Perspiration polka dots: Sweat stain sources and solutions?

Originally Published: March 7, 2003
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Why do deodorants stain my t-shirts with a yellowish color? Is there a brand that doesn't do this?

Dear Reader,

No offense, but those yellow stains aren't from your deodorants or antiperspirants... they're from you. Unfortunately, these sweat stains can be incredibly difficult, and even impossible, to remove from clothing. However, there are some things you can do to reduce or remove these yellow accents from your garments.

As with any stain, the newer it is, the easier it can be to remove. For non-washable fabrics, your dry cleaners can work on the stain as soon as possible. For washable fabrics, the following suggestions may help:

  • Apply cool water to the stain, by soaking or using a sponge.
  • Pre-treat the area with an enzyme presoak product, such as Biz, in warm water. Leave the treatment in for about a half-hour.
  • If perspiration has caused the fabric to discolor, depending on how old the stain is, the following options may help restore color to the area. Remember to test either solution on an inconspicuous area of the fabric first to check for colorfastness.
    • For fresher stains, soak the area in or spray with an ammonia solution (1 quart of warm water, 1 tablespoon of ammonia, ½ teaspoon of hand liquid soap) for about 15 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
    • For older stains, soak the area in or spray with a warm vinegar solution (1 quart of warm water and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar) for about 15 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Apply laundry detergent and/or bar soap directly to the stain and massage in. Depending on the fabric color and/or type, adding a color-safe or chlorine bleach to the wash may offer some benefit. Wash the item in the hottest water the fabric care label will allow.
  • Air dry, preferably in the sunlight. The heat from machine drying or using an iron causes stains to set.

If the stain is still present to some degree, you can repeat this process. However, you may not be able to remove it completely.

For more information and tips about stain removal, you can check out the book, Field Guide to Stains: How to Identify and Remove Virtually Every Stain Known to Man, by Virginia M. Friedman, Melissa Wagner, and Nancy Armstrong.