How to Remove Coal Tar Stains

Although not the most common type of stain, coal tar can be extremely stubborn and difficult to get out. You’ve likely taken a stab at a few different methods to no avail thus far. Before you become too frustrated, you should know that there are ways to accomplish this feat.

In this article, we’ll teach you how to remove coal tar stains wherever they may pop up; whether it be your clothes, your furniture, or even your skin!

How to Remove Coal Tar Stains from Fabric

remove coal tar stains 01 - How to Remove Coal Tar Stains

Photo by bierfritze

Whether it’s a brand new dress or an old favorite shirt, no one wants to walk around with stained clothing! Here is how you can remove coal tar stains from your favorite fabric.

Things You Will Need

  • Ice cubes
  • Plastic bag
  • Spoon or dull knife
  • Lubricant (see list of options in step 2)
  • Clean cloth
  • Laundry detergent or dish detergent
  • Liquid solvent (kerosene or lighter fluid) or baking soda
  • Laundry stain pre-treatment

Step 1: Harden the tar with ice and scrape away as much as possible.

Before you begin treating the fabric, you’ll want to peel off as much of the coal tar as possible.

Hard tar will be easier to pick off. Put a few ice cubes in a plastic bag and rub the bag over the stain. Then use a spoon or a dull knife and gently scrape away the coal tar.

Step 2: Lubricate the leftover residue.

Coat and soak the remaining residue with a lubricant to loosen the stain.

Here are some lubricants to choose from:

  • WD-40
  • Vegetable oil
  • Liquid vegetable glycerin
  • Peanut butter
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Vaseline
  • ​Chest vapor rub
  • ​Chicken fat drippings
  • Automobile tar or bug removal (test on a small area first to ensure it doesn’t damage the fabric)

Apply the lubricant by using a soft cloth and dabbing the liquid directly onto the stain. Lay a cloth under the stain to absorb any excess grease.

Gently scrub the affected are or blot with pressure to work the lubricant into the stain.

Step 3: Allow the lubricant to set into the stain and then blot.

Let the fabric sit for a little while to allow the lubricant to set into the stain. Then, take the cloth and blot the area to remove as much of the lubricant as possible.

Pro tip: Be sure to use a new cloth or a clean area to avoid transferring more coal onto the fabric.

Step 4: Apply laundry detergent to the stain and then wash as usual.

Once you’ve blotted off as much coal tar residue as possible, put laundry or dish detergent directly onto the stain.

Wash the item as usual, using the hottest water setting the fabric allows.

Pro tip: DO NOT put the fabric in the dryer until you’re sure the stain has been removed. When placed in the dryer the tar can melt and spread to the walls of the dryer, ruining other pieces of clothing.

Step 5: If the stain remains, try using a solvent or baking soda.

To use a liquid solvent:

  • Apply a solvent such as kerosene or lighter fluid to the stain using a sponge.
  • Let sit for about 15 minutes then apply laundry stain pre-treatment.
  • Wash as usual and let air dry.
    CAUTION: If there is any remaining fluid on the fabric, it may be flammable in the heat of the dryer. After you wash once, let it air dry and then wash again as normal before putting in the dryer.

To use baking soda:

  • Make a thick paste by mixing baking soda with some warm water.
  • Apply the paste over the stain and let sit for 15 minutes.
  • Wash as usual.

How to Remove Coal Tar Stains from Upholstery

remove coal tar stains 02 - How to Remove Coal Tar Stains

Photo by Aqua Mechanical Licensed Under CC BY 2.0

You spend a lot of time in your home. You definitely don’t want to be looking at stained furniture. Stains can be particularly embarrassing when you have guests over.

No need to fret. Here’s how to remove coal tar stains from your upholstery.

Things You Will Need

  • Plastic utensil or butter knife
  • Clean cloth
  • Dry-cleaning solvent
  • Warm water
  • ​Liquid dish soap
  • Rubbing alcohol

Step 1: Scrape away as much tar as possible.

Using a plastic utensil or a butter knife, gently scrape away as much of the coal tar as possible.

Step 2: Dab the stain with dry-cleaning solvent.

Apply dry-cleaning solvent to a clean cloth. Dab the tar stain repeatedly with the cloth. Continue this process with a different area of the cloth until the tar is no longer transferred over to the cloth.

Step 3: If tar remains, apply diluted liquid dish soap.

If ruminants of the tar remain, use a soap solution. Mix some warm water and a few drops of liquid dish soap in a bowl.

Dip a clean area of the cloth into the soap solution and blot the tar stain. As with step 2, continue to blot the stain until the tar does not transfer to the cloth.

Step 4: If the tar still needs removing, apply rubbing alcohol.

