How to Get Back to Business After a Massive Oil Spill

A Case Study from Downtown Chicago

A Brief Background

Commercial kitchens depend on fresh cooking oil to keep fryers prepped for every shift. A restaurant supply company handles the job by delivering fresh oil to a kitchen and removing old oil for safe disposal at an approved site.

It’s a process that happens behind busy Chicago restaurants every day. Companies that handle the work know how to deal with mishaps. This one had foodservice pros shaking their heads.

How can spilled cooking oil shut down business?

Our client

It was supposed to be a routine service stop. Instead, our client, a commercial oil supplier, faced the aftermath of an equipment malfunction that poured cooking oil across a parking lot. They called us, and we took care of the job. They contacted us again several months later to clean up an oil spill inside one of their client’s restaurants.

The Problem

In the first case, the oil turned to a thick sludge forcing the lot to close. The city was losing thousands of dollars in parking fees every day. In the second case, cooking oil seeped through the restaurant’s walls, and the owners were looking at an indefinite shutdown.

What would it take to clean up the city’s parking lot and get it ready for business again? How quickly could the restaurant be restored and reopened to loyal customers?

Our approach

Time was critical because both situations resulted in significant lost revenue for the property owners. We had to get to the sites ASAP and develop immediate action plans. In each case, our project manager arrived on site within an hour of our client’s call, and worked up a complete damage assessment. Headquarters dispatched our crews with equipment and materials specific to each job.

Examine & Contain

In the parking lot, we contained the problem with compounds formulated to soak up oil and prevent it from seeping into porous concrete. The restaurant cleanup began with identifying affected areas and applying degreaser to oil-soaked walls, floors and carpets.


We tackled the parking lot with shovels removing the oil and compound mixture. Our crews transferred the mess to holding tanks for off-site disposal. Cleanup involved pressure washing with industry-approved detergents to remove any remaining oil. Work on the restaurant project included degreasing surfaces, extraction and steam cleaning. Carpets, floors and walls were deep cleaned, and heavy drying equipment was set in place. The oil kept resurfacing, so we had to repeat the process over several days.


After a week of intense operations, we gave the parking lot a final inspection. Our compounds, equipment and hard work solved the problem. The restaurant job was a different story. It took two days to extract and clean oil from affected interiors. As we tore out and replaced materials, our ongoing inspections revealed additional areas where damage emerged more slowly. It was a tedious process, but we cleaned and restored every interior surface.


Our client was very happy with both projects. We consulted with them on all job details and provided line-item estimates before beginning cleanup and restoration. We took photos for insurance documentation and worked directly with our client on billing. Our final walk-through inspection at each site included a certificate of completion and satisfaction.

With four technicians on the job, the parking lot cleanup took seven days. The restaurant project took four 10-hour days with our crews starting at 5 A.M.

The Results

“There aren’t many cleaning contractors willing to take on the work that can come up in our business. We’re grateful ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba was prepared to help. They did a first-rate a job at both sites.” – Our Client

We’re glad we could help both properties reopen for business as quickly as possible. We’re also pleased that we could help our client handle two very big, very messy situations.