How to Remove Perspiration Stains

It doesn't take too many wears for sweat marks to become stiff, yellowish stains.
It doesn't take too many wears for sweat marks to become stiff, yellowish stains.

As far as stains go, perspiration is one of the more unsightly ones. You can't help but feel downright unhygienic, and your yellow-stained white shirt may end up in the trash after a few unsuccessful washes -- or at least consigned to the "only under a jacket" category.

Sweat stains are, as you may have noticed, especially difficult to remove. The color is caused by a reaction between urea, a broken-down protein (also present, in much higher concentrations, in urine) and salts, and often by their interaction with antiperspirant ingredients, as well. The combination can be such a formidable one that you may have given up on getting yellow stains out of your clothing. But if all you've done is wash that shirt with the rest of your laundry, you're giving up too soon.

And if you've been washing it in chlorine bleach, you're only making matters worse.

So, what to do when your sweat "ruins" your clothing? You have a whole bunch of options, actually, especially when the yellowing happens on fairly sturdy shirt components like collars.

Getting Sweat Stains Out of Collars

One of the more common locations for sweat stains, especially for men, is on the collar of white dress shirt. While necks don't sweat quite as much as underarms do, even a small amount can be very evident on a starched, white collar.

Luckily, if your shirt is of a relatively hardy, washable fabric (like cotton), you have a whole lot of approaches you can try. They do not include chlorine bleach, since the chlorine can react with the proteins in sweat and make the stain darker. Instead, give one of these a shot:

Laundry detergent -- Probably the easiest way to remove sweat stains is to use a liquid detergent formulated to treat protein-based stains (such as grass stains) and/or one that has something advertised along the lines of "oxygen cleaning power." Apply it undiluted to the stain and let it sit for about 30 minutes before washing.

Lemon juice -- Before washing, combine equal parts lemon juice and water, and scrub until the stain is gone.

Vinegar -- Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to 1 cup of water, and apply to the stain. Let it sit for 30 minutes before washing. (And don't even think of using any other vinegar type but white.)

Salt -- Add 1 tablespoon of salt to 1 cup of water, and sponge the solution into the stain until it's completely gone. Then wash.

Baking soda -- Combine 4 tablespoons of baking soda and 1/4 cup of water. Dab on the stain until it's gone, and then wash.

Ammonia -- Dilute ammonia with an equal amount of water, and pour onto the stain. You don't need to let it sit before washing, just toss it in.

Hydrogen peroxide -- Dilute hydrogen peroxide with an equal amount of water, apply to the stain, and let sit for 30 minutes before washing. Don't use hydrogen peroxide on colors, as it does have some bleaching qualities.

Hopefully, your first attempt at sweat-stain removal will succeed. If it doesn't, just work your way through the list until you hopefully find something that works (washing in between each method).

If you find your perspiration stain isn't fully responding to these methods, you may have to take your methods up a notch. Underarm stains, for instance, can be tougher to remove than collar stains, since there's typically more sweat soaking in and antiperspirants can make the stain worse. For especially stubborn sweat stains, you'll need to slightly shift your approach.

Removing Yellow Underarm Stains

To remove particularly tough sweat stains, like those that plague the underarms of shirts and dresses, you'll use some of the same active ingredients as mentioned previously, but you'll increase their strength. This can make the treatments more harsh, but also more effective.

Before you start pouring on the product, though, you need to figure out whether the stain is in fact a sweaty one. In the underarm area, you could be looking instead at an antiperspirant stain, which requires a different treatment (see How to Remove Grease Stains and Save Your Clothing). Basically, if it's yellowish and stiff, it's probably sweat; if it's white or clear and greasy, it's probably antiperspirant.

If you determine the underarm stain is sweat, give one of these pre-wash, extra-strength remedies a shot:

  • Vinegar -- Just pour it, full-strength, right on the stain and let sit for about 30 minutes.
  • Hydrogen peroxide -- Same instructions as vinegar. And remember, do not use hydrogen peroxide on a colored item.
  • Ammonia -- Apply it, full-strength, directly on the stain and gently rub it in. You don't need to let it sit before washing.
  • Baking soda paste -- Start with full-strength baking soda, and apply just enough water to create a paste. Work it into the stain using a toothbrush, and then let it dry for a couple of hours before washing.
  • Aspirin -- Dissolve two to three tablets in a half cup of water, apply it to the stain, and let it sit for several hours before washing.

Since you can throw some fairly heavy-duty cleaners at a sturdy fabric, you've got a good chance of getting the sweat stain out of a basic cotton shirt or dress. But what about when the stain is on something more delicate? This takes a considerably gentler approach.

Removing Sweat Stains from Bras

Removing sweat stains from bras can be a bit tricky. You want a treatment that is effective on stains, which often means it's a bit harsh, but still gentle so it doesn't ruin a delicate fabric. In this situation, you can certainly use some of the gentler methods already mentioned, such as diluted white vinegar or baking soda; but there are also a couple of different approaches that work particularly well on bras.

Begin by looking at the bra's fabric content. Acetate and rayon are pretty delicate, while nylon, polyester and Spandex are relatively sturdy.

For the not-so-delicate fabrics, you'll wash as you usually do with the addition of an enzyme pre-treatment. Enzyme pre-wash products contain protease, which breaks down proteins. You can find products that are used just for the pre-soak purpose, or you can grab a liquid detergent that says it contains enzymes. In either case, pre-treat according to the instructions on the container.

For bras composed of extra-delicate fibers, try a different process: Wet the stain with water, sponge on a wet spotter (a mixture of water, glycerin and dishwasher detergent -- see How to Make Wet and Dry Spotters) and apply a couple of drops of ammonia to the stain. This concoction should absorb the stain so it washes away when you rinse it out. The trick here is to really pull it out: After saturating the stain itself, soak an absorbent pad (or a good paper towel) in the solution and let it sit on the stain, keeping the pad and the fabric moist until the stain is completely drawn into the pad.

Removing sweat stains from bras and shirts can be tough, but it's typically doable -- it just may take trying more than one of these approaches. Preventing sweat stains, on the other hand, is often a lot simpler: Wear an undershirt to soak up the sweat before it reaches your nice shirt, and, if these stains are a big problem for you, avoid antiperspirants that contain an aluminum compound. Aluminum is great at preventing sweat, but it can also react with any sweat that does come through and make stains even worse.

Or, invest in a really great jacket. At least you won't mind covering up.

For more laundry tips, check out the links on the next page.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • 7 Solutions for Removing Sweat Stains. Reader's Digest. (April 9, 2012)
  • How to Remove Sweat Stains. HowStuffWorks. (April 9, 2012)
  • How to Make Wet and Dry Spotters. HowStuffWorks. (April 13, 2012)
  • Removing Perspiration & Sweat Stains. Mrs. Clean. Nov. 26, 2011. (April 9, 2012)
  • Sweat Stain Removal Techniques. Ink Stain Removal. (April 13, 2012)