Wash-off: Fighting Sweat Stains with Baking Soda

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March Mending Month


Fellow online editor Rachel Hobson and I are both sweaty ladies in hot climates. It wreaks havoc on our shirts, and we’ve been trying to find a solution. For March Mending Month, we’re bringing you a short “wash-off” to see which of us can fix our yellowed armpits. I’m up first, and here’s a spoiler alert: it’s not working out for me yet. I tried the baking soda paste method described on HowStuffWorks, with hardly noticeable results.


I added four tablespoons of baking soda to one quarter cup water, and scrubbed into the armpits of my long lost favorite t-shirts with an old toothbrush. Not only were some of them yellow, but most of them had that strange hardened feeling of coming into contact with deodorant too many times. It’s been impossible to get out. When I lived in New York, I got around this problem by wearing mostly black and dark-colored tops, but in central Arizona that’s just not an option.

I let the laundry sit for an hour, then splashed the dried baking soda areas with vinegar (neutralizes the alkaline baking soda, fizzes), then threw them in the washer. The verdict? Hardly any change. The crusty ones are still crusty, and the yellow ones are still (just ever so slightly less) yellow. I might try this a few more times to see if the lather, rinse, repeat methodology would help in this situation. Later on in the week Rachel’s going to take a stab at the same problem, so stay tuned! If you have any recommendations, drop them in the comments below.

60 thoughts on “Wash-off: Fighting Sweat Stains with Baking Soda

  1. R.M. Koske says:

    When I tackled this problem, I didn’t have any shirts with yellowed pits. My problem was funk – they smelled an hour after I put them on. The worst ones would even smell bad when I pulled them out of the washer to put into the dryer.
    I noticed a few of them had a small bit of greasy stain from my antiperspirant, and since grease holds stink, I started using a Shout stain stick on the pits of them to get the grease out. After about three washes with stain stick, the grease was gone and so was the funk.
    I’m cheap, so I’ve started using a dampened bar of soap on the pits of my tees. Every time I take off a close-fitting tee, I use soap on it. (I’ve also switched to a non-greasy deodorant instead of an underarm stick so that may be helping too.)
    So for the crusty ones, try a stain stick or rubbed-on bar soap. You want to leave a fairly thick schmear of cleaner behind. The advantage to these products is that they won’t damage the fabric, so you can do it when you take the shirt off instead of trying to sift through the laundry on wash day.
    I’m looking forward to your tests!

  2. anne says:

    I know it’s not as environmentally friendly, but I’ve been plagued by similar problems since birth (or at least, since as long as I can remember). I started using oxyclean powder, made into a paste w/ water on the stains and it works great! I also have soaked items in a bucket with a few scoops of the powder and a bunch of warm/hot water for several hours (4-6hrs) and that seems to do the trick as well! It’s salvaged many a white T for me!

  3. Anonymous says:

    HOT water helps.
    Try boiling a tiny bit of hot water in a pot, adding enough baking soda to make a thick paste, then soaking the armpit section of your shirt in the paste for an hour or so.
    It’ll be smelly, but for me it took yellow stains out of my white cotton sun dress.

  4. Anonymous says:

    i read once that the reason the stains turn yellow is the mix of deodorant/perspiration and whatever happens to that from the heat in the dryer. i stopped drying my white shirts (hang them up instead) and i don’t have the yellowing staining problem anymore.

  5. Trudes says:

    I’ve started using vinegar a cup or two in the wash and in the rinse cycle seems to help a lot. I just bought some new white shirts and so far so good. The others had stains previously they didn’t get worse and a little better. I also make my own detergent with environmentally friendly ingrediants.

  6. McG says:

    I had the same problem. I tried various combinations of baking soda, vinegar, oxyclean, and washing soda, but none worked for me. I decided to try ammonia which is a caustic that is good at dissolving animals fats/oils. It works great. I keep a small spray bottle with a splash of ammonia diluted with water by my washer and saturate the underarms of my t-shirts with it while I sort laundry, then I leave the load with the t-shirts until last, so it has time to work. Some of the shirts in the worst shape needed a second treatment.

