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There is nothing quite as classic as a white shirt. It can be the perfect t-shirt, effortless button-down, or a flowy summer blouse. As chic and easy to wear as a white shirt can be, they often come with the hazard of sweat stains when the weather gets warm. Don’t fret! There is no reason to throw your favorite white shirt in the trash and buy a replacement. 

Below we will talk about some tried and true methods for getting sweat stains out of white shirts. No matter the material, we have a solution that is easy, doesn’t require a lot of products, and will be kind to your cleaning budget. 

Let’s get started!

Why does sweat stain white shirts?

The answer isn’t glamorous or pretty. Sweat stains in the armpit area of white shirts are common due to the makeup of sweat itself and the chemicals found in most antiperspirants and deodorants. Our sweat has oily proteins in it. Sounds gross, huh? But a fun fact is that sweat on its own is odorless.

Underarm sweat is known as apocrine sweat because of the glands it comes from, and it is full of fats and proteins. When those oils interact with the aluminum and other chemicals in most antiperspirants, you guessed it, you get sweat stains. 

When not treated correctly and promptly, these yellow and worsen over time. 

How do I get sweat stains out?

Luckily, most stains can be removed using a combination of household cleaners and ingredients you find in your kitchen and popular laundry products. We will go through several methods below.

Method 1: Vinegar

Vinegar is a magical cleaning solution. It can do just about anything, including getting sweat stains out of white shirts. The key to using vinegar is to dilute it correctly. For this method, you only need one item: white vinegar. If you do a lot of natural or green cleaning, you can purchase larger quantities of 30% vinegar online or from your local home improvement store. 

To treat sweat stains, follow the below steps:

  1. Dilute two tablespoons of vinegar to one cup of water.
  2. Fully saturated stains with diluted vinegar
  3. Allow it to sit for 30 minutes to an hour
  4. Wash shirt in cold water
  5. Check to make sure the stain is gone before drying. If not, repeat steps 1-4 before drying.

This is an affordable and easy way to treat stains. Now, on to the following method.

Method 2: Baking soda & peroxide

Like many households, you probably have a box of baking soda in the back of your fridge and maybe one in your cupboard. Many of us have (or should) have a bottle of hydrogen peroxide in our medicine cabinet or under our bathroom sink as it is a go-to antiseptic for cleaning out minor cuts or scrapes. Combined, they make a fantastic spot treatment for sweat stains on white clothes. You will need just those two products for this DIY stain remover.

These are the steps to follow:

  1. Combine one part of baking soda, water, and peroxide in a bowl to form a paste. Think toothpaste consistency. 
  2. Apply to stain and work into the fabric, applying a top layer of paste on top.
  3. Let the mixture sit for an hour.
  4. Wash shirt in cold water, checking after that stain is gone. If not, repeat steps 2-4.
  5. Dry as normal.

Method 3: Bleach

This method will be different depending on whether your shirt is bleach safe or not. Many people will tell you that bleach only worsens the stains, but not if you use it correctly and on suitable fabrics. Avoid this method for spandex, wool, silk, or leather.

Regular bleach can be used if your shirt is bleach safe (most are not). If it is not, you will want to make sure you use color-safe bleach. A quality color-safe bleach is non-chlorine and uses oxygen and peroxide to break apart stains. Both are easy to find, and it is worthwhile to have a container of both in your laundry room. 

An important note here is NOT to pretreat a stain with bleach because it can worsen the stain. It may sound strange, but it’s true. Follow these steps below:

  1. Wet the stained area.
  2. Rub in some liquid laundry detergent.
  3. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Add either ½ cup of regular bleach or color-safe bleach and the hottest water recommended on the manufacturer’s tag of your shirt.
  5. Check to ensure the stain is gone or repeat steps 2-4.
  6. Let air dry, but not in the sun. This prevents any remaining stain from changing color with the dryer’s heat.

Always check the label on your white shirt to ensure it is safe to be washed and safe for use with bleach.

Method 4: Oxygen cleaner

Oxygenated cleaners have been around since 1997, and there are now different formulas, brands, and application methods for all sorts of cleaning. The original and most popular is OxiClean. For this method, you will use their MaxForce Laundry Stain Remover Spray and their Odor Blasters powder because it will help remove the stain and the sweat odor. 

You can find these products online or in stores like Walmart, Target, or, many times, your local grocery store.

You can use a laundry whitener designed explicitly for white clothing, linen, or towels if you want to brighten your white shirts. Once you have your products on hand, you can follow the below steps to get sweat stains out of white shirts and keep them looking their best.

To treat stains and whiten your shirt:

  1. Spray stains immediately after removing with stain remover spray. It can be left on for 5 minutes or even up to a week if not doing laundry soon.
  2. Add powder to the washer in the appropriate amount for load size. 
  3. Pour in laundry detergent and brightener if desired. Use the hottest water per clothing tags.
  4. Let soak for 15-30 minutes.
  5. Run cycle as usual.
  6. Check to make sure stains are removed.
  7. Dry. 

The great thing about the spray and powder combination is that you can use them for a variety of clothing. The Odor Blaster powder is excellent for towels that smell musty or even blankets that have been in storage and have a smell to them. We all know the smell of a blanket or sheets that have been in storage for too long and need laundering.

Method 5: Dry cleaning

If your white shirt with sweat stains is dry clean only, it is best not to try to tackle these stains on your own, even spot cleaning. Take your shirt to a local dry cleaner and tell them about the stains when you drop off your items. They have an arsenal of tools they can use to try to remove the stain. Your dry cleaner will also be honest with you if they think the stain is too set in or too bad to be able to be removed.

Never lose your white shirts to stains again

Whether it’s a t-shirt, dress shirt, or even your favorite gym shirt, wash them promptly and treat stains right away to increase the likelihood they don’t set in. White shirts and warm weather or physical activity are bound to end in sweat stains. It is almost inevitable. Using some of the methods above, you can keep your white shirts bright and stain-free, so they stay in constant rotation in your wardrobe! 

Don’t throw your favorites away now that you know how to get sweat stains out of white shirts.