An accident with a knife full of mayonnaise, a precocious child with a grease pencil or a wayward pillow that allows your head to touch the wall when you're sleeping can all leave troublesome oil stains on the walls. You'll have an easier time getting the stains out if the walls you have are painted with semigloss paint. Oil stains are more difficult to remove from walls with a flat finish or from unfinished wood paneling; you may have to resort to touch-up paint or a new penetrating oil finish.
You may have a cleaner around the house that is designed especially to cut grease, and if you do, this is a good time to break it out. If not, and you don't want to make a special purchase for one or two problem stains, you can use any of these household cleaning standbys:
- White vinegar. Pour some straight out to the bottle onto a sponge and rub the stain. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which breaks down oil and grease.
- Dish soap. Dish soap removes the oils from last night's dinner from your pots and pans, and it also gets grease off the wall. Soak a rag in hot water, wring it out, add a squirt of dish soap and scrub away.
- Baking soda. Make a paste with baking soda and water and scrub it on the stains, using a sponge or other nonabrasive cleaning implement.
- Flour or cornstarch. Make a paste, using either of these powders and water, and spread the paste on the stain. Let it stay for several minutes, then wipe it off with a damp cloth. Repeat as many times as necessary.
Removing stains from flat paint often leaves a worse stain than the one you removed. One way to avoid this is to treat the stain with heat. Put an absorbent cloth or several paper towels over the stain and heat the cloth with a clothes iron at the lowest heat setting. The heat may emulsify the oil enough for it to soak into the cloth.
Touch-up Painting Tips
If you can't remove the stain with cleaners or heat, the only recourse is to touch up the paint, but you'll also need a stain-blocking primer to prevent the oil from bleeding through the new paint. Because of the need for primer, you may find it difficult to blend the touch-up with the rest of the wall. The solution is to prime the oil spots and apply one coat of paint to the entire wall -- or at least a section bordered by discrete boundaries.
Unfinished Wood Paneling
Once oil has soaked into wood, it can be difficult to remove. Try any of the cleaners you would use for stains on painted walls, and if they don't work, a strong solvent, such as mineral spirits or lacquer thinner, might. If you can't get the stain out, the best recourse is to seal all the paneling with penetrating or oil varnish. This will camouflage the stain and prevent future oil stains from becoming a problem.
You can treat vinyl-coated or plasticized wallpaper in the same way as you would walls painted with semigloss paint. If you get oil stains on unfinished paper wallpaper, though, you'll have a hard time removing them without damaging the paper. The best approach is to heat the stains with an iron -- as you would if you were treating flat paint -- and try to absorb the oil. Because you can't touch up the spots with paint, your only options for repairing a spot you can't remove are to paint over the wallpaper or repaper the wall.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.