How to Remove Underarm Stains and Odor from Clothes

Illustration depicting methods of removing stains from shirts
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018
  • 01 of 07

    Armpit Stains and Odor

    Shirt sweat stain
    Sbastien Bulenger / EyeEm/ Getty Images

    Underarm sweat or perspiration stains are obvious and embarrassing. Unfortunately, even if you manage to keep your cool next time, the odor and stains 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.

     

    Continue to 2 of 7 below.
  • 02 of 07

    Remove Yellow Armpit Stains on White Shirts With Baking Soda/Hydrogen Peroxide

    How to Remove Sweat Odors from Clothes
    Dennis Grombkowski/ Getty Images

    Project Metrics

    Working Time: 5 minutes

    Total Time: 1-2 hours depending on washer and dryer cycle times

    Before You Begin

    First, be certain that your shirt is washable. If it says dry clean only, believe the tag. 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.

    What You'll Need

    Supplies

    • Baking soda
    • Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent solution)
    • Water
    • Heavy-duty laundry detergent

    Tools

    • Soft-bristled brush
    • Washer

    Instructions

    1. Mix one part baking soda, one part hydrogen peroxide, and one part water. You will need about one-fourth cup of each ingredient to treat one shirt.
    2. Rub the solution into stains and allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes.
    3. Use a soft-bristled brush or an old soft toothbrush to loosen any residue by scrubbing.
    4. Wash as usual with heavy-duty laundry detergent in warm or cold water.
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  • 03 of 07

    Remove Yellow Armpit Stains on White Shirts With Oxygen Bleach and Ammonia

    Yellow armpit stain on white shirt
    Ake Ngiamsanguan/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

    Project Metrics

    Working Time: 5 minutes

    Total Time: 1-2 hours depending on washer and dryer cycle times

    What You'll Need

    Supplies

    • Oxygen-based bleach powder
    • Household ammonia
    • Heavy-duty laundry detergent

    Tools

    • Non-metal mixing bowl
    • Rubber gloves
    • Soft-bristled brush
    • Washer

    Instructions

    1. In a well-ventilated room while wearing 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. You will need about two tablespoons of each ingredient per shirt.
    2. Rub the solution into stains with a soft-bristled brush for at least one minute.
    3. Allow the solution to work for at least 10 minutes before washing away.
    4. Wash as usual with heavy-duty laundry detergent in warm or cold water.

    Warning

    DO NOT USE CHLORINE BLEACH with the ammonia as deadly fumes can occur. 

     

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  • 04 of 07

    Remove Armpit Stains on Colored Shirts

    Underarm sweat
    Image Source/ Getty Images

    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.

    Project Metrics

    Working Time: 5 minutes

    Total Time: 1-2 hours depending on washer and dryer cycle times

    What You'll Need

    Supplies

    • Distilled white vinegar
    • Water
    • Heavy-duty laundry detergent

    Tools

    • Mixing bowl (optional)
    • Washer or large sink
    • Soft-bristled brush

    Instructions

    1. If the deodorant build-up has left the fabric stiff and a heavy sweat odor is present, mix a one-to-one solution of white distilled vinegar and water and use a soft-bristled brush or an old toothbrush to scrub the armpits before soaking.
    2. Fill a washing machine or large bucket with cool water and add one cup of white distilled vinegar.
    3. Add the colored shirts and allow them to soak for at least 30 minutes.
    4. Drain the vinegar/water solution.
    5. Wash as usual in cool water with a heavy-duty detergent.

     

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  • 05 of 07

    Use Baking Soda to Reduce Armpit Odor

    Man in grey shirt smelling underarm
    Ake Ngiamsanguan/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

    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 will help detergent work more effectively and reduce 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.

     

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  • 06 of 07

    Tips to Prevent Armpit Stains on Shirts

    Man applying underarm deodorant
    Geber86/ E+/ Getty Images
    1. Wear an undershirt to help protect the outer shirt. If an extra layer is just not possible, try switching to an aluminum-free deodorant. Read the labels and you’ll find that antiperspirants have varying levels of aluminum compounds. 
    2. After applying deodorant, allow it to dry before dressing to prevent rub-off on fabrics. If you don’t have time to wait, a couple of blasts of air from a hairdryer to the underarms will do the trick. This will also help with those white zebra stripes on the fabric
    3. If you have perspired on a shirt, wash or dry clean it as soon as possible. Stains are much harder to remove once they become set in. Keep a spray bottle of undiluted white distilled vinegar handy and spray the underarm areas of both white and colored shirts before washing. Give the vinegar time to work, at least ten or fifteen minutes, before washing as usual. 
    4. 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. 

     

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  • 07 of 07

    How to Remove Touch Collar and Cuff Stains

    Clean white shirts
    Hero Images/ Getty Images

    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. 

    Project Metrics

    Working Time: 10 minutes

    Total Time: 1-2 hours depending on washer and dryer cycle times

    What You'll Need

    Supplies

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

    Tools

    • Soft-bristled brush
    • Washer

    Instructions

    1. 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. Work the stain remover into the fabric with a soft-bristled brush. Allow the pretreater to work at least ten minutes before washing.
    3. Wash the shirt as usual in the hottest water appropriate for the fabric using the recommended amount of heavy-duty detergent.
    4. Inspect the garment before drying at high heat and repeat treatment if necessary.

     

    Tip

    Keep a stain remover or laundry soap bar near the dirty clothes hamper. Just a quick swipe will get the process started and make the stain removal easier later.