If you own a camper, you’ve probably run into the frustrating experience of spilling diesel fuel on your clothes or shoes while filling up the rig. Try as you might, it seems impossible to wash the nasty smell out of your clothing. 

How do you get the smell of gasoline, propane or diesel out of your clothes?

In this article, I’m going to cover the ways you can wash the smell of diesel and other fuel out of your clothes and shoes, so that you can get them smelling fresh and clean again.

But first, let’s go over why fuel smells so bad and why it doesn’t easily wash out of clothing with normal detergents.

Why Normal Detergents Won’t Wash Away the Odor of Fuel

The fossil fuels and chemicals in diesel, gasoline and propane generate a telltale odor that usually won’t wash out when you spill the fuel on your clothes or shoes.

This is because the fuel stains are oil-based, which means regular detergent isn’t strong enough to break through and clean away the fuel molecules.

Instead, you will need a solvent-based, heavier duty detergent or degreaser to remove the fuel stains. 

You might also be wondering why diesel smells so bad. Here in the U.S., diesel has a higher content of sulphur (which is the part that smells so bad).

This is necessary because the sulphur reacts to nickel and helps lubricate your engine.

How NOT to Clean Fuel-Stained Clothing

How NOT to Clean Fuel-Stained Clothing

Although you may be tempted to attack the fuel stains with bleach, there are some things you should not do when you’re trying to clean diesel fuel out of your clothing.

You should never use chlorine bleach, since this will damage your clothing and may cause discoloration.

Additionally, there are two things you should not do when trying to clean fuel-stained clothes:

1. Never wash your fuel-stained clothing with dirty laundry that doesn’t have fuel on it, since you could spread the smell.

2. Never put diesel-stained clothing in the dryer, since the combination of the fuel and the heat could cause a fire.

5 Methods for Getting Diesel Smell Out of Clothes

There are a handful of ways you can get the gross fuel smell out of your clothes, without ruining them, damaging your washer or dryer, and setting fire to the house.

Luckily, most of these methods are very inexpensive and don’t take a lot of time.

It’s not always possible to remove fuel stains from clothing, especially if you wait several days between the spill and treatment, but you can try!

1. Use a Stronger Detergent

Use a Stronger Detergent

Tide, Persil, Oxi-Clean, Shout, and BIZ are a few brands that offer a heavy-duty detergent that is solvent-based, which works harder to degrease your clothing.

These can be more effective at removing diesel stains from your clothes, but you shouldn’t use them in everyday laundry scenarios because they are also tougher on the fibers in your clothing, and may cause them to wear down more quickly with frequent washing using these detergents. 

Here’s how to maximize the results of using heavy-duty detergents to treat diesel stains and get the smell of fuel out of your clothes:

  1. Place the fuel-stained clothing in a large bowl or bin.

  2. Pour an appropriate amount of heavy duty detergent over the clothes, just a couple of tablespoons, no more than you would use for a full load.

  3. Add water, so that the clothing is just covered.

  4. Leave the clothes to sit for about an hour. 

  5. Pour the contents of the bowl or bin into your washer, and wash on a normal cycle.

If the clothes still smell like fuel once the wash cycle is complete, try washing them on a second cycle with the heavy duty detergent. Do not put the clothes into the dryer if they still smell like fuel.

2. Treat the Stain with Baking Soda and Vinegar

Treat the Stain with Baking Soda and Vinegar

The chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar has a lot of useful applications around the house, from clearing shower clogs to treating fuel stains on your clothing.

It’s also totally natural, and doesn’t damage your clothes in the process, since baking soda and vinegar are both natural deodorizers and when combined, they work to break down oils. However, this method only works if the diesel smell isn’t very strong, and it may require 2-3 tries before you successfully remove the fuel smell. 

Here’s how to remove diesel stains from clothing with baking soda and vinegar:

  1. Mix a special solution with equal parts laundry detergent, baking soda, and vinegar (i.e. if you use half a cup of detergent for a load of laundry, use half a cup of baking soda and half a cup of vinegar as well).  

  2. Add the solution to your wash cycle like you would with normal detergent, and run the cycle. 

  3. If the clothes still smell like fuel after the wash cycle, repeat steps 1-2.

You might consider adding baking soda and vinegar to your cleaning supplies, since these items are very versatile for a variety of cleaning tasks. 

3. Try Mixing Coke and Baking Soda

Try Mixing Coke and Baking Soda

If you’ve ever done the trick where you add a Mentos™ candy to a bottle of Coke, you can probably get an idea for the reaction that Coke and baking soda can have.

Although it won’t be explosive, this method can help remove the smell of fuel from your clothes. 

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Soak your fuel-stained clothes with one cup of de-greasing detergent (such as Tide) in a sink or tub of warm water to break down the oils from the stain.

