Hydrocarbon oils are hydrogenated, cracked, or treated for the removal of sulfur by bringing their vapors mixed with steam at temperatures between 450 and 600/sup 0/C into contact with a form of carbon that is capable of decomposing steam with the production of nascent hydrogen at those temperatures. The forms of carbon used include lamp-black, soot, charcoals derived from wood, cellulose, and lignite, and carbons obtained by carbonizing oil residues and other organic bodies at temperatures below 600/sup 0/C. The process is applied to the treatment of coal oil, shale oil, petroleum, and lignite oil. In examples, kerosene is cracked at 570/sup 0/C, cracked spirit is hydrogenated at 500/sup 0/C, and shale spirit is desulfurized at 530/sup 0/C. The products are led to a condenser and thence to a scrubber, where they are washed with creosote oil. After desulfurization, the products are washed with dilute caustic soda to remove sulfurretted hydrogen.