If you’re buying your undershirts and white Ts in 10-packs from Walmart, you’re probably going to throw your old shirts out instead of trying to get rid of the sweat stains. Well, maybe not. I guess I should clarify that this article is for all of you who’re having trouble getting rid of sweat stains on fancier clothing, because Lord knows I’ve had my trials, tribulations, and embarrassing moments with armpit stains. I tend to wear nothing but undershirts during the summer. If you’re of the “reuse it till it’s gray” type, or the penny-pincher type, there are some ways to get rid of sweat stains here.

In this article we’re going to try to teach you some of the more traditional and some of the less traditional techniques used to get armpit stains out of whites and colors. Since armpit stains/sweat stains (or whatever you want to call them) are more visible on whites, we’ve devoted the first three suggestions to getting rid of sweat stains on predominantly white fabrics. If you’re having trouble with sweat stains and deodorant crusties on your colors, you might want to take a look at the last two suggestions in this column. But take a look around, because there’s a lot to learn and a lot to consider before you throw away another overpriced Banana Republic undergarment.

What causes armpit stains?

The science behind armpit stains, so far as I’ve gathered, tends to focus on the aluminum chloride or aluminum salts that many antiperspirant and deodorant manufacturers use in their products. Aluminum salt doesn’t dissolve easily, and when it “bonds” with your sweat, it tends to create a water resistant stain. This usually occurs after the active ingredients in your antiperspirant have worn out, and you begin to perspire once again.

Prevent Armpit Stains

Don’t use antiperspirants or deodorants that contain aluminum salts, like aluminum chloride. Try the Tom’s of Maine line of deodorants instead. They don’t have any aluminum ingredients in their products. However, there is still ascorbic acid, and according to Mike Thomas of Proctor & Gamble, it’s also the acids in an antiperspirant that can cause armpit stains to form. So, do your research, check the ingredient lists on deodorants the next time you go shopping, and try to find something with fewer salts and acids.

  • Thicker applications of any deodorant or antiperspirant aren’t necessarily more effective, and they increase the chances of you getting those stain causing chemicals on your clothes. Applying a very thin, even layer of antiperspirant to your armpits will help prevent the acids and aluminum salts from getting on your clothes.
  • Before donning your daily attire, make sure to let the deodorant or antiperspirant dry thoroughly. This may require you to walk around the house without a shirt on for a while, but if your significant other complains, just tell them you’re saving them from an agonizing day in the laundry room.
  • Try using just plain old cold water to rinse the armpits of your shirts when you get home. Apparently cold water is just enough to neutralize the acids eating away at your shirts, and simply soaking the armpits before putting your shirts in the wash should help keep your shirts free of sweat stains.

Best Armpit Stain Removal Steps

The first thing you might want to try to get rid of sweat stains is a simple spot treatment, like those made by Clorox.

You’ll want to do this immediately after you’ve come home from either a long day or work or a sweaty day at the gym. Just dab a little on both pits–even if you don’t see a stain forming yet–and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, take that shirt and any other whites that might need laundering and put them in the wash with a little more bleach. Keep in mind that bleach is a fairly corrosive substance, so you’ll probably end up wearing your shirts out faster this way. On the upside, however, this is probably the easiest way to prevent sweat stains and armpit stains from forming on your whites. You can order Clorox Bleach Pens from Amazon.

We all know chlorine bleach is bad for the environment, so if you want to get rid of sweat stains without killing fish, try hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide is sometimes sold as “non-chlorine bleach” and its uses are profound. In fact, hydrogen peroxide is used by fish culturalists to provide oxygen to small fish, and the FDA has concluded that it’s safe to use as an anti-fungal solution for fish and fish eggs. Pretty neat. The stuff you’ll want to get is found at your local drugstore, and it’s sold in 2-3% solutions. Just put a couple of teaspoons on the spot, rub it in a little, let it sit, and then throw it in the wash (but only with other whites). Don’t mix this stuff with colors. This is not a color safe alternative to bleach.

If you’re a cleaning aficionado, you may want to consider using Boric Acid to get rid of armpit stains.

Boric acid, sold in a convenient little box under the brand 20 Mule Team Borax, is another eco-friendly alternative to bleach. Human beings were using boric acid to clean their garments back when the Greeks weren’t just a cliche you found tending the register at a Gyro shop. You’ll want to make a paste with the powder. About a tablespoon of boric acid mixed with a little bit of water should be enough to spread over, and work into, the fabric surrounding the pits of one shirt. Let that sit for about half an hour, then brush off any crusties with scotch pad and throw that shirt in the wash. That should be removing your armpit stains real good. Amazon sells 20 Mule Team Borax at an affordable price. If not borax, well…

If none of this is getting rid of sweat stains, you may want to consider trying an Enzymatic Cleaner.

This is one technique that can be used on colors as well. Enzymatic cleaners are really cool because they use proteins made by living organisms to “digest” any organic material they come into contact with. Your sweat is an organic problem. The specific process is actually a biochemical reaction between the proteins and whatever it is that’s coming out of your armpits. Usually this kind of thing is used for tough stains like urine, blood, vomit, and other more noxious issues. But all you have to do is rub a little of this stuff on your shirt, and wait as long as the directions tell you (maybe a little longer). Throw that in the wash when you’re done, and you might be surprised to find your armpit stains gone.

Alcohol-based cleaners like those found in Baby Wipes will, apparently, get rid of armpit stains–and they’re safe to use on colors.

Alcohol is a great solution because it’s a powerful solvent–meaning it will dissolve just about anything (including aluminum salts!)–and it evaporates just as quickly, leaving you with no residue or smell. Sure, it smells bad at first (well, maybe not the baby wipes), but it’s certain to get those white crusties and smudges leftover by your favorite deodorant. The great thing about baby wipes is that they’re portable, concealable, and disposable–perfect for an emergency.

Home Remedies for Armpit Stains

White Vinegar

White Vinegar is a substance I’ve been using to clean things for quite some time. I can’t attest the fact that White Vinegar will get armpit stains out, but I imagine that the acetic acid present in White Vinegar help to dissolve some of the deodorant and the organic compounds left in the armpits of your shirt.

Lemon juice

Lemon juice is suggested as well because it functions on the same principle as the white vinegar solution. Somebody once told me that if you soak the armpits in lemon juice and then hang those shirts in the sun, the bleaching effect of the lemon juice becomes much stronger than normal.

Dissolved aspirin

Dissolved aspirin, again, is another home remedy that relies on acids to clean the sweat stains off of your shirts. Only instead of soaking your shirts with a juice, you should make a paste out of the ground up aspirins and spread it over the armpit stains. The salicylic acid that is aspirin’s main ingredient might help remove sweat stains the same way boric acid, vinegar, and lemon juice do.

Meat tenderizer

Meat tenderizer contains enzymes, specifically papain. Enzymes (organic proteins) react with organic matter, loosening the protein bonds that keep stains on your shirts. I guess if you’re desperate, you might want to consider marinating your shirts. Skip the tenderizing hammer step.

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