  7. elane says:

    i have heard that anti-perspirant ingrediants cause the staining and i believe it because i have not had a single problem since i switched to the liquid crystal stuff from kiss my face. i’m sure other brands of crystal work too, but i used to go through 1-2 white shirts every year and now there is NO staining at all. my underam self-esteem has improved so much!

  8. Lauren says:

    I soaked my stained white shirts in a mixture of Oxyclean & boiling water for about 1 days, then put it in the washing machine with detergent & bleach, and they came out as good as new. I haven’t tried it on any colored fabric, though, so I’m not sure if it’ll work on them.

  9. Sister Mary Katherine says:

    A soap called Zote that I find a Fiesta grocery store gets every stain I’ve ever had out. I lived in Mexico and discovered it there. It works miracles. It got stains out of clothes that had been stained for years. If you don’t have a Fiesta, go to an international type store? I am not sure if regular grocery stores carry it or not. It comes in a big pink or white bar.

  10. Lori says:

    I Stumbled on a remedy that recommends using peroxide! I haven’t tried it yet.

  11. Joyful Abode: Domesticity by Trial and Error says:

    I can’t wait to see your other tests for this problem. I also have the “crusty” problem. No yellow though… it’s kind of greyish, definitely from deodorant residue.
    And I’ve lived in SC, FL, and now MS, so dark shirts all the time is soooo not an option. The baking soda/vinegar didn’t work for me either. :(
    Please do follow up with future posts on this!

  12. noah says:

    in chuck palahnuik’s novel survivor, the main character says that dissolving a few tablets of aspirin in about a gallon of hot water and then soaking the shirt will help get out protein based stains such as sweat. i’ve done this before washing my undershirts and had some success.

  13. Anonymous says:

    BIZ!!! You can find it at Target and probably other grocery stores. My husband blows glass and is around 2300 degree heat all the time. This causes lots of yucky spots on his clothes. So far BIZ has been a godsend for us. You can either spot clean by adding water and creating a paste or use it as your laundry detergent.
    It’s fantastic!

  14. Lolly says:

    Just wanted to remind everyone to never, ever mix chlorine bleach and ammonia. The combination results in chlorine gas, which is deadly.

  15. giddy girlie says:

    the reason that a lot of these things don’t work is the root cause: anti-perspirant. Deodorants don’t cause as many problems (which is probably why some people have success and others don’t) because they are chemically different. Deodorants do exactly that – remove odor, mainly by covering it up. Anti-perspirants on the other hand actually STOP you from sweating. It does this by using a thicker material to essentially clog pores and has major hydrophobic ingredients, to wick moisture away. So when it gets on your clothes, moisture won’t remove it, especially if it gets worked into the knit of the fabric.
    If you live in a ‘sweaty climate’ then you might not be able to get away from anti-perspirants to get you through the summer without stinking, but another option is to make ‘deodorant guards’ which I have never personally done, but I have heard of people doing this. They basically take a round piece of fabric (approximately sized to their armpit) and attach it to the armpits of the shirt that they’re wearing. This is the first-line defense against sweat soaking through and it will also keep your antiperspirant from getting all over your shirt. These can be attached permanently or temporarily to the shirt itself. It sounds like a lot of extra work, but if it’s worth it to save, say, your best white work blouse, then maybe it’s worth the extra effort?

  16. Ruth says:

    You could try adding Borax to your solution. Old fashioned laundry additive before all the new stuff. If you try peroxide, be sure to rinse it out after a little while as it will eat your fabric if you leave it on until doing the laundry. I have used it to get out bloodstains quite well. Just put it on, let it bubble for awhile and rub the fabric together. Rinse and repeat if necessary.

