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Removing Underarm Deodorant Stains from Cotton Clothing


How do you remove underarm deodorant from cotton clothing?


I get lots of different questions about deodorant and underarm stains, which I realize mean different things to different people. These stains are hugely problematic because they are highly variable from person to person and garment to garment. I don’t always get a lot of detail (how old the stains are is just one important consideration) with the question that is asked, so I like to provide a lot of different information in the hope of fully addressing the issue.

A light smear of antiperspirant or deodorant that transfers to a shirt while it is being put on will usually come off with regular washing. This assumes good wash habits: a properly loaded washer, a good detergent and the right laundry additive, and the hottest water appropriate for the load.

Removing Deodorant Stains from White Shirts
Crusty build-up on underwear style t-shirts, on the other hand, is very difficult to remove, and it’s better not to let it happen in the first place. If this is the problem you are dealing with, and your shirts are in pretty bad shape, I would start fresh with new undershirts, and keep the stains from building up by doing the following:

  1. Pre-treat the armpits of each white t-shirt each time you wash the 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 ½ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach₂ with CLOROMAX®.
  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.

Since these stains are very individualized, what works for one person doesn’t work for another, you may also want to try pretreating the stains with a little liquid laundry detergent before washing. Body chemistry, antiperspirant choice and activity level all contribute, so it’s good to experiment to see what works for you. Changing deodorants may even be necessary to help get the stains under control.

Removing Deodorant Stains from Color Shirts
There’s also the issue of what to do for colored shirts — you can try pretreating the armpit area with Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster as follows:

  1. Apply liquid Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster directly to the armpit area and rub in; wait 3–5 minutes (don’t let it dry on the fabric). Doing this each time you wash a shirt will help prevent build up.
  2. Wash immediately in the hottest water recommended on the care label with detergent and additional Clorox 2® 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.

Removing Crusty Deodorant Build-Up from Shirts
Just in case you have some crusty stained t-shirts that you do want to try restoring, here’s a recommendation often provided in clothes washer user’s guides that you can try:

  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 ½ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach₂ with CLOROMAX®!)

I hope this information is useful. Please let me know if you have any other questions, and thanks for writing!

—Dr. Laundry