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  • Oars + Alps

Every guy has experienced it. You go out in the heat, work up a sweat, and after a few weeks that light shirt you’ve been wearing develops gross yellow or dark sweat stains in the underarms. Don’t worry. It’s actually extremely common for those who wear antiperspirant. It’s caused by a reaction between the aluminum inside antiperspirants and your own sweat. 

Luckily you can fight these unsightly pit stains. In this post, we’ll tell you what causes sweat stains in the first place, how to remove them from your favorite clothes, and how to prevent them altogether by adjusting the products in your dopp kit. Keep scrolling to find out the right way to reclaim your clothes and conquer sweat stains for good. 

What Causes Sweat Stains?

Those annoying yellow or dark stains on your shirts? They’re caused by a chemical reaction between your sweat and your antiperspirant. Read on for the nitty gritty details. 

What Causes Armpit Stains on Shirts?

Armpit stains and sweat stains are one and the same. They're caused by a chemical reaction between the sweat from your armpits and the ingredients in your antiperspirant. Your sweat contains water, ammonia, urea, salts, and sugar. Those elements mix with one or more ingredients in your antiperspirant, in particular aluminum. The mix contains proteins that then bond to clothing, causing a build up that yellows or darkens over time. 

What Causes Yellow Stains on White Shirts?

Your sweat alone isn’t causing the shirt to stain. A mixture of your sweat and antiperspirant bonds to the shirt and then oxidizes. That oxidation process naturally takes on a yellow, or for some folks a brown, hue. This color is especially visible against the white of a shirt. 

Why Is My Armpit Sweat Yellow?

This is a common misconception. It’s not actually your sweat that’s yellow! Sweat by itself is odorless and colorless. It turns yellow when it reacts with the active ingredients in your antiperspirant.

Are Armpit Stains from Sweat or From Deodorant?

Armpit stains aren’t caused by just one thing. They’re a reaction between the active ingredients in your antiperspirant and sweat. Notice that we said antiperspirant and not deodorant. Deodorant alone doesn't contain the aluminum that leads to sweat stains. Antiperspirant does. 

What Happens When You Stop Using Aluminum Deodorant?

When you stop using an underarm product with aluminum, your body will begin to purge aluminum that's been built up over time in your sweat glands. This detox period takes about 4 weeks (you can read more the process in detail here).

When it comes to sweat stains, after this detox period you'll no longer need to worry about getting sweat stains on your shirts because your sweat will no longer have the opportunity to mix with aluminum.

How to Get Sweat Stains Out of a White Shirt

Man Wearing White T-Shirt Without Pit Stains

Your yellow, pit stained clothes aren’t ruined! You can still salvage them by removing the stains left behind by the aluminum in antiperspirant. Depending on how long the stain has been around, there are several different solutions you can try. Here’s where to start: 

  1. First, Treat With Vinegar: Dilute two tablespoons of regular white vinegar in  one cup of room temperature water. Use a dry, clean cloth to apply the mixture to the stain, rubbing gently. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes before adding it to the washing machine with cold water. Repeat this process until the stain disappears. Dry only when the stain is gone.
  2. For bad stains, try baking soda and hydrogen peroxide: In a bowl, mix one part baking soda with one part hydrogen peroxide until it forms a paste. With your fingers, rub the paste into your stains before washing on cold.
  3. If that doesn’t work, soak the shirt even longer: For heavy duty stains, soak them for 20 minutes in a mixture of one cup white vinegar to two cups of water. Then squeeze out excess water and apply a paste of a half-cup baking soda with one tablespoon of salt and one teaspoon hydrogen peroxide. Rub vigorously into the stain before washing with like colors.

Are Sweat Stains Permanent?

In short, no, sweat stains aren’t permanent. But two factors can increase your chances of salvaging your shirt: time and chemistry. The sooner you treat a shirt, the more likely it is to shed its stains, so act quickly! The next is the product you use to treat the stains. There are many methods, but which one you use should depends on the type of stain and how long it’s been there. 