  17. Anonymous says:

    i stoped using anti-perspirant- I use toms of maine deodorant and I haven’t had any problems since, sometimes have to reapply mid day but its worth it , I bought dress shields for nice occasions or nice clothing
    we all sweat, no reason in trying to hide it!

  18. Jenn says:

    You can slow down the yellowing process by applying a stain-fighter like Zout on the inside of the shirt’s armpits or collar before you drop it in the wash. It’s not a perfect solution, but it keeps the shirts whiter for longer.

  19. Joyce says:

    Oxyclean, Oxyclean, Oxyclean!! Just like Anne I scrub in a paste and then let it soak for ….. oh, as long as I like and it takes away crusties, yellow and anything else. I’ve used it on white shirts and light tan. I haven’t yet tried other colors.
    I love the stuff and I’m not sure why it’s not environmentally, I have to check that out.

  20. Kelly says:

    I used to have this problem, and although I never really found a good laundry solution, I did find a way to get around the stains (sorta). I’ve lived in warm weather climates all my life, so not wearing antiperspirant was never really an option. What I’ve started to do is put my antiperspirant on before I put my shirt on and give it time to dry. When I put my shirt on I usually fold the bottom of it up so if I get anything on the shirt, its on the inside.
    I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and only my oldest and most worn tank tops and shirts show any wear in the armpit area. My fiance puts his undershirt on and puts his gel antiperspirant on afterwards and almost all of his undershirts have hard armpits.

  21. jiterbug says:

    I use salt. I make a paste of salt and water and put it on the stain. You can add some salt to your regular wash. I learned about this on about.com it works…try it.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the oxyclean solution, I couldn’t live without it. You might also try soaking them in hot water and dish washer detergent. I used it when I had to wear white nursing uniforms. Worked like a charm.

  23. LW says:

    I tried using the natural deodorants (Tom’s, Kiss My Face, Avalon, etc.), and they just don’t cut it for Tampa summers. So I now have a pile of my fav shirts that are stained or stinky (no amount of washing will banish the smell). I’m definitely going to try some of these suggestions though! BTW – I tried an enzyme remover (forget the brand) and it was a dismal failure

  24. Mary says:

    One thing I’ve used with (some) success is to first scrub the area with Shout gel. It comes in a small, handheld container with a plastic scrubber attached to the end. (The gel seems to work better than the spray).
    Let it sit for a couple minutes, then wash the garment with oxyclean powder added along with your detergent.
    Hope this helps.

  25. Jessica says:

    My suggestion is also more along the lines of preventative rather than a fix but I’ve switched anti-perspirants. I now use Certin-Dry and I love it. Since it is applied before bed, it will be completely dry before you put on your nice clothes in the morning. It also works much better at preventing sweating than any other brand (including “prescription strength” products) that I’ve tried since it has a different active ingredient. I haven’t been using it long enough (or bought any new clothes recently enough) to see if it prevents stains but I assume that the greatly reduced amount of sweating will reduce the amount of moisture/product that could possibly be transferred to the fabric.

  26. Wash-off: Fighting Sweat Stains with Baking Soda Becky Stern says:

    Wow, guys, I’m totally impressed with all your suggestions! We’ll be trying out some of these and getting back to you. Yay, clean armpits for everyone!

  27. answerme2000 says:

    After years of research, blood, sweat and tears we have launched a product that effectively removes all types of underarm stains. The product is called PitStop and it is the missing piece in the stain removal world as this stain does not come out with regular detergent or household mixtures. I know I’ve tried them all. To find out more or request a sample go to http://www.armpitstainremover.com
    ps never use bleach it will react with the proteins in the stain and make them darker as well as permanent

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  30. jeerkpsx says:

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    “The point that I finally told my daughter, which dawned on me at one point, was that you have to really like your imperfections, since that’s what makes you you,” Sarandon says. “Not that I’d be so eager to jump around with my clothes off at this point in my life, but understanding that your face is you, and whatever your anxieties are, don’t take it out on your body.” This is not to say that she’s opposed to cosmetic enhancements – inside reason.
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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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