Don’t Sweat It: The Ultimate Guide to Sweat Stain Removal

updated May 3, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Susana Ramírez/Stocksy)

Summer is upon us, and that means that—now more than ever—you’re likely finding the underarms of your favorite white shirts are turning dull and yellow. Seriously, it’s the pits (sorry, I had to). As if dripping with sweat the second you step out of an air conditioned room all summer isn’t bad enough, it has to ruin your clothes, too?

The good news is, you can probably salvage them with a little elbow grease (or lemon juice, whatever you prefer) so they can live to see—and hopefully not sweat—another day. Here’s everything you need to know about sweat stains and how to deal with them.

What Causes Those Pesky Yellow Stains?

Did you know that sweat stains, well…they’re not really caused by sweat? It’s part of the issue, but it actually has a lot to do with your deodorant, too. According to The Spruce, those annoying yellow “sweat” stains are actually caused by the minerals (mainly salt) in your sweat mixing with the ingredients (mainly aluminum) in the deodorant or antiperspirant you use. So, you know, feel free to blame your deodorant from now on—your sweat isn’t actually that gross, it’s just that salt and aluminum don’t get along.

So, How Do You Remove Them?

Persil breaks it down into 3 categories of what to use: natural bleaching agents, neutralizing acids, and abrasive and absorbent powders. These methods work because acids and bleaching agents help tackle the discoloration, while abrasives and absorbent powders scrub or draw out the bacteria. And depending on how bad the stain is, you may need to use multiple solutions to get a good result.

As far as natural bleaching agents go, try using lemon juice—or hydrogen peroxide for particularly stubborn stains. Persil suggests letting a detergent sit on the stain overnight, then rinsing and applying lemon juice before washing as usual.

For acids, you can use vinegar by pouring a little directly onto the stain or you can crush some aspirin—it contains salicylic acid—and make a paste with cold water and apply that to the stain. Then, wash with a biological laundry detergent.

For abrasives and absorbent powders, Persil suggests wetting the stain, gently massaging salt into the fabric, rinsing, and then sprinkling with baking soda and leaving it to sit overnight. Before washing as usual, scrape off any baking soda residue and rinse well.

Another process to try? POPSUGAR suggests soaking your clothing in a bowl of vinegar with 2 cups of warm water for at least 20 minutes, then coating the stains with a paste of baking soda, salt and hydrogen peroxide and letting it sit for another 20 minutes. Afterwards, just wash it as usual.

And last but not least, One Good Thing by Jillee also shared a seemingly miracle-working, sweat stain-erasing cleaning recipe—it involves Dawn dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and a little help from a scrub brush (an old—clean!—toothbrush will do, too). Simply mix the dish soap and hydrogen peroxide, pour it over the stain, sprinkle on some baking soda, and scrub away. Then, let it sit for about an hour and then throw it in the wash.

Tips & Tricks

  • Skip the bleach—it could react with the bacteria in the stain and ruin your clothes.
  • The sun can have a natural bleaching effect, so if you can, hang your white clothes outside to dry after you get the stains out.
  • One way to prevent sweat stains? Use dress shields or sweat guards—like these—to protect your clothes.
  • Wash sweaty clothes that are susceptible to staining quickly—try not to let them sit or the stains will be harder to get out.