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How to Remove Sweat Stains on Clothing

April 15, 2022

Have you ever dealt with sweat stains? Not only are they unsightly, but they’re often accompanied by an unpleasant odor. What’s worse, is that they can actually weaken the fabric over time. That’s why it’s so important to treat them as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder they will be to remove.

As far as appearance goes, they’re typically yellow in color, they may be more or less visible, depending on the color of your shirt. And they can develop anywhere. Having said that, they’re usually found in the armpit areas as that’s where your apocrine sweat glands are. How are they different from other sweat glands? The sweat that they produce contains more carbohydrates and protein and is usually thicker, which makes the stains that much more noticeable.

What’s the Science Behind Sweat Stains?

Believe it or not, sweat is actually clear. After all, it mainly consists of water, salts, and sugar. It only turns yellow if it’s combined with other compounds—aluminum, to be exact. And it just so happens to be the main ingredient in most over-the-counter antiperspirants.

yellow sweat stains

That’s right, deodorants are responsible for pit stains. Without them, there wouldn’t be any pesky yellow stains on your shirt.

Removing Sweat Stains From Your Workout Clothes

The good news is that there are several ways to remove sweat stains from your shirts. Keep reading to find out how!

Pre-treating Your Clothes With Active Detergent

One of the easiest ways to get rid of sweat stains is to pre-treat them with Active detergent. Fill a small bowl with lukewarm water and add a bit of detergent powder to create a sudsy solution. You may have to agitate the water with your hands a few times to help it dissolve.

Wet the stained area. You can do this with a sponge or you can hold the area directly under the tap. Once you’ve done that, place the shirt in the bowl so that the stained area is immersed in the detergent mixture. Make sure that that part of the fabric is completely saturated and let it sit for about 15-20 minutes. That’ll give the detergent time to break down the sweat particles.

active detergent for activewear 1

Rinse the area with water afterward. Repeat the above steps if the stain is still visible, otherwise, you can proceed to wash the item normally*.

*General Instructions On How to Wash Your Activewear – Using the Washing Machine

Turn the item inside-out. If there are pockets, make sure they’re empty. While you can put your tops/bottoms directly in the washing machine, we highly suggest using a laundry bag as it’ll keep your clothes looking new for longer.

As a general rule, you can wash activewear with other similar items as long as you’re not mixing darks with lights. For example, you can wash dark-colored bike shorts, yoga pants, and tank tops together.

Once you’ve put all the items in the washing machine, add one scoop of Active detergent. Consider adding a bit more (refer to the instructions on the packaging) if you’re washing a large or extra-large load. Skip the softener. White vinegar is a suitable alternative for those who want to soften their workout clothes.

Run a cold water cycle on a delicate/gentle setting (minimal spin is key). Do not run a cycle on a normal setting as that’ll be too harsh on your clothes. Allow the items to dry naturally after washing, ideally on a drying rack or clothesline. Avoid putting them in the dryer.

*General Instructions On How to Wash Your Activewear – Washing By Hand

Turn the item inside-out and set it aside. Fill a large container or sink with cool water and add half a scoop’s worth of Active detergent. Slosh the water back and forth with your hands to help the powder dissolve.

Place the item in the sink/container once the solution is sudsy. Ensure that it’s fully immersed; the fabric should be completely saturated with detergent. Wave the item through the mixture a few times, if necessary.

Soak the item for about 15-20 minutes before rinsing thoroughly with cold water. Continue to rinse until there’s no more detergent residue left on the fabric. Press the item gently against the sink/container afterward to get rid of the excess water and hang it up to dry. Avoid direct sunlight.

Removing Pesky Sweat Stains With Baking Soda

baking soda for tom shoes

Baking soda is also effective at removing pit stains. If anything, it’ll restore the fabric to its original color.