How to Get Deodorant Stains Out

If you’re wondering how to get deodorant stains out of clothes, try soaking the stained shirt in equal parts water and distilled vinegar to break up the stain. Another common method is applying a mixture of two parts water to one part lemon juice and rubbing it gently in circular motions. Lastly, you can soak it in a soapy mixture for at least an hour before throwing it into the washing machine. 

How Do You Get White Deodorant Stains Out of Black Shirts?

The best way to get deodorant off of a black shirt is to try applying baking soda with water or hydrogen peroxide. Lemon juice and water is another common treatment. You can also try rubbing the stain with a nylon stocking, which can loosen and lift the deodorant particles. 

How Do You Get Hard Deodorant Buildup Off?

To get hard deodorant build-up off of a shirt, try rubbing with a nylon stocking or a dry towel to remove large particles. You can also soak with white vinegar and water—or baking soda and hydrogen peroxide—before rubbing the stain with a towel. After, you can throw it in the wash as usual.

Tips for Preventing Pit Stains Deodorant Stains

So, it’s possible to salvage your clothes, but why should you have to? There are some really easy ways to rid yourself of yellow stains for good. The best way to do that is to never get them in the first place. You can switch up your grooming routine, wear another layer of protection, and attack future stains before they set in. Here’s what you need to know.

Use deodorant that doesn't stain clothes 

The easiest way to avoid pit stains is to remove aluminum from the equation altogether. Try swapping your antiperspirant for an aluminum-free deodorant that uses clean, better-for-you ingredients to fight odor and sweat. 

At Oars + Alps, we use ingredients like Corn Starch and Arrowroot Powder in our aluminum-free deodorants to fight sweat stains rather than reactive metals. The gentle formula leaves you smelling great with less sweat—and it doesn’t leave any stains behind at all. There’s even an unscented option made with prebiotics.

Wear an undershirt

Another way to prevent sweat stains is to make sure your deodorant or antiperspirant don’t mix with sweat. For that, you can wear an undershirt, especially one that’s sweat-proof, to keep your metal-based antiperspirant totally separate from the proteins in your sweat. Better still, you’ll have less laundry to do and won’t have to keep replacing your shirts every few months. 

Man Putting On White Dress Shirt

Wash shirts as soon as possible after wearing

Yet another method of preventing pit stains is washing them away before they have a time to react with your antiperspirant and bond to your clothes. To do this, wash them as soon as possible after working up a sweat. You can also pre-treat really bad stains for 15-20 minutes before putting them in the wash. Be sure to follow the directions on pretreatments and always spot check a product to make sure they won’t discolor your garment. 

Another tip: Don’t try to solve the problem with bleach. It whitens unstained garments, but it will actually make pit stains worse. This is especially true on fabrics with stretch, as well as wool, leather, and silk. 

Keep Your Shirts Safe from Sweat Stains

Again, there are lots of ways to get rid of sweat stains on clothes, but our recommended method (for your shirts and your health!) is to swap your antiperspirant for an aluminum-free deodorant from Oars + Alps. See all of our deodorants that won’t stain your clothes here

References: 

https://www.mollymaid.com/practically-spotless/2020/july/how-to-remove-sweat-stains/

https://thompsontee.com/blog/how-to-prevent-pit-stains/ 

https://www.stitchfix.com/women/blog/ask-a-stylist/remove-sweat-stains-white-tee-shirt/

https://www.thespruce.com/prevent-and-remove-sweat-stains-1900316

https://crystalspring.co.uk/blogs/under-our-skin/what-causes-yellow-armpit-staining

https://www.thespruce.com/prevent-and-remove-sweat-stains-1900316

https://www.ties.com/blog/remove-yellow-stains

https://www.thespruce.com/remove-underarm-stains-and-odor-2147284

https://www.kaianaturals.com/what-really-happens-when-you-switch-to-natural-deodorant/

https://www.ejisinc.com/blogs/news/remove-deodorant-stains-from-black-shirts

https://www.persil.com/uk/laundry/laundry-tips/stains/how-to-remove-deodorant-stains-from-clothes.html

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