Written by Dale Richardson - Updated: June 23, 2023
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If you spend a lot of time around fires (perhaps you have a wood stove or work in or near a railroad), you know the struggle that creosote presents on a daily basis. It's a fire hazard, toxic, and can stain clothes easily. And worst of all, it's rather difficult to get out of clothing with the regular methods.
In short, do not use your washing machine. Instead, use oil-based substances, warm water, and good detergent to remove creosote from clothing.
But first, let's look at what creosote is and why it's so hard to remove from clothing.
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The basic answer is that creosote is condensed smoke and residual material from burning wood or fossil fuels. When oils in wood aren't fully burned, they secrete volatile gasses (known as off-gassing ), which travel with the smoke.
This eventually cools and solidifies - at first, it'll appear as a flaky deposit that's rather easy to brush away when on your chimney. However, over time, it will become a tar-like substance and eventually harden. The longer you wait to remove it, the harder your job will be when you finally get around to it.
Once it's hardened, it will also drip (similar to wax) when heated, allowing it to spread - not good.
If you haven't cleaned your chimney or flue in recent memory, it may be time to take a look.
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In short, yes - very toxic. The known problems that can be caused by creosote are:
It's also a fire hazard - making it more important than ever that you regularly (every year or so) hire a professional to clean your chimney if you have one.
First things first -do not wash your creosote-stained clothing in a washing machine, do this by hand.
This is because heat will make the creosote either a) set, b) combust, or c) leak and move, staining your clothing further. Follow the steps below to remove pesky creosote stains in clothing.
Instead of machine washing, try using an oil or fat-based substance. Some good ones include:
Apply these to the problem area and then wipe gently with a rag. Move in one direction with a lifting motion to avoid smearing or spreading the stain. Try to wipe in the same direction as your clothing's threads, if possible, to further cut the risk of spreading it.
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Use a good detergent and warm water to gently lather the soap on the problem area. Keep rinsing until it's clean. If there are still hardened or tar-like spots, repeat step 1 or try one of the tips below.
It's important that you don't use hot water, but rather warm water. This is because hot water will spread the creosote, making the issue worse rather than better.
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Wash the problem garment as you normally would, though with as few other items of clothing as possible. There's no reason to spread the stains to other materials, is there?
Do not machine dry your clothes. Instead, let them hang dry. If you opt to machine dry the clothing, the heat it emits will further set the stains.
This is an old problem, so there are a lot of solutions out there. If the above process didn't work, try the next steps below - though beware, they may harm your clothing in the process.
The age-old vinegar and baking soda treatment can work here as well. Begin by combining 187 mL of white vinegar, 125 mL of laundry detergent, and 3.5 litres of warm water.
After this, submerge the clothing for at least 30 minutes and allow it to soak. Rinse them when this is done.
Wash them as usual with warm water, avoiding hot water or drying with heat.
I've found these other potential fixes while perusing the net, though they all have varying levels of reported success. If you haven't gotten the stains out, though, you might as well try, right?
Nail varnish, acetone, and Coca Cola have all been said to remove creosote from clothing following a soak of the problem area. The amounts used vary, and some used baking soda in combination with these things. Simply apply to the problem area and allow it to soak for at least an hour, then wash and dry as instructed above.
If all else fails, it may be time to simply replace the clothing. Nobody wants to hear that, but sometimes that's just how it goes. Alternatively, you could check out our article on why clothes may still look dirty after washing and some potential fixes for this.
Creosote is a pesky substance. It's easy to get on clothing, hard to remove, and can actually be a hazard to your health. If you've gotten creosote on your clothes, do your absolute best to get it off quickly. Begin with an oily substance with gentle dabbing to loosen the material, and then move onto washing and retreating as needed.
And don't forget - creosote is indeed toxic. It can cause rashes, eye damage, and even cancer over long-term exposure. This makes it vital that you do your best to get rid of it as soon as possible. And if you need to clean it out of a flue or chimney - call a pro. They have the gear to keep them safe while cleaning, and you likely don't.
While it sucks, creosote-stained clothes may just need to be retired. Sometimes the stain has set too much, and the only way to get it off would be vigorous scrubbing - which would only damage your clothing further.
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