Start by mixing one part baking soda with one part water, and one part hydrogen peroxide (3% solution) in a large bowl. You should end up with a thick paste once it’s all combined. Using an old toothbrush, rub the mixture onto the stained area. If you want, you can also use a sponge or even your fingers. Gently rub it in in small, circular movements so that the fabric is saturated with the baking soda mixture.

Allow it to sit on the fabric for up to 30 minutes. Rinse with water afterward. If the stain is gone, you can wash the item as usual with laundry detergent.

Removing Pesky Sweat Stains With Oxygen Bleach and Ammonia

Mix one part household ammonia with one part oxygen-based bleach (e.g. OxiClean) in a large bowl (we highly recommend doing this in a well-ventilated room). Be sure to wear rubber gloves as the chemicals can damage your skin.

Warning: Never mix ammonia with chlorine bleach. It’ll produce a toxic vapor called chloramine, which is extremely dangerous and can damage your lungs. In high enough concentrations, it can even result in death.

Using an old toothbrush, rub the solution into the sweat stain. Continue for at least one minute. Let the mixture sit on the fabric for 10-15 minutes afterward before washing away.

Removing Pesky Sweat Stains With White Vinegar

remove mildew with white vinegar

White vinegar is great in that it’ll not only get rid of the stain, but it’ll remove the accompanying odors as well.

First things first, you want to mix it with water using a one-to-one ratio. Using an old toothbrush or another soft-bristled brush, apply the solution onto the armpit area. Make sure to completely saturate the fabric with the vinegar mixture.

Leave it on the shirt for at least 20 minutes. Wash the item normally afterward (assuming that the stain is gone).

Tip: If you’re machine washing, you can add another 1/2 – 1 cup of white vinegar during the final rinse cycle.

General Tips On How to Prevent Pit Stains

Wouldn’t it be great if you could prevent the stains from happening in the first place? Well, guess what? You can! Here are some tips on how to avoid them for good:

1. Change Your Antiperspirant/DeodorantRoutine

Consider switching from an antiperspirant to deodorant. The latter doesn’t usually contain aluminum. In other words, it won’t contribute to the unsightly stains. And remember, a few swipes of the product is all you need. You don’t want to over-apply as that can leave residue on your shirt, which can actually make the stains worse.

Also, consider the timing. For example, you may want to apply deodorant before bed as that’ll allow time for it to set in. That way, it’ll work more effectively; you’ll sweat less, which will help reduce pit stains.

2. Wear an Undershirt Beneath Your Clothes

Wear a sweat-proof undershirt beneath your workout clothes (most have a waterproof layer so you won’t have to worry about any leaking either). Not only will it protect against sweat stains, but most are also designed to keep you cool (ie. you’ll sweat less in the first place).

sweatproof undershirts

3. Wear Loose Fitting Shirts

If possible, wear loose-fitting shirts. For the best results, choose ones that are made from breathable fabrics (e.g. cotton). Avoid tight clothes as the fabric tends to sit right up against your skin and that can cause your deodorant to rub off on your shirt. If that happens and you sweat, a stain will form.

4. Take Proper Care of Your Activewear

You can reduce the occurrence of sweat stains by following proper laundry protocol. For one thing, you never want to procrastinate when it comes to washing sweaty shirts. You want to deal with them as soon as possible so that the stain won’t have time to set in.

And make sure to skip the bleach (unless you’re using oxygen bleach to spot-treat the area). It can actually worsen sweat stains on certain fabrics such as silk, wool, or spandex.

Last but not least, always wash your clothes with cold water. Don’t expose them to any heat; high temperatures can make the stains harder to remove, especially if they’ve already set in.

5. Consider Your Diet

Certain foods can alter your internal temperature and that can result in more perspiration. The opposite is also true; there are foods that can help reduce sweating. Some examples include almonds, bananas, olive oil, and vegetables with high water content (e.g. watermelon, cauliflower, cantaloupe, grapes)

Avoid foods such as liquor, beer, garlic, onions, and caffeine as they can increase sweat production, which can make the situation worse.

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