There is a whole boatload of weird and wonderful ways to treat sweat stains that employ everything from baking soda to crushed-up aspirin.
There’s also a host of sweat stain removal products with absurd names like PitStop.
They are all great options, and we’ll talk through them and then finish up with some suggestions as to how you can prevent or at least reduce these sorts of stains from happening in the first place.
But first let’s talk a little bit about the science part of why these kinds of stains happen: even though we usually refer to them as “sweat stains,” more often than not they’re actually being caused by the deodorant/antiperspirant most of us use.
The primary active ingredient in most deodorants is alcohol; in antiperspirant the active ingredient is aluminium.
However, if you’ve switched away from antiperspirants, you should be aware that some straight-up deodorants also contain aluminium.
The aluminium reacts to sweat, which is a protein, and causes yellowing just in the same way that bleach will cause sweat and other protein stains to appear more yellow.
The last science-y thing I want to tell you — and then I promise I’ll stop and get back to soap and such — is that cotton, which is obviously a common material on which one might find a sweat stain, is also a protein.
So the aluminium in deodorant is reacting not only with your sweat (protein) but also with your shirt itself. Thank you for bearing with me through that excruciating science lesson; as a reward, here are a whole bunch of things you can try to get those stains out.
The Vinegar Approach
Mix one tablespoon of white vinegar into a half cup of water and soak the soiled shirt in that solution for thirty minutes before laundering as usual.
If the stains are really bad, you’ll want to agitate the shirt while it’s in the cleaning solution by rubbing the stained area against itself. That latter bit of advice applies across the board, actually.
The Oxi Technique
By now you know that I love OxiClean in a deeply unnatural way. If you promise not to slap a scarlet A on me for being some sort of sexual deviant, I’ll admit that sometimes I whisper sweet nothings to my bucket of Oxi. So it will surprise you not to learn that I consider Oxi to be one of the best products out there when it comes to getting ugly yellow pit stains out from shirts.
But a curious thing happened when I started recommending it to people for this purpose: some would come back to let me know that the Oxi didn’t do a thing to help cure their pit stains, while others were practically rapturous describing the miracle visited unto their white T-shirts.
Because I heard both of these refrains often enough, I put no small amount of thought into this bizarre disparity, and I’m pretty sure I know wherein lies the problem.
My theory is this: the people for whom Oxi didn’t work were just adding a scoop of the stuff to the wash, expecting that everything would come out looking brand-new. That’s just not the way that stain treatment works, so we have to be a bit more aggressive and strategic in our applications of Oxi.
To really get the most out of your Oxi, it’s best to use it as a paste or soaking agent.
The powder form of Oxi dissolves best in warm or hot water and won’t really make a thick, fully dissolved paste but it will make something that works well enough that you shouldn’t worry too much about the sort of weird consistency.
If you can, though, throw the Oxi in some water, let it dissolve, and put the stained garment in for a swim. You’ll also want to get in there and agitate things a bit; I find that with heavily soiled items, spending some time rubbing the fabric against itself to really work the cleaning solution in and the gunky substances out is the way to go.
The Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda Method
This is one that comes from a reader of mine, which are always my favourite kind of tips. I love old folk remedies and such. We should all look into being a little bit more oldfashioned!
The recipe she gave me goes like this:
1. Take one part water, one part hydrogen peroxide, and one part baking soda.
2. Mix into a paste and spoon out onto sweat stains.
3. Use your fingers to work the paste into the shirts.
4. Wash on cold, then tumble dry.
She swears (and I believe her!) that this method will take out the oldest and yellowest of stains.
From My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag by Jolie Kerr. Copyright © 2014 by Jolie Kerr. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
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