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Does Kitty Litter Really Clean Oil Stains?

Years of neglect have left my mother’s garage looking like a toddler’s bib after an ice-cream party. Here are a few things to learn about cleaning a concrete floor.

So does kitty litter clean oil stains? Kitty litter can be an effective and cheap solution to oil stains especially if they are new. For more stubborn stains like those that have been there for years and stains that are not oil there are better ways, read on.

Most older cars drip some fluids here and there.  The best way to deal with the stains is right away before the fluid has time to be absorbed into the floor.  Concrete is porous and over time fluids like oil work there way into the floor and leave it weaker and vulnerable to cracking and chipping.

Preventing Stains is Easier than Cleaning Them.

A cost effective but not terribly attractive strategy is to lay down cardboard on the floor under the car to catch the drips. You can also protect your floor by painting or sealing it. There is a more detailed article about that here. There are definitely things to be aware of with painting and other treatments.

The Best Way to Use Kitty Litter

Using kitty litter by itself can work well but only if the stain is fresh and only if you leave it on for a while. There are other products that work better than litter, especially on older stains such as Oil-Dri. Use the same process as for litter.

What you’ll need:

  • heavy duty paper towel or a paint scraper
  • cheap clay kitty litter 
  • stiff scrub brush
  • dustpan and broom
  • optional cardboard floor covering

If you are using litter, be sure to use the cheap stuff. It is more effective as it doesn’t have perfumes and doesn’t clump.  First you want to blot up as much as you can with a heavy duty paper towel or if it is old and goopy you can scrape it off with a paint scraper. Cover the stain with the kitty litter and use the scrub brush to grind it into the stain. If it looks damp add more and repeat the grinding process. 

At this point you want to leave it alone for a while (like a day or so) and let the litter do its work. It will begin to pull the oil and moisture from the cement. You can cover up the spot with cardboard if you like. Once the litter is wet it had done its job and can’t absorb anymore. Check in on the litter covered area. If it starts looking moist add more litter and grind it in. If it’s really damp clear off the wet litter and repeat the process. Obviously you don’t want to use the litter for anything, especially not for your cat.

Kitty Litter or Oil Dri Mixed with a Degreaser

If you have a stain that’s proving difficult or has been on the floor for a while, consider using a degreaser such as Oil Eater in conjunction with the kitty litter. 

What you’ll need

  • face mask, eye protection and gloves are recommended
  • bucket of water
  • Oil Eater or similar degreaser
  • stiff nylon brush
  • paint scraper
  • cheap kitty litter
  • dustpan and broom
  • garden hose with sprayer nozzle attached to running water

First wet the area. Then mix a strong solution of degreaser and water and scrub it into the stain. Let it sit for about 15 minutes but do not let the solution dry. If it starts to dry scrub some more degreaser solution on the area. Use the paint scraper to  scrape away any standing water or suds from the stain.

Pour on a liberal amount of the litter and grind it in with your feet or the stiff brush. if the stain is damp add more litter and repeat.There should be a good layer of dry litter or Oil Dri on the surface. Let this mixture sit overnight or longer. If it gets damp add more litter and grind it in. Once it has sat for some time (overnight at least) sweep away the litter and discard. Rinse with the garden hose until clear.

Powder Laundry Detergent or Degreasing Dish Soap

This method uses no kitty litter, only detergents and water and muscle. What you’ll need:

  • putty knife or paint scraper or heavy duty paper towels
  • bucket
  • powdered laundry detergent (I’ve heard that Nascar pit crews use Tide)
  • water
  • stiff nylon scrub brush
  • garden hose with sprayer nozzle connected to running water

This is a good way to deal with fresh stains. First scrape and/or blot away any standing oil and sticky residue from the area. Mix a very strong solution of detergent and water. Scrub it into the stain with a stiff nylon brush. Let it sit for a while. DO NOT LET IT DRY. Letting the mixture sit give the detergent a chance to emulsify the oil. Grab your garden hose with a sprayer nozzle and spray the residue away.

