Tested: 3 ways to remove driveway oil stains

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Kyle Smith

Oil leaks are a fact of life for many vintage cars. Yes, it’s possible to make a perfectly fluid-tight car, but for many owners and mechanics, chasing that perfection would be mentally and financially draining. Rather than re-machining warped surfaces and using any number of goos to fill every possible crevice that oil could seep out from, it may make more sense to accept that honey-colored viscous fluid will find its way onto your garage floor or driveway from time to time. With that said, you may not be so welcoming to those dinosaur splotches decorating the drive. So we tested three methods for removal.

Dawn Platinum Powerwash

A coworker reached out with this suggestion a few weeks ago, and it seemed too good to be true. He claimed he sprayed the offending area with Dawn Platinum Powerwash, let sit for 10 minutes, and then rinsed, and this removed a sizable stain left after pulling a very leaky engine from the back of his truck. I had to try it.

Now, to be clear, Dawn is not marketed as a driveway cleaner, so I went into it knowing that failure to remove the dinosaurs shouldn’t be met with too much disappointment. On a warm day I sprayed the Dawn on an offending patch of pavement, allowed it to do its thing for 10 minutes, then rinsed with a medium-pressure hose. Result: negligible change.

Oil Vanish Stain Remover

This aerosol can has big promises printed on the label. It wasn’t til I got home that I realized this product seems more targeted at concrete than asphalt, the latter of which is where most of my stains occur due to leaving my cars outside to cool off before pulling them into my semi-climate controlled garage (a window A/C unit can only do so much.) Following the direction on the can—spraying, scrubbing, rinsing with a hose, then reapplying if the stain persists—left me with a larger but lighter-colored stain. I’m not going to hold this against the product, since I seemed to be using it outside the intended parameters. Just the smell of this stuff makes me think it works well on concrete, and it did lighten this old stain on my asphalt, but … Result: negligible change.

driveway stain
Here you can see that one splotch of the stain got lighter, but also larger. Kyle Smith

Bix Driveway Cleaner & Degreaser

The heaviest hitter of the bunch, the warning label on this jug does not mince words. The key ingredients are sodium metasilicate and a detergent, which means this is a hygroscopic agent added to the main function of the Dawn above. The label calls for eye and hand protection when scrubbing into the pavement, and when scrubbing there seemed to be power in the solution to pull up some of the honey-colored oil before rinsing with water. Result: The stains lightened and even removed the larger stain left by the Oil Vanish. The most promising of the bunch, and it’s biodegradable as well.

A couple notes worth mentioning: I tried rinsing with standard garden hose pressures and also with a 2800-psi pressure washer, which gave the same result. Each container also promoted reapplication if the stain persisted, and I followed instruction and gave each cleaner three shots at a given stain.

Bottom line: My driveway is not clean after using these three products, which leads me to the emphasize an old adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. None of this is that surprising when you consider that asphalt is a petroleum product. The fact that other petro-chemicals like gasoline and motor oil latch onto asphalt with a strong hold is just nature at work. Keeping cardboard under the leaky bits of the cars when they come inside the garage has all but solved the problem of tracking around oil after a car is moved from a long-parked spot. Sounds like I’ll need to have a couple additional pieces waiting and ready to slide under a car parked outside.

Is there a clean-up method that I missed, or can you offer any suggestions based on your experience? Leave a comment below—I just might give it a try.

cardboard under Model A
The tried-and-true way to prevent oil from reaching the ground. Kyle Smith

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Comments

    back in the 90s i remember having a can of oil eating microbes called oil-eat-away or something like that – they actually worked pretty good at ‘eating’ and neutrilizing oil spots, which for a kid with an old and busted oil leaking jalopy, really helped keep the parents from getting too upset over marking up the driveway (which was concrete)…. wonder why the product isn’t around anymore that i can tell

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