Use rubbing alcohol to remove the last bit of coal tar, if necessary. Administer rubbing alcohol to the tip of a clean cloth and dab the stain until it disappears.

Blot the area dry with a clean cloth or towel.

How to Remove Coal Tar Stains from Carpet

remove coal tar stains 03 - How to Remove Coal Tar Stains

Photo by jarmoluk

In one sense, carpets are easy. You don’t have to worry about sweeping, mopping or scrubbing; simply vacuum, and you’re good to go. Carpeting does, however, come with one downside: stains!

Here’s how to remove coal tar stains from your carpet.

Things You Will Need

  • Ice cubes
  • Spatula or plastic scraper
  • Vacuum
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Warm water
  • Clean cloth
  • Dry-cleaning solvent

Step 1: Scrape away as much tar as possible.

For larger tar spots, rub the tar with an ice cube to help it solidify and become brittle. Then use a spatula or plastic scraper to scrape away as much tar from the carpet as possible.

Use a vacuum to remove any remaining particles.

Step 2: Apply a soap solution to the stain.

To make a soup solution, mix warm water with some liquid dish soap. Using a clean cloth, apply the soap solution directly to the stain, working your way from the outside of the coal tar stain to the center.

Repeat these steps until the remaining stain disappears.

Step 3: Try a dry-cleaning solvent if the stain remains.

If the stain remains after a couple of tries with the soap solution, a dry-cleaning solvent can be an effective method.

To do so, saturate a cloth with water and dry-cleaning solvent. Blot the affected area until the tar no longer transfers to the cloth. Repeat this process until the stain lifts.

Once the coal tar stain disappears, dampen a clean cloth with warm water and gently scrub the area to remove any remaining solution.

How to Remove Coal Tar Stains from Your Skin

Coal tar doesn’t just stain inanimate objects. You can get coal tar stains on your skin from things like construction, home repair, or even just walking on the beach.

remove coal tar stains 04 - How to Remove Coal Tar Stains

Photo by Adrianna Calvo

It might not look pretty, but there’s no need to worry. There are a variety of everyday products that can get the job done.

Things You Will Need

  • Cold and warm water
  • Ice cubes
  • Mild soap
  • Pumice stone
  • Oily product (see list of options in step 5) or petroleum jelly

Step 1: Immediately run cool water over the tar.

Remove any jewelry or clothing from the affected area and immediately place it under cool water. Leave it there for at least 20 minutes to prevent the tar from potentially burning your skin.

Step 2: Seek medical treatment if needed, otherwise skip to step 3.

On rare occasions, coal tar can burn and damage the skin. In this case, you would want to seek help from your doctor rather than trying to remove the tar on your own.

Seek medical attention if:

  • The tar is burning your skin
  • The tar feels hot even after running cool water over it
  • The tar covers a large area of skin
  • The tar is near your eyes

If none of the above cases apply, you can move onto step #3.

Step 3: Harden the tar with ice.

It might be tempting to start picking the tar off of your skin right away, but it’s important to allow it to dry completely before you try removing it.

Once the skin area is dry, rub it with an ice cube until it hardens or cracks. You can place the ice cube on and off every so often to avoid the area becoming too cold.

Step 4: Peel off the hardened coal tar.

Peel the tar off of the skin as much as possible using your fingers. You can also use a pumice stone and soapy water to gently buff the tar away from your skin.

If you are able to remove all of the tar, gently wash the area with soap and warm water to remove any extra residue.

Step 5: Use an oily product or petroleum jelly.

If the pumice stone alone does not remove the tar, there are a variety of everyday products that can do the trick.

Try either an oil-based product or a lubricant such as petroleum jelly.

Some oily products you can try include:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Cooking oil
  • Baby oil
  • Suntan oil
  • Butter

To use an oily product:

  • Massage the product of choice onto your skin.
  • ​Let it sit for 20-30 minutes to allow the oil to break down the tar.
  • Gently scrape the tar from the skin using a pumice stone.
  • Rinse with a mild soap, warm water, and a soft cloth.

To use petroleum jelly:

  • Apply petroleum jelly to your skin.
  • Let it sit for five minutes to allow the lubricant to work into the tar.
  • Gently wipe away the excess petroleum jelly from your skin.
  • Cleanse your skin with mild soap, warm water, and a soft cloth to remove any remaining residue.


Coal tar stains can seem impossible to get rid of because of coal tars thick, gooey nature and black color.

Luckily, there are plenty of options for removing stains from a variety of places. Many of these methods include products that are cost-effective and that are likely already a part of your household.

We hope this article helped you learn how to remove coal tar stains from any place you might find them.

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