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How to Remove Oil Stains from Your Driveway

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It’s a situation that eventually irritates most homeowners: motor oil stains on the driveway.

Whether it’s caused by worn seals, roadway mishaps or clumsy upkeep, even the most meticulously maintained vehicle can wind up depositing that dark, gooey gunk right in front of your proud home.

A Labor of Love

Given the attention and care we put into maintaining our homes – more than 10 hours per week on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – it’s no wonder we’re annoyed when those ugly spots appear. To a fastidious homeowner, they can be as irksome as clam chowder on a new tuxedo.But with a little ingenuity and a quick trip to your utility closet, garden shed or local hardware store, you can get rid of those unsightly blemishes before they take hold and do real damage

Don’t Let Safety Slip

Before you begin, there are some simple and sensible precautions you should take in advance to avoid any personal or environmental hazards:

  • Wear glasses. As with any home repair or improvement project, always protect your eyes with an inexpensive pair of safety glasses.
  • Put on gloves. Protect your hands from abrasive or hazardous substances by wearing disposable gloves.
  • Dress for the mess. Oil and other substances can stain your clothes permanently, so wear overalls or work clothes you’ve designated for messy tasks. And wear old shoes with a rubber sole.
  • Control hazardous materials. Make sure you have a safe place – like a lidded, metal bucket – to store cleaning materials that are contaminated with hazardous substances.
  • Plan for disposal. Determine where and when you can safely dispose of contaminated cleaning materials, and plan your cleaning accordingly.

Step 1: Remove Excess Oil

The first step is to remove excess oil from the affected area.

For the best results, using a granular absorbent is highly recommended. Trying to wipe up slippery oil with fiber or textile material – such as rags, cloths, paper towels, etc. – can not only be frustrating, it can be counterproductive. What starts as a small spot can get smeared over a much larger area.

If available, use an absorbent made specifically for spills. Otherwise, you can just use common kitty litter.  Both absorb oil very effectively and are widely available from stores that sell either automotive or household supplies.

As you remove the excess mess, it’s important to remember that petroleum-based lubricants (like motor oil, transmission fluid and grease) are usually both flammable and toxic. To avoid the danger of either fire or contamination, the materials used to soak up the surface oil in preparation for cleaning should be carefully set aside for special handling (see Step 4: Dispose Responsibly).

Step 2: Dislodge the Stain

Once the surface accumulation is removed, it’s time to get down-and-dirty because the next step is to dislodge the material staining your driveway.

First, you’ll need to apply some sort of detergent to the area. Fortunately, there are plenty of available options – from mundane household products to specialized cleaners formulated to deal with spilled petroleum products. They include:

  • Dishwashing liquid: Consumer dish soap is designed to cut through grease. That makes it effective on engine oil, too.
  • Baking soda: Also known as sodium bicarbonate, common baking soda can be mixed with water to form a mild alkaline paste that will help lift oil off your driveway.
  • Laundry detergent: Apply household laundry detergent to the stain and allow it to work its way in for about an hour.
  • Oil stain cleaner: Finally, there are commercial products specifically formulated to remove oil from asphalt and concrete driveways.

It’s worth noting that, while power washing is often considered a handy way to deal with a stained driveway, environmental laws may restrict or even prohibit power washing your driveway. Before considering this option, make sure you’re familiar with any applicable local, state or federal regulations. (Those fines can be pretty steep!)

Then, as you’re applying elbow grease to that stubborn stain, make sure you keep your kitty litter handy for the next step. You’ll need it.

Step 3: Collect Dislodged Material

Regardless of which dislodging method works best for your driveway, it’s important to keep an eye on waste.

As noted in the previous step, environmental contamination is a legitimate hazard. To avoid contaminating local wastewater, simply washing dislodged oil into the street and down the storm drains should be avoided.


Instead, as you wash, apply more absorbent – or more towels and rags – to soak up what your efforts have scrubbed out of the pavement. As you progress, repeat these steps, dislodging and collecting material until that ugly spot is gone for good.

Step 4: Dispose Responsibly

A little planning can go a long way toward maintaining a sustainable environment.

Always remember that flammable material must be stored properly prior to disposal. Never keep oily rags or substances in a pile. They should be dried outdoors then stored in a closed metal container until they can be disposed of. Never wash in a washer or dryer, or you risk starting a dryer fire.

By checking in advance with relevant local authorities and organizations, you can plan your cleaning around options that accommodate the responsible disposal of hazardous materials. Your disposal options may include:

  • Transfer stations or dumps
  • A city or town’s municipal building
  • Water treatment authorities
  • Commercial sanitation

You can also check the website of your nearest recycling center for disposal options.

Protecting Your Investment

While there is some debate about exactly how much value a driveway adds to the value of your home, an attractive, well-maintained driveway certainly adds to curb appeal. With some responsible planning and a bit of scrubbing, there’s no reason to let those unsightly stains detract from the beauty and value of your home.

At Erie Insurance, we understand what your biggest investment means to you. That’s why we’re committed to providing protection that will help, not hinder, your returns. Learn more about homeowners insurance from ERIE.

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