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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Perspiration Stains

By Dr. Laundry August 26, 2011

Q:  How do I get rid of perspiration stains?

A:  These stains are hugely problematic, partly because they are highly variable.  On underwear style t-shirts, it might be a crusty buildup of deodorant/antiperspirant.  Or it can just be a light smear of antiperspirant/deodorant that transferred to a shirt while it was being put on.  On others, like silk tops, it’s discoloration that is impossible to restore.  Light smears usually come off with regular washing.  For the crusty build up, it’s better to not let it happen in the first place, so if you have white t-shirts are in really bad shape I would start fresh by stocking up on new ones.  Then to prevent build-up on an on-going basis, try the following:


  1. Pre-treat the armpits of each white t-shirt with Clorox® Bleach Pen® Gel: use the broad scrubber tip to apply the gel and gently rub it into the stain.  Since you want to prevent build-up, do this whether or not you actually see any stain every time you wash a shirt.

  2. Wash immediately in hot water with detergent and ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach.

  3. Unless you have an obvious stain you were trying to remove, you can tumble dry the shirts with the rest of your white load.  Otherwise let them air dry.


Ideally, white undershirts will protect your other shirts from getting any underarm stains that can easily be bleached away.  But for a colored t-shirt that he wouldn’t wear an undershirt with, you can try pre-treating the armpits each time you wash the shirt (again, you want to prevent build up) as follows:

  1. Apply liquid Clorox2® Stain Fighter and Color Booster directly to the armpit area and rub it in; wait 3-5 minutes (don’t let it dry on the fabric).

  2. Wash immediately in the hottest water recommended on the care label with detergent and additional Clorox2® based on your load size.

  3. If there were obvious underarm stains that you pre-treated, then be sure to air dry the shirt and check for success; repeat if necessary.


For stained shirts that you have and you want to restore, you can try a recommendation often provided in clothes washer user’s guides.  Here’s a little more detail on how to do it:

1. Working into a dishpan, pour boiling water slowly through each armpit stain.  This is to “melt” any build-up, which is a combination of deodorant, sweat, body soil, bacteria, etc.  It will help if you position the shirt in the dishpan before you start so that you can get to each stain without touching the shirt since once you begin–it will be boiling hot!

2. Don’t rinse the shirt—just pour off as much of the hot water as you can.  This keeps the build-up in a more “melted” state.  And if you do need to handle the shirt either use kitchen tongs or wear gloves.

3. Apply a mixture of 1:1:1 parts baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and water directly to the stain.  Sometimes this is referred to as a paste, but it is actually quite watery, so be sure to mix up enough so you can saturate the stains.

4. Rinse the shirt, and then follow up with a hot water wash with a good enzyme-containing detergent.  (For white t-shirts, be sure to add ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach!)

For ongoing prevention of underarm stains, personally I think this last method is way too much work, and I would start fresh with new t-shirts and stick with the other methods.  If you do try to restore your shirts, please let me know how it goes!

Readers – have you had trouble with perspiration stains?  What is your solution to this problem?