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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Perspiration Stains from Mixed Blend Shirts: Your Questions

By Dr. Laundry September 30, 2008

Q: How do I remove perspiration stains from cotton and mixed blend shirts?

A: I hear this question a lot — how do I get rid of the dreaded “pit” stains. The stain is simply a build-up of the underarm deodorant/antiperspirant that has not been removed wash-after-wash-after-wash. It can get almost “crunchy” and that is uncomfortable. This can be complicated by the choice of antiperspirant. Aluminum-based ones are usually reported as the worst for changing colors, and there also seems to be some impact of diet in producing colored components.

Think about what has happened. You take a solid underarm product and apply it to a warm body where it melts. Now, it can more easily transfer to anything that the underarm touches (T-shirt, etc.). Add to this the volume of liquid (sweat) that acts as a collection and transfer agent for anything it has collected from the armpit (deodorant, salt, bacteria, body oil, etc.) and you can better understand how this generates such a problem.

So what can we do?? For the current problem, you need to do something to “re-melt” the build-up. I have seen mention of a couple of approaches:

  • One says to use boiling water poured directly over/through the stained area (be careful of spillage).
  • Then, follow with a paste of (1:1:1 — baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and water), which is applied after the hot water and rubbed (probably should wear rubber gloves here to protect your hands from the heat) aggressively into the stain.
  • Rinse again with hot water. It may take more than one application, but this definitely should do the trick.
  • It may also require a good pretreatment with a liquid detergent or solvent.
  • Remember to wash in the hottest water recommended on the care label and use 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 to help kill the odor-causing bacteria.

This should work for both the cotton and mixed blend shirts.

Or the easy solution is simply cut out the affected area and he has a new set of muscle shirts (just kidding!).

For the future, I would check the brand of antiperspirant and see if you can find one without aluminum active. Also if new T-shirts are purchased, you might try applying the liquid detergent to the pit area when they are first removed or at least before washing to keep the build-up under control. Of course, ALWAYS wash in hot water with detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1.