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Sweating the Small Stuff: The Causes of and Fixes for Sweat Stains

by Style Team
31 Jul 2017 | 2:10 PM

It's not the most pressing of issues, but many of us have had to cover our underarms because our clothes have been dirtied by white and/or yellow stains.

And if you've paid a little attention to your laundry, it's the type of stain that becomes harder to remove the longer you leave it uncleaned. More often than not, simply throwing a heavily sweat-stained shirt in the washing machine just doesn't cut it.

Here are some of the things you need to know about those unsightly sweat stains on your favorite shirt:

White and Yellow Stains: It's Not Your Sweat

Most of us believe the yellow stains are a result of sweat-after all, these often show up in the armpit area and on our workout clothes. But perspiration isn't the culprit.

As we recently discussed in a post about sweat and body odor, sweat is just sweat. It's mostly water and has little effect on body odor or shirt stains. The discoloration is actually caused by a chemical reaction between urea (a component of sweat) and the wrong kind of deodorant.

Many of us confuse the two, but antiperspirants and deodorants are two different things.

Deodorants mask or counteract the smell of sweat, while antiperspirants control sweating often by blocking the sweat pores. It does not stop the production of sweat, it just keeps it from coming out as it normally would.

As many of us experience, however, our deo sticks only last for a certain period, and when we use it, it never really sticks to just our armpits-it also gets on our clothes. Many antiperspirant-deodorants are also generally acidic and have high aluminum content. If sweat and the antiperspirant substance mixes, it results in the yellow discoloration in light clothes, and white stains in dark-colored shirts.

However, this isn't a reason to give up deodorants. You still need to control underarm sweat and odor. You should, however, be pickier with your stick, roll-on, or spray. Choose antiperspirant-deodorants that dry quicker and apply only the right amount, as suggested on the product packaging.

Getting Rid of the Color

The longer the discoloration sticks on your clothes, the harder it is to clean. This is why it's best for us to throw our just-used sweat-soaked clothes into the washing machine as soon as we can. Moreover, you need to wash, not dry-clean it. The stains are water-based, so we need water to clean them out.

To keep the stain from sticking, run the stained area under water-preferably right after using the shirt. Also, do not use a stain remover as pre-treatment as this could ironically make the stain permanent. This is because sweat stains are acidic and might not react well with a chemical-laden stain remover and bind the discoloration to the clothing.

Freshly sweat-stained delicate fabrics, such as our work clothes, will benefit from a pre-soak in a solution of ammonia and water. The alkalinity of the ammonia is a great neutralizer for the acidic antiperspirant.

For the stains that have set in, a pre-soaking in water, baking soda, and white vinegar solution should soften it up. If the stain is barely there but you're still bothered it might show up when you least expect it, follow the washing instructions on the tag. Soak and wash it in warm water with an oxidizing detergent. If the stains persist, soak in a warm-water and salt solution, or use an enzyme cleaner. Only use bleach on whites as a last-ditch solution.

You can also change deodorant-antiperspirants, choosing a clearer one or one that dries quicker. This switch won't prevent stains (as the active ingredients in your stick or roll-on are still a concern), but it will minimize the staining. Depending on the formulation, some products might not leave any stain at all.

You'll also want to check out our previous guide on the different types of fabric that hide or show sweat stains.

Sweat stains are not unusual, especially since we live in a tropical country. It is, however, a cause of concern, especially for us guys trying our hardest to look and feel good. Be more particular with the products you're using and how you store the just-used, sweaty clothes to keep sweat stains from ruining your look and confidence.