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How to remove sweat stains from white shirts and other clothes

Fed up of those stubborn sweat stains ruining your favourite clothes? Our handy guide will show you how to shift them for good and keep the yellow at bay.

Updated

A white shirt with a yellow armpit stain

Sweat stains aren’t exactly nice to think about, but they’re even less appealing to experience. But with the right techniques and products, you can easily remove sweat stains from white shirts, sparing loved clothing from the bin and allowing you to wear your favourite pieces again with pride.

Follow these five easy steps to wipe out those sweat stains, banish the yellow and freshen up your clothes. Remember to always read the instructions on any cleaning product you use and to test the solution on an inconspicuous area of the clothing first.

How to remove sweat stains from white shirts and other clothes: a step by step guide

1. Don’t let the stain set in

Using water to rinse a stain out of a white garment

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The best way to remove sweaty armpit stains is to deal with them as soon as possible because once the stain dries in it becomes a lot harder to remove and risks turning yellow.

Simply run the armpit of your garment under cold water to rinse out the sweat and leave to dry before adding it to your regular wash.

2. Pre-treat the sweat stains

Using laundry detergent to pre-treat a white garment

An effective way to treat sweat stains is to pre-treat them with a small amount of neat liquid detergent, gently rubbing into the soiled area. Leave it on for 30 minutes then wash as normal.

This works particularly well with darker shirts that might not have the unsightly yellow stains, but will still have a stiffness or residue left from sweat.

3. Use hydrogen peroxide

This is a great tip if you’re wondering how to remove sweat stains from white shirts, as stubborn yellow stains especially show up on white clothes.

Using a little hydrogen peroxide works wonders to restore your whites back to their original brightness in no time.

As it contains harsh chemicals, it’s not safe to use on coloured or delicate fabrics like silk or wool.

Following the safety instructions on the packet, make a solution of 50% hydrogen peroxide, 50% water and soak the stain for 30 minutes.

Rinse with cool water and let it dry naturally. If the stain is still visible, repeat the treatment.

4. Use the right laundry detergent

Selecting laundry detergent before machine washing a white garment

This is an essential factor in successful sweat stain removal. Yellow sweat stains are caused by a combination of proteins in sweat with the chemicals in deodorant.

Luckily, most biological laundry detergents are formulated to dissolve protein-based stains like sweat, and will help to reduce those unsightly yellow patches.

Check that the stain has been removed before you dry it, otherwise it can set the stain.

Top tip: Add a cup of vinegar to your wash along with laundry detergent to help remove any lingering sweat smells.

5. Dry your garment naturally  

Line drying a white T-shirt outside

Try to dry your item outside on a sunny day, because sunlight is one of the best ways to naturally bleach your whites.

If traces of the stain remain after a treatment, leave the clothing in direct sunlight, spraying with water occasionally to help the sweat ‘tide line’ evaporate.

A word of caution: the sun can cause coloured clothes to fade, so these items are best line-dried indoors or in the tumble drier.

Looking for more fabric-specific advice? Why not take a look at this handy stain removal guide? It's full of quick remedies to restore your clothes to tip-top condition.

How to remove sweat stains using home remedies

Whether you’re running low on cleaning products or prefer to opt for a natural solution, you can help shift those stubborn stains with these easy-to-make home remedies that boast stain-busting properties.

To ensure they’re suitable for the fabric you’re treating, always test out on a small area first, as some ingredients, like baking soda, can be quite abrasive.

  • Baking soda: Mix some baking powder with water until you have a thick paste. Apply the paste to the stain using a toothbrush or your gloved fingers, and leave for 20 minutes to work in.Tougher stains may require the paste to be left on for up to a couple of hours.Wash the garment on a cold cycle with a biological laundry detergent.
  • White distilled vinegar: Combine 2 tablespoons of white vinegar with 1 cup of water and apply to the stain. Soak for 30 minutes before putting on a suitable wash. For a heavier stain, mix a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water, scrubbing the stain with an old, clean toothbrush first, then wash as normal.
  • Salt: A kitchen staple and a great all-rounder at removing blood, sweat and grease stains from clothes. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in 1 cup of water, and use this solution to sponge away at the stain. After removing the stain, you can wash the clothes as normal.
  • Aspirin: Small yet mighty, it contains salicylic acid that can work as a stain remover. Simply crush up two or three aspirin tablets into a powder and mix with half a cup of warm water until dissolved. You can either soak the stain in the aspirin solution or transfer to a spray bottle and spritz over the stain until saturated. Leave for up to three hours and wash as usual.
  • Lemon: This citrus fruit acts as a natural bleaching agent and has many amazing cleaning properties. Squeeze the juice from a lemon and mix with equal parts water, rubbing into the stain before washing on a suitable cycle. Curious about what else you can clean with lemons? Read our top 9 lemon cleaning tips.
  • Vodka: A high-proof alcohol that possesses great stain-removing properties. Mix together an equal amount of vodka and warm water and simply spritz onto the stain. Leave to work for 30 minutes and follow with a wash cycle.

How to prevent sweat stains

When it comes to sweat stains, the best course of action is prevention – definitely a lot easier than the removal process.

We’ve put together some quick tips that, if practiced, could save you a whole lot of bother. Why not give them a try?

  • Allow your deodorant to dry properly before getting dressed. This way it’ll be absorbed by your skin, and not the fabric, which will act like a sponge.
  • Wear an undergarment like a t-shirt under your white shirts or tops to prevent any sweat causing yellow staining. A light-weight cotton one will allow your underarms to breathe.
  • Use deodorant sparingly. Excessive amounts will be less likely to dry and more likely to be absorbed by your garment, setting in and causing the fabric to turn yellow over time.
  • Tackle a yellow stain ASAP. Wash items as soon as possible to prevent sweat from setting in and forming dried-in, yellow stains which are harder to remove. A biological detergent will help break down the stain.
  • Don’t let sweat stains build up from repeated wear; treat sweat stains as soon as they start to appear for a better chance of beating the stain. There are many quick remedies you can use.
  • Wear breathable fabrics like cotton or linen. Man-made fibres like polyester or nylon will increase the likelihood of you sweating.
  • Invest in a stain-prevention deodorant. There are many deodorants on the market that are specially formulated to prevent sweat stains developing after use. Shop around and choose the one that best suits you.

Answers to your top questions on sweat stain removal

How do you get armpit stains out of white shirts?

If the stain hasn’t set in, you can run them under cold water and leave to dry before washing. Otherwise, you can dab some laundry detergent directly on the stain and leave to work for 30 minutes before putting on a regular white wash. 

Lemon juice, salt or baking soda also work to remove armpit stains. Dry your white shirts in the sun to allow a natural bleaching process.

How do you get yellow stains out of white shirts?

Yellow stains mostly show up on the armpits and collars of white clothes and come from the combination of proteins in sweat with the chemicals in deodorant.

Luckily, modern biological laundry detergents are formulated to dissolve protein-based stains, and there are many other methods to help remove them, including using hydrogen peroxide and a baking soda solution.

How do you get rid of yellow armpit stains?

These are more stubborn stains to remove and will require a bit more effort.

Using one part hydrogen peroxide, one part water, soak the stain for 30 minutes (adjust the quantity according to the instructions on the product label and always follow the safety instructions on the packet).

What causes yellow armpit stains?

Many sweat stains on shirts in the underarm are caused by aluminium compounds in antiperspirant, which react with the salts in your sweat.

Gradually, the yellowing builds up on fabrics leaving an unsightly and often stubborn stain.

Originally published