  2. Let it sit for a couple of hours, then drain the water and rinse your clothing. 

  3. Refill the sink or tub with a 2-liter bottle of Coke and warm water, then mix in a full box of baking soda until it is dissolved. 

  4. Put your stained clothes back in the sink or tub so that they are fully covered by the solution, and let them soak for 12-24 hours.

  5. Wash the clothes normally in your washing machine. If there is no longer an odor of fuel, go ahead and put them in the dryer. If you can still smell the fuel, you can wash them again or try a different method on this list.

4. Wash the Clothes with Listerine

Clothes with Listerine

Although it might sound strange, Listerine is a very effective way to get oil-based stains and odors out of clothing.

In fact, many firefighters use it to get the smell of smoke out of their clothes.

Since it’s so effective, easy to find, and inexpensive, this is a great option for removing the smell of diesel out of your clothes.

The process is super simple, as well:

  1. Put your fuel-stained clothes in the washing machine as you normally would, with a de-greasing detergent like Shout, Oxi-Clean or Tide. 

  2. Add a cup or two of Listerine. Follow the instructions for your washer; you may need to add it directly into the washing bowl, or pour it into the compartment marked for bleach.

  3. Run the wash cycle normally. If the clothes still smell like fuel when the wash cycle is finished, you may need to run them a second time or add some dissolved baking soda.

5. Add Fast Orange to Your Wash Load

Add Fast Orange to Your Wash Load

Can a hand cleaner work on clothes? Why yes, in the case of Fast Orange Smooth Lotion Hand Cleaner, it can! You can find Fast Orange at most auto parts stores, Walmart, and even on Amazon.

It’s technically a hand cleaner for getting auto grease and oils off of your hands, but it’s gentle enough to add to your washing machine when you’re trying to get the smell of diesel out of your clothes.

Be sure to get the smooth kind, not the pumice option, since that has abrasive materials that may damage your washing machine. 

Here’s how to use it:

  1. A little goes a long way! Squirt a little bit on the stained parts of your clothing, and put them in the washing machine. 

  2. Run the wash cycle using your usual settings. 

  3. If your clothes still smell like gasoline after the wash cycle, consider trying another method on this list, or adding some baking soda to a second cycle.

How to Get Diesel Stains Out of Your Shoes

Getting the smell of diesel out of your shoes can be a more complicated process. If your shoes are machine washable, you can use any of the methods I mentioned earlier in this article.

However, many shoes should not be soaked in water, especially if they are made from leather. 

There are two shoe-safe methods to try, if this is the case for you:

  1. The Vinegar and Baking Soda Treatment: Mix a tablespoon of vinegar with a cup of water. Dip a clean sponge into the mixture, squeeze out the extra liquid so the sponge is just damp, and dab it on the fuel-stained areas. Let the shoes air dry. Once dry, put your shoes into a bag, and cover them with a dusting of baking soda. Leave your shoes in the bag overnight, then remove them and brush off the baking soda.

  2. The Potato Treatment: Potatoes do a great job of absorbing odors as well. You can cut up a raw potato and place it with your leather shoes in an airtight bag. Let it sit for several hours, and then give it a sniff or two to see whether the diesel smell is still present. If it is, throw away the potato and replace it with a fresh one. Repeat until the smell is gone.

How to Get the Smell of Diesel Out of Your RV Cab

Unfortunately, you might sometimes get some spilled diesel inside your RV driving cab. It’s less common than spilling it on your clothes, but it still happens.

If it does, the best method is to scrub the area of the spill with Fast Orange or a mixture of equal parts baking soda and vinegar.

Just a brush with bristles to really work the deodorizers into the affected area, rinse with a little bit of lukewarm or cold water, and pat dry with a large towel. 

If there’s a residual smell of diesel lingering in your RV cab, you can use car air fresheners to help with the odor.

If the smell lingers for a long time, you may need to hire a professional auto detailer to deep-clean the cab. 

Final Thoughts About Getting Diesel Out of Clothing & Shoes

When you spill diesel or gasoline at the pump, it can be a pain to consider the lengths you’ll need to go to remove the odor from your clothes or shoes.

Although all of the methods I’ve discussed are relatively easy and inexpensive, your clothes may have to soak for several hours or even a couple of days. Even then, you might not be able to fully get the smell out.

Obviously, the best thing to do is to avoid a spill altogether, but sometimes these things simply cannot be avoided.

It’s a good idea to prepare in case of an unavoidable spill, and only wear clothes or shoes that you don’t mind ruining as you pump your fuel.

But if you happen to spill a little bit on clothes you care about, hopefully these methods will help you successfully remove the smell of diesel from your clothes and shoes.