Sweat, fabric dye, oh my!

Originally Published: May 6, 2011 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 4, 2015
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Dear Alice,

I got a new sweatshirt and either my deodorant or my sweat radically changes the color in the armpit area. This is a beige sweatshirt, and the color it changed to is almost as if it were bleached and turned an odd shade or bright-orangeish. Is there anything I can do? Or is it simply a bad dye...?

Dear Reader,

There's no need to let your underarms get you under the weather! Even though that pesky discoloration is often blamed on sweat, the antiperspirants we use that are chockfull of aluminum chloride are to blame for this color conundrum on your sweatshirt.

An additive used in many antiperspirants to keep sweat from coming through the skin, aluminum chloride, can wreak havoc on fabrics. Because sweating is our body's natural cooling mechanism, it is impossible (and unhealthy) to prevent it entirely. Therefore, even though antiperspirants block sweat from coming out, when the glands reach equilibrium (there is as much fluid outside of the gland as inside), sweat and antiperspirant escape and end up on our clothes. This causes the same ingredients that were keeping us dry to get absorbed by our shirts. Even with consistent laundering, aluminum from antiperspirants can build up on fabrics, causing the stains so many of us loathe.

To reduce and/or prevent stains, try switching to a simple deodorant (non-antiperspirant) that does not contain aluminum chloride. Another option is to dust your underarms with baking powder instead of using a traditional antiperspirant.

To remove antiperspirant stains from your clothes, start by soaking the garment in cold water. Rub the clothing with your fingers. If the stain starts to disappear, wash normally. If cold water doesn't do the trick, you may also want to try the following tips:

  • Mix four cups of water with half a cup of ammonia and dab the mixture on sweat stains before laundering your clothes as usual.
  • Dissolve two aspirin tablets in a half cup of hot water and pour mixture on the sweat stain, letting the fabric soak for an hour before washing as uaual.
  • Try fresh lemon juice! Squeeze the juice directly on the stain and then add a spoonful of salt. Rub the stain until it starts to disappear. Wash as usual.

            List adapted from Mrs. Clean.

This is just a sampling of remedies to try, but there are many others out there that you can find by doing a simple internet search. Unfortunately, once the stains have set in, they are pretty difficult to get rid of so your best bet may be to experiment with different deodorants to see which ones work the best without leaving you feeling off-color.