Preventing and Removing Sweat Stains

Sweat stained shirt

 

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We all sweat. It's a fact of life. Some of us may sweat more than others, but sweat stains are something everyone must deal with in their laundry. When white clothes start to get a yellow tinge around the armpits, you might assume that it is your sweat that has caused the stain. You'd be 1/2 right. The real cause of these yellowish stains is a mixture of the minerals (especially salt) in sweat mixing with the ingredients in antiperspirant or deodorant (primarily aluminum). This is the combo that makes the yellow stains on white clothes and discolors the armpit areas of colored clothes.

Sweat stains can be stubborn and may require more than one treatment, but you don't need any fancy stain removers or strong chemicals to erase them. In fact, simple household solutions and ordinary laundry products usually work best.

Stain Type Salt, urea, aluminum
Detergent Type Enzyme-based laundry detergent
Wash Temperature Warm or hot

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes plus washing time

Before You Begin

Test stain removers, no matter how innocent they seem, on colored clothes before using them on sweat stains. Hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleaching agent that can lighten colored fabric that is not colorfast. Just dampen a white cloth or a cotton swab with peroxide (or other cleaner you'd like to use) and dab it onto an interior seam, hem, or other inconspicuous area to make sure no color comes off. If you see some color on the cloth or swab, use vinegar or a commercial stain remover that's safe for colors instead.

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Baking soda
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Enzyme-based laundry remover (Optional)
  • Laundry detergent
  • White vinegar (Optional)
  • Chlorine bleach (Optional)

Tools:

  • Sponge or toothbrush

Instructions

  1. Sponge the Stain

    Make a mixture of equal parts baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and water. Rub the mixture onto the stained area, using a sponge or an old toothbrush. Alternatively, you can sponge the stain with undiluted white vinegar. Allow the item to sit with the solution for up to 30 minutes.

  2. Rinse With Water

    Rinse out the solution and stain with cold or warm water. Do not use hot water because it can set the stain.

  3. Pretreat With Enzymes

    If desired, apply an enzyme-based laundry stain remover or laundry detergent (Tide and Persil are heavy-duty detergents with enzyme-based formulas) and let it sit for 5 minutes or as directed.

  4. Wash as Usual

    Wash the item as you normally would, using the hottest water that is safe for the fabric.

  5. Line Dry the Garment

Let the clothing air dry, then check for any evidence of the sweat stain. If the stain remains, repeat the treatment, as before, or try soaking the garment in a solution of cold water (enough to submerge the item) and 1 1/2 cups of white vinegar, letting it sit for at least 30 minutes. For white fabrics that are bleach-safe, you can also wash with chlorine bleach to help remove yellowing. Once you know the stain is gone for good, you can resume drying the clothing in a dryer, if desired.

Hand-Wash Hats

Hand-wash sweat-stained baseball caps and other washable hats to keep their shape. During washing, scrub the stained area with an old toothbrush. Rinse well and let the hat air dry.

If sweat stains, particularly underarm stains, are a common problem, it may help to use less deodorant or antiperspirant or switch to a different product. Caking on a thick layer may seem like it will help prevent stains by preventing sweat, but that excess deodorant soaks directly into the fabric in your armpit area. It's also a good idea to allow the deodorant to dry fully before putting on your clothing.

As a last resort, you could also try a new deodorant. There are deodorants that are aluminum-free or have less aluminum than other brands. That switch might help prevent stains as well. No matter what prevention methods you choose, make sure to wash or dry clean clothing that has been exposed to sweat as quickly as possible. Remember one of the general stain rules—that a fresh stain is much easier to remove than a repeated and dried stain.