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Underarm Stains


Over time I get a hard buildup of something in the underarm regions of my white T-shirts.  Is there a reaction with gel type antiperspirants and bleach that could cause this?


This is a great question – underarm stains are a big problem to treat because they are highly variable.  Each person’s unique body chemistry combined with his/her choice of deodorant creates pretty individualized stains.  What works to remove one person’s stains doesn’t always work for another so hopefully this advice will be helpful to you. 

The crusty build up you describe is what happens when a person’s deodorant/antiperspirant mixes with body soil and sweat, and transfers onto the shirt.  That it doesn’t come off with a regular wash cycle is likely due to several factors, such as how much deodorant is applied, the brand of deodorant, the brand of detergent, and the wash temperature (hotter is better), to name a few.  In your case, pre-treating the armpits on the shirts each time they are washed should help you avoid the build-up from happening.  Two effective pre-treating methods to try are:

  1. Pre-treat with Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel: use the broad scrubber tip to apply the gel and gently rub it into the armpit area.  Wash immediately in hot water with a good detergent and ¾ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2.
  2. Pre-treat with a good liquid laundry detergent that contains an enzyme.  Wait 5-10 minutes, but don’t let it dry on the fabric.  Wash in hot water with detergent + ¾ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2.

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.

For the stained shirts that you already have, try restoring them using 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” the combination of deodorant, sweat, body soil, bacteria, etc. that has built up.  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.  If you need to handle the shirt, either use kitchen tongs or wear gloves.

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 it up enough so you can saturate the stains.

  1. Rinse the shirt, and then follow up with a hot water wash with a good enzyme-containing detergent + ¾ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2.

Also, you asked if the antiperspirant’s gel formulation is potentially a problem.  That depends – it may be that with a gel it’s easier to apply more, making it easier for any excess to transfer to clothes.  If you have yellowing in addition to the buildup, then check the ingredient list for an aluminum active (metals can interact with bleach and cause yellowing), and if necessary, consider switching deodorant brands. 

Advice From Our Experts