The Poultice Method

The idea of a poultice is that you create a paste of a solvent like acetone mixed with a very fine absorbent material like diatomaceous earth and apply it to the stain and allow it to draw out the oil. This method is best for a small stubborn area as it may not be cost effective for a larger stain. What you’ll need

  • bucket
  • absorbent material (diatomaceous earth or fine ground kitty litter)
  • solvent such as acetone
  • trowel or putty knife
  • plastic sheeting or wrap
  • brush and dustpan

In the bucket, mix the absorbent material with acetone. Add enough acetone so that the texture turns to a paste. Use the trowel to smear the paste onto the stain. Cover the area with plastic wrap. Let it sit for a few days.

The solvent penetrates the oil and lifts it out of the concrete where it is absorbed by the absorbent material. Remove the plastic and sweep away the absorbent.

Spray Lubricants for a Scrub-free Method or Oven Cleaner

Use can use a lubricant to loosen the a small stain. This method is not cost effective for a large stain, but it is a low-effort methods. What you’ll need:

  • WD-40 lubricant
  • spray hose

Spraying a lubricant like WD-40 on the stain. Wait 15-20 minutes. Hose the area until clear.

Solvents for Intractable Oil Stains

This is a last resort. Solvents care flammable and dangerous to breathe.

Solvents can be used to pull the oil from the concrete but this should really be done as a last resort. The fumes are very flammable and you must be very careful with open flames and pilot lights. You should only use Portland cement and not premixed concrete or mortar mix. This is very important. What you’ll need

  • a solvent such as kerosene or gasoline ( both are DANGEROUS) 
  • Portland Cement (not mortar mix or premixed concrete)
  • a tarp to cover the stain
  • a dustpan and broom

Pour the kerosene onto the stain. Allow it to break down the oil absorbed into the concrete. Let it soak into the floor. Pour the Portland cement (not mortar, not concrete) on top of the stain. Use a lot of cement. Cover the mess with the tarp to prevent it from getting kicked around. Let soak for one week. Remove the tarp. Brush away the cement.

Specialty Cleaning and Bioremediation Products

There are a number of specialty products on the market that will clean oil from your concrete floor. Oil Eater and Oil Dri are good choices I already mentioned.  Pour-N-Restore is a good bet for small stains as well. You just pour it on the stain let it absorb and dry then sweep up the residue powder.

There are also products that work by letting micro-organisms eat the hydrocarbons in the oil thereby removing the stain. When there is no more oil the little micro-organisms just die off. This is by far the least toxic and lowest effort method to cleaning oil stains no matter how old they are. 

Eximo and Terminator-HSD are two of the most popular of these products. With Terminator-HSD you need to spray a little water on it to activate after you put it on you stain Eximo uses no water and no effort. Check out more about it here.

Rust Stains

Mild acidic solutions such as white vinegar or citrus based cleaners do well on rust. Some people use lemons but frankly I’d rather make lemonade with the lemons and drink it after using the vinegar on the floor. You may need to do a few passes depending on the severity of the stain. There are some commercial products such as Goof Off as well if you find no success with the vinegar. 

One Last Word of Warning

Some people advocate the use of muriatic acid to clean the cement floors. Don’t. Muriatic acid is what professionals use to abrade the first layer off of concrete before refinishing it. Acid does not absorb oil nor does it eat away at oil. It does however eat your concrete. It is also toxic and dangerous to work with. Muriatic acid fails on two counts. It doesn’t do what you want and it damages the floor you’re trying to preserve.

Conclusion

Although kitty litter is a low cost go to that has been around for decades it may not be enough to deal with tough stains that have embedded themselves into your garage floor. It is a good idea to have a bag of the cheap stuff on hand as well as a some good paper towels or shop towels in the garage. Remember to blot not wipe. After you’ve gotten your floor all nice and clean read about whether to do the next step and protect it from future abuse here.

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