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How to Remove Armpit Stains

Sweat is a fact of life. It's also a pain in the wash.

Stubborn perspiration stains are a pox on white T-shirts, and armpits seem to bear the brunt of sweat’s attack. Worse, some brands of deodorant seem to amplify the problem, leaving gnarly, yellowed signposts that are just plain embarrassing.

And yet, perspiration is good. While sweat can be triggered by stress, spicy foods, anxiety, or fluctuating hormones, most importantly, perspiring is the body’s natural method of cooling down, relieving heat from overworked muscles during exertion. Personal trainers even look to sweat production as an indicator of a healthy, well-conditioned body.

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Why Do Sweat Stains Happen?

As Business Insider explains, the active ingredient in antiperspirants and some deodorants is aluminum:

Everybody sweats, even angels.

“The aluminum 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. Cotton, which is obviously a common material on which one might find a sweat stain, is also a protein. So the aluminum in deodorant is reacting not only with your sweat (protein) but also with your shirt itself.”

So, you have three ingredients—sweat, aluminum, and cotton—conspiring to make your armpits as ugly as possible. While there are deodorants on the market that don’t use aluminum, many find them less effective at fighting the pools of sweat that inevitably well up.

How to Get Rid of Them

We’ve looked at a variety of solutions for eliminating the worst sweat stains, ranging from natural home remedies to industrial strength panaceas. Here’s what we found:

To remove yellowed armpit stains from white shirts:

PopSugar suggests soaking shirts in a bowl filled with vinegar and two cups of warm water, and then applying a paste of baking soda, salt and hydrogen peroxide.

Lifehacker adjusts this recipe by using one part dishwashing liquid with two parts hydrogen peroxide, adding baking soda and scrubbing for the worst stains.

For tougher deposits:

Reader’s Digest suggests we try a little tenderness—meat tenderizer, that is.

Before washing, dampen the stain and then sprinkle some meat tenderizer on it. Reader’s Digest also notes that you can crush two aspirins and mix the powder in 1/2 cup of warm water, soaking the stain for two to three hours before washing.

For armpit stains on dark shirts:

About.com recommends filling a large bucket with cool water and one cup of white distilled vinegar, and allowing shirts to soak for at least 30 minutes before washing. Vinegar is also a solution for eliminating sweat odor—just use a spray bottle to apply it to soiled areas 15 minutes before washing.

For delicates like acetate, rayon, silk, or wool:

HowStuffWorks says you should sponge the stain with water and follow with an application of wet spotter (a DIY mix of glycerine, dishwashing detergent and water) and a few drops of ammonia. Use caution when applying ammonia to silk or wool.

If you must have an over-the-counter solution:

Jolie Kerr stands by OxiClean as the solution to ridding shirts of yellow pit stains. Kerr suggests using Oxi as a paste or soaking agent by dissolving it in warm or hot water prior to washing. If soaking the shirt in a bucket, agitate it or use a laundry brush to remove the worst stains.

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