Hydrocarbons are freed from sulfur-containing compounds, colloidal asphaltic bodies and unstable unsaturated substances by treatment with a small amount of dilute sulfuric acid and a salt of a trivalent cation, such as ferric chloride or sulfate. Hydrocarbons specified are petroleum, crude benzol, low temperature tars, shale oil or vapor-phase cracked spirit. Motor spirit or lubricating oil distillates are refined and finally distilled. The acid reagent may be regenerated by filtering through sand or asbestos. Used lubricating oils may be treated similarly and after removal of refining agent, the oil is heated with an adsorbent and decolorizing material and then filtered.