-40, squeaky hinges or rust might come to mind. But it’s also great to use on small, recent oil stains. 

WD-40 is made from a petroleum distillate that makes short work of dissolving the oil. Like using paint thinner or over cleaner, simply spray it on the oil stain. Then, let it settle for 10 minutes, scrub, and rinse. 

It might not be the best choice for larger or older oil spills. It may also leave an oily residue if not thoroughly cleaned.

Dawn Dish Soap

Back in high school., I did a science project on using household products to break down motor oil. I found that Dawn dish soap was the most effective, often performing better than many commercial products

Mix with hot water, apply on the stain, let it sit for 15 minutes, scrub, and rinse. Dawn dish soap is more eco-friendly than other options but requires more elbow grease for those tougher stains.

Soda (Coke)

You’ve probably seen videos of Coke dissolving rust or other contaminants off metal coins. Its phosphoric and carbonic acid content can also do a number on smaller oil stains. 

Although you can use any soda, Coke and Pepsi are the most effective at breaking down oil stains. Pour it over the stain, let it soak, preferably overnight, scrub, and rinse.

While innovative and cheap, soda might not be the go-to for larger, older stains and may leave a sticky residue. Also, soda’s high sugar content may attract insects or ants. 

Oil stain on concrete

Using Poultices to Remove Oil From Concrete

As we’ve learned, concrete is porous, making it susceptible to oil stains. 

That’s why poultices are a game-changer. 

A poultice combines an absorbent and a solvent that work together to remove oil from concrete more effectively than they would separately. 

They can be concocted from a medley of ingredients, each uniquely equipped to tackle a specific kind of stain on a particular concrete type.

Because they’re so customizable, you can craft a poultice to suit your exact stain type and concrete condition. 

Making and Applying a Poultice

Now, let’s dive into the how-tos:

  1. Select the Ingredients: Start with an absorbent base like sawdust, diatomaceous earth, or clay. Next, incorporate a solvent. This could be anything from water to more potent alternatives like acetone or hydrogen peroxide. Consider adding enhancers like detergent or baking soda to make it more effective.
  2. Mix it Up: Use a bowl to combine your chosen ingredients, aiming for a dense paste. The exact ratios might fluctuate based on your recipe. Typically, you’d use more of your absorbent than your solvent.
  3. Apply Generously: Once ready, layer your poultice over the stain, ensuring complete coverage. The aim is to have it thick enough to soak up all the oil. A spatula or brush can help press it into the concrete’s pores.
  4. Let it Sit: Allow your poultice to dry out entirely, which could span from a day to potentially longer. As it hardens, the color will change as the poultice pulls the oil out.
  5. Clean Up: Once the poultice has done its job, it’s time for removal. Scrape it away, vacuum up remnants, rinse the area, and you should be left with a cleaner surface.

There are a variety of poultices available, each bringing something unique to the table. Some examples include:

Acetone & Sawdust

An acetone and sawdust combination is particularly adept at handling fresh oil stains that haven’t made themselves too comfortable within the concrete. Acetone’s prowess as a solvent couples seamlessly with sawdust’s absorbent properties. Together, they not only dissolve the oil but efficiently draw it out.

The Procedure:

  1. Mixing: For this formulation, you’re looking at mixing one part acetone to four parts sawdust. Blend until you achieve a uniform consistency.
  2. Application: Generously layer your mixture over the stain.
  3. Sealing: Use plastic wrap to cover the area, ensuring the poultice remains moist.
  4. Duration: Give it about 24 hours to work its magic or until it’s dry.
  5. Removal: Once the waiting period ends, scrape off the poultice and rinse the area with water.

Hydrogen Peroxide & Flour

For those pesky old oil stains that seem to have taken a deep-seated liking to your concrete, the hydrogen peroxide and flour combination could be the perfect solution. 

While hydrogen peroxide acts as a decomposing agent for the oil molecules, flour, with its inherent absorbency, efficiently draws the oil out.

The Procedure:

  1. Mixing: Combining one part hydrogen peroxide with two parts flour should give you the desired consistency.
  2. Application: Apply the mixture over the stained area.
  3. Sealing: As with the previous method, cover the poultice with plastic wrap.
  4. Duration: This mixture demands more patience, typically around 48 hours or until thoroughly dried.
  5. Removal: Remove the dried poultice after two days and clean the area with water.

Ammonia & Diatomaceous Earth

Use this poultice on the most stubborn oil stains that have solidified over time. The mix of ammonia and diatomaceous earth is a potent solution. 

Ammonia, with its high alkalinity, loosens the oil. In contrast, diatomaceous earth’s high absorption capacity ensures that every last bit of that loosened oil is taken care of. The granular texture of diatomaceous earth provides added scrubbing power.

The Procedure:

  1. Mixing: Blend one part of ammonia with four parts diatomaceous earth.
  2. Application: Spread the mixture generously over the stained area.
  3. Sealing: Keep it covered using plastic wrap.
  4. Duration: This combination requires the longest duration, usually around 72 hours, or until completely dried.
  5. Removal: Wait 24 to 72 hours before peeling off the dried poultice. Wash the area thoroughly with water.

FAQ

Can I use bleach to remove oil from concrete floors?

Yes, bleach can be used to lighten oil stains on concrete floors. However, while bleach might help fade the appearance of the stain, it doesn’t break down the oil itself. Be cautious while using bleach, as it can discolor the concrete and harm nearby plants. Always dilute it and rinse the area thoroughly after application.

Will WD-40 Remove oil from concrete?

Yes, WD-40 can help remove small, recent oil stains from concrete. It contains a petroleum distillate that helps dissolve the oil, making it easier to lift. Spray WD-40 on the stain, let it sit for about 10 minutes, scrub and then rinse. However, more specialized treatments might be more effective for larger or older stains.

Why can’t I wash away the oil with water?

Oil is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. When you try to wash away oil with water, the oil simply floats on top and spreads rather than dissolving. Concrete is porous, so the oil seeps into its tiny holes and crevices. This makes it even more challenging to remove oil from concrete floors with just water. You’ll need a detergent or solvent to break down the oil, allowing it to be lifted from the concrete’s surface.


Wrapping It Up

Before you clean your garage floor, you should try to tackle any stubborn stains, especially oil stains. When trying to remove oil from concrete, the key lies in a swift response. 

Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Use an Absorbent: The initial step post-spill is to blot and then apply an absorbent to soak up the oil. Absorbents range from everyday household items like cat litter and baking soda to powdered laundry detergent and sawdust.
  2. Using Solvents: After absorbing the liquid component of the oil, you’ll often be left with a stain. Enter solvents. These break down the bond between the oil and the concrete, allowing easier removal. Popular options include Oil Eater, oven cleaner, Dawn dish soap, and even Coke.
  3. Alternative Method – Poultices: Poultices might be the game-changer you’re looking for for those stubborn stains. A mix of an absorbent and a solvent, poultices are tailored to address specific stain types. Examples include mixes of acetone & sawdust, hydrogen peroxide & flour, and ammonia & diatomaceous earth.

With the right tools and knowledge, any oil stain is manageable. Remember to always be cautious when handling chemicals. When in doubt, don’t be shy about seeking professional assistance. 

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Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including BobVila.com, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.