How to Remove Underarm Stains and Odor from Clothes

armpit stains on a shirt

The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Underarm sweat or perspiration stains are obvious and embarrassing. Unfortunately, even if you manage to keep your cool next time, the stains and odor can remain in fabric if you don't wash shirts correctly; add just a bit of warmth and the odor comes right back.

Armpit stains on clothes are caused by the reaction between antiperspirant ingredients and the salts in your sweat. Most antiperspirants contain aluminum compounds to reduce wetness. It is the aluminum that causes the build-up and yellowing on white shirts. The stains don’t appear overnight, but without proper washing after each wearing, the stains will start to look yellow on white shirts.

Quick Fixes

  • A stain remover or laundry soap bar near the hamper jumpstarts the process of stain removal.
  • Keep a spray bottle of undiluted white distilled vinegar handy and spray the underarms of white and colored shirts before washing. Let the vinegar soak in for 10 to 15 minutes before washing.

Preventing Armpit Stains

There are two ways to prevent armpit stains on your shirts and both have to do with the way you use deodorant. Switching to an aluminum-free deodorant can help. In addition, after applying any type of deodorant or antiperspirant, allow it to dry before dressing to prevent rub-off on fabrics. If pressed for time, use a hairdryer for a couple of seconds (this will also eliminate white zebra stripes on the fabric). 

Reducing Armpit Odor

If you notice a lingering odor after washing, baking soda can boost the cleaning power of your laundry detergent. Baking soda helps regulate the pH level in the washer's water and adding one-half cup to each laundry load helps detergent work more effectively and reduces bacteria.

For heavy perspiration odors, use baking soda as a presoak. Dissolve one cup of baking soda in some warm water. Fill the ​washer tub or a large sink with cool water and add the dissolved baking soda. Submerge stinky clothes and allow them to soak overnight and then wash as usual. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

For All Methods

  • Soft bristle brush
  • Washing machine
  • Non-metal mixing bowl
  • Rubber gloves

Materials

Baking Soda Method

  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide (3% solution)
  • Water
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent

Oxygen Bleach Method

  • 2 tablespoons oxygen-based bleach powder
  • 2 tablespoons household ammonia
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent

White Vinegar Method

  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • Water
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent

For Collar and Cuffs

  • Solvent-based stain remover
  • Laundry soap bar
  • Water
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent

Instructions

Baking Soda Method for Yellow Stains

Baking soda often works wonders at getting the yellow hue out of shirts and restoring them to their original bright white color.

Be certain that your shirt is washable. If it says dry clean only, believe the rag. Dry clean after each wearing to prevent armpit yellowing. If your shirt is white and washable, there are two methods for removing the yellow stains and stiffness. Success will depend upon how old the stains are and the fabric content of your shirt, cotton whitens best.

If you notice the beginnings of yellow stains, stop tossing the shirt in the dryer until you can treat the stains. The heat can set in residual stains making them almost impossible to remove. Dry white shirts in the sun to increase the whiteness. 

baking soda and peroxide
The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa 
  1. Make the Mixture

    Mix one part baking soda, one part hydrogen peroxide, and one part water. (A quarter cup of each for this mixture cleans one shirt.)

  2. Rub

    Rub the solution into stains. Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes.

  3. Scrub

    Use a soft-bristled brush or an old soft toothbrush to loosen any residue by scrubbing.

  4. Wash

    Wash as usual with heavy-duty laundry detergent in warm or cold water.

Oxygen Bleach Method for Yellow Stains

Aside from baking soda, a combination of oxygen bleach and ammonia is another great method for removing yellow armpit stains.

Don't Confuse or Mix Bleaches

Never use chlorine bleach with ammonia as deadly fumes can occur.

ingredients for getting rid of underarm stains
The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa
  1. Mix Ingredients

    Find a well-ventilated room to mix ingredients. Be sure to put on rubber gloves.

    Mix one part oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) and one part household ammonia in a non-metal bowl. (Use about two tablespoons of each ingredient per shirt.)

  2. Rub Into Fabric

    Rub the solution into stains with a soft-bristled brush for at least one minute.

    rubbing in the solution with a soft bristled brush
    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa
  3. Let Mixture Soak In

    Allow the solution to work for at least 10 minutes before washing away.

  4. Wash

    Wash as usual with heavy-duty laundry detergent in warm or cold water.

White Vinegar Method for Colored Shirts

Underarm stains are very evident on white shirts because the fabric turns yellow. While they may not be as apparent on dark colored shirts, they are there. The underarm stains from deodorant and body soil trap bacteria, cause odor, stiffness, and discoloration of the fabric. If the deodorant build-up has left the fabric stiff and a heavy sweat odor is present, take the following steps.

materials for removing armpit stains on colored shirts
The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa  
  1. Pretreat

    Mix a one-to-one solution of white distilled vinegar and water. Use a soft-bristled brush or an old toothbrush to scrub the armpits before soaking.

  2. Mix Ingredients

    Fill a washing machine or large bucket with cool water. Add one cup of white distilled vinegar.

  3. Soak Shirts

    Add the colored shirts. Allow shirts to soak for at least 30 minutes.

    soaking colored shirt in a vinegar solution
    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa
  4. Drain

    Drain the vinegar/water solution.

  5. Wash

    Wash as usual in cool water with a heavy-duty detergent.

Method for Collar and Cuff Stains

Similar to armpit stains, stains on collars or cuffs can be difficult to remove thanks to a combination of sweat, body oil, and daily soil. The key to keeping collars clean is to tackle the oily stains after every shirt wearing. 

makeup stain on a collar
The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa
  1. Pretreat

    Pretreat stained areas using a solvent-based stain removal product, or a laundry soap bar like Fels-Naptha or Zote, or a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent like Tide or Persil.

  2. Brush In Stain Remover

    Work the stain remover into the fabric with a soft-bristled brush. Allow the stain remover to work at least 10 minutes before washing.

  3. Wash

    Wash the shirt as usual in the hottest water appropriate for the fabric using the recommended amount of heavy-duty detergent.

  4. Repeat if Necessary

    Inspect the garment before drying at high heat. If stains remain, do not dry. Repeat treatment if necessary.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Facts about Chlorine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention