Pit stains are embarrassing, frustrating and costly. Consider the time spent treating pit stains and the money wasted on new shirts, cleaning products and laundering fees. All that adds up to one big headache.
But don’t fret! We’ve got you covered. We’ll explain the science behind the stains, the best ways to avoid them, and some suggestions to treat them.
Understanding the Stain
Discoloration from sweat stains can occur on any color fabric. Yet, they tend to be worse on white shirts, often appearing as siren-bright yellow stains.
The yellow stains occur from a chemical reaction between the aluminum in antiperspirant and the urea from your sweat. When the two elements mix together and rub against the fabric, they create a yellow mark. Ironically the stain-causing aluminum is also the active ingredient used in antiperspirants to stop sweating.
How to Prevent Armpit Stains
One way to prevent pit stains is to stop using antiperspirants with aluminum. You can choose aluminum-free deodorants, but deodorants only combat odor and do not stop sweating. If you excessively perspire, your best bet is to continue using an antiperspirant to stop the sweat.
The easiest way to prevent sweat from staining your dress shirts is to wear an undershirt. Depending on your level of sweat production, you may be able to wear a "regular" undershirt. If you produce an excessive amount of sweat, try an undershirt designed to stop sweat in its tracks. Ejis offers comfortable and cool sweat proof undershirts designed to form a barrier between your clothes and your sweat.
Another way to reduce pit stains is to keep your armpit hair trimmed or clean shaven. This prevents your underarm hair from pressing the sweat and antiperspirant against the shirt fabric.
You can also take off your shirts as soon as you get home and immediately pretreat them with a stain solution. But that means you’ve still gone through the day with sweat stains on your shirt that are hard to hide.
Pretreating Pit Stains
The moment you remove your shirt and see a pit stain, address it right away. Pre-treatment and immediate laundering are always recommended.
We’ve compiled a list of home solutions and off-the-shelf products to treat sweat and deodorant stains on white, colored and dark fabrics. Before trying any of these suggestions, read the laundering label on your shirt, as well as the instructions on any products you buy.
Removing Armpit Stains from White or Light Colored Shirts
Detergents to Remove Pit Stains
These off-the-shelf products fight stains and do well as long as you apply them before washing:
Deo Go: This is a specialty laundry product designed to remove deodorant and antiperspirant stains. Make sure to follow the directions.
Oxy-Clean™: You’ve seen the before-and-after images in commercials. They don’t lie. Use the Max Force spray on armpit stains, let sit for a few minutes, and then toss the shirt in the washing machine.
Lime-A-Way® and Tide Free & Gentle: This combo works wonders! Mix 50% Lime-A-Way®, 40% water, and 10% Tide Free & Gentle in a clean spray bottle. Spritz it on the stains, give it a rub, and then wash as usual. You may want to wash your treated shirts separately in case the Lime-A-Way® residue is too harsh on other fabrics.
Krud Kutter: This is an industrial stain fighter. Simply spray on your shirt stains, let sit for 10 minutes, and then wash as usual.
DIY Home Solutions
Aspirin: Crush up a few aspirins and add them to half a cup of warm water. Soak the shirt in the solution for a few hours before tossing it into the washing machine.
Dish Soap and Hydrogen Peroxide: Combine three tablespoons of dish soap and six tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide. Rub the solution into the sweat stains using a scrub brush. Let the garment sit for an hour and then wash as usual.
Meat Tenderizer Powder: It may seem unorthodox, but meat tenderizer can help remove pit stains. Wet the stained area and sprinkle it with meat tenderizer* before you put the garment in the wash.
Stubborn Sweat Stains: Using Vinegar*
If you have a pit-stained shirt you can’t bear to toss, it’s worth a shot to save it. As mentioned, the longer the stains are left to settle in, the less likely you can remove them. The likelihood lessens even more if you launder the shirts and see the stains are still there. However, we have a Hail Mary suggestion for you to try before throwing out your stained shirts.
Here’s how to remove armpit stains with vinegar and detergent:
- Combine three tablespoons of white vinegar* with two tablespoons of liquid detergent. Add them to a quart-sized spray bottle and fill the bottle with warm water. Quantities count here, so make sure it is a quart.
- Shake up the mixture and spray it on the pit stains.
- Rub the cleaner with a clean cloth.
- Blot the treated area dry with a clean white towel.
- Launder as usual and see if the stain is gone. If not, repeat the process.
Removing Armpit Stains from Colored Shirts
Although sweat stains on a colored shirt might not stand out like yellow stains on a white shirt, you can still see them.
To treat pit stains on colored shirts, avoid using products like hydrogen peroxide. Instead, soak colored shirts in a mixture of cold water and white vinegar for about 20 minutes. Rinse in cold water while gently rubbing the stained area. Then toss in the wash with like colors as usual. You can also use the crushed aspirin method.
Removing Armpit Stains from Dark Shirts
Sweat stains on darker clothes appear as contrasting lighter marks. As with colored fabrics, you need to treat pit stains on dark shirts using a different process.
We recommend mixing four tablespoons of baking soda with ¼ cup of warm water to make a paste. Wet the stained area and apply the paste. Rub the fabric together to massage the paste into the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes. Rinse out the paste and then wash the shirt as usual.
When It Comes to Sweat Stains, Not All Shirts are the Same
It’s important to read the garment care labels to properly treat sweat stains. Improper care of some fabrics can make stains worse or even impossible to remove.
Shirts that are “dry clean only” should never be washed at home. Professional dry cleaners remove sweat stains using a special process depending on the fabric type. Inform the launderer if your shirts need stain removal so he or she knows to add a pre-treatment step.
As with your home laundry, take stained shirts to the cleaners right away. The longer the stain sits, the more it sets in.
Your dress shirts can stay fresh-looking all day long... with a little preparation to avoid pit stains and some old-fashioned ingenuity in treating them.
*We do not recommend using meat tenderizer or vinegar on Ejis sweat proof products, as they may compromise the sweat proof layer.