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How to Remove Stains from White Clothing

Don't let stubborn stains ruin your white clothing – find out how to remove common stains like sweat & deodorant, plus advice on using bleach in the wash.


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how to remove stains from white clothing

Buying white clothes always produces the same emotions: excitement at your smart and pristine garment, mixed with trepidation at the inevitable prospect of sweat or deodorant stains. It’s a sad story. But, oddly, it only seems to happen to you. Others around you swan around in their white shirts or dresses, always mysteriously immaculate. Are they in on some secret? How do you remove stains from white clothes?

Surprisingly, chlorine-based bleach reacts with the proteins in sweat so that it actually makes the cloth darker, not lighter. Products with oxygen bleach, such as Breeze with ActivBleach, avoid this problem. It’s color-safe and eco-friendly too!

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Removing Deodorant Stains from White Clothing

The initial plan of attack is as follows:

  1. First, rub the stain gently with a little white vinegar.
  2. Then leave the garment in methylated spirit for an hour. (Alcohol is a strong solvent so be careful if your shirt has a printed design.)
  3. Let the spirits evaporate.
  4. Gently rub the stain with laundry detergent and very hot water. (Check the label to see how hot this can be.) .
  5. Soak in biological detergent, such as Surf or Breeze.
  6. Leave overnight.
  7. Wash with the rest of your laundry as normal.

If it doesn’t budge:


How to Remove Sweat Stains from White Clothes

In a sense, this overlaps with the previous section. Yellow underarm stains are in fact the result of a reaction between sweat and aluminium-based antiperspirants, not sweat alone.

If the stains are not yet yellow (i.e. the stain is just biological without the aluminium component) then, logically enough, soaking in bio detergent and warm water is sufficient.

If the stains are yellow:

  1. Rub the stain with an appropriate solvent: ammonia if the stain is fresh, white vinegar if it’s old.
  2. If it persists, use oxygen bleach. This is essentially a mixture of baking powder and hydrogen peroxide, which you can either buy or make yourself.
  3. Coat the stain with the mixture and leave for 20 minutes.
  4. Wash as normal.

For silk, dab with 10-times diluted hydrogen peroxide, and then wash as usual on the delicate setting.

Bleaching White Clothes in the Wash

For a more general way of removing stains from white clothes, you can bleach in the wash.

This is a place where the power of chlorine bleach can really shine. But be cautious! While chlorine bleach is great with a variety of fabrics, it can damage delicates as well as printed or colored clothes. Here’s how to use it properly.

  • Mix a capful of bleach into 1 litre of water and then into the washer drawer. (We recommend using Domex.)

Chlorine Bleach with Biological Detergents

  • Chlorine bleach destroys enzymes, i.e. the things that drive the biological process in all living things, which is why it’s so good at keeping you safe from germs. However, if you’re using a biological detergent, it’s a good idea to add the bleach solution after five minutes rather than at the start so that the enzymes in the detergent have time to work.
  • If you don’t have a semi-automatic washer, you can pre-soak in a diluted bleach solution (1 tbsp in 4 litres) instead. Rinsing the clothes before adding them to the washer will stop the bleach destroying the enzymes in the detergent.

Oxygen Bleach

  • As above, but add half a cup of oxygen bleach to the drawer instead.

Remember: before cleaning any stain, check the care label of the stained garment, and conduct a test on a hidden area of fabric first. Always wear gloves and follow the label’s advice carefully when handling ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and oxygen and chlorine bleach.

Originally published