How to Get Deodorant Stains Out of Shirts
White smudges and stains, begone! With these expert tips, you can easily remove pesky deodorant residue from your shirts—and make sure it doesn’t damage them over time.
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It’s an unfortunate fact of life: Stains happen. Of course, it’s essential to know how to remove stains of all sorts from your clothes, but thankfully you’ll only have to deal with certain ones, like blood stains and red wine stains, occasionally. The same is not true of deodorant stains, which happen all. the. time. There’s that moment anytime you’re putting on a dark shirt when you’re pulling it over your head, stretching it as far as possible on the way down to try to avoid your armpits, only to find—womp womp—white marks everywhere. And even if you miraculously manage to avoid this, you’re probably still getting that white deodorant residue near the armpits of your shirts, which builds up over time and ultimately damages them. But you don’t have to grin and bear it or toss those items. Not if you know how to get deodorant stains out of shirts, that is.
How can you keep this from happening? By tending to your clothes regularly instead of waiting until there’s a real problem. But don’t worry: Even if you’re already noticing that white buildup, it’s not too late. To save your clothing and make sure you don’t end up with a permanent stain, all you have to do is reach for one of the best stain removers on the market—or look in your pantry. Believe it or not, some of the best stain fighters for deodorant stains are common household items, and the same is true when you need to remove sweat stains.
A few important notes before we get started: The strategies you’ll find below are best for cotton and poly-blend fabrics. For gentler, more delicate fabrics like silk, satin, or wool, it’s usually best to leave those to the pros and take the items in question to a dry cleaner. Also, for all the options below, soak the fabric in the warmest water allowable according to the care label for the best chances of success. With that said, here are the most effective stain removers you can use to combat deodorant stains.
One of the best ways to get deodorant stains out of shirts is with white vinegar. “Soaking your T-shirt in a bowl of white vinegar can help lift stains and remove any lingering odors that may have been trapped with the stain,” says Jennie Varney, brand manager for Molly Maid, a Neighborly brand. “Soak it for an hour, then lightly agitate the area with a brush. Then put it through a regular laundry cycle.” Vinegar can also help you remove coffee stains from clothing.
2. Baking soda
This powder can work wonders on stains. “Mixing baking soda with a bit of water to form a paste can help to gently agitate the stain and help it lift before washing with hot water,” says Varney. Apply the paste to the stain, let it sit for anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight, depending on the severity of the stain, and then throw it in with your regular laundry.
3. Lemon juice
The acidity in this liquid can help break down the thickness of the deodorant, according to Sean Busch, CEO and co-founder of Puracy. It’s also safe for most fabrics. “A simple 1:1 ratio of lemon juice and water serves as a good spot treatment that you can let sit on the stain for an hour before a normal wash cycle,” says Varney. Lemon also happens to be one of the secret ingredients you should be adding to your laundry, stains or not.
Crush up some aspirin into a powder, and then create a paste. “Mixing it with a bit of water is a good option to help treat white clothing,” says Varney. “It’s similar to baking soda in effectiveness, as it’s abrasive to the stain without hurting the fabric.” Let it sit for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the severity of the stain.
Hydrogen peroxide is really effective, but it could discolor your clothing, so experts recommend using it only on whites. “A simple mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water is good for soaking the entire white garment before a wash cycle,” says Varney. If you want to try it on colored clothing, test it out on a small, not-visible spot first to see if it causes any damage. And make sure not to use it on gentler fabrics like silk, satin, or wool.
6. Store-bought stain remover
Classic stain remover can help with residue left over from deodorant. “Treat it with stain remover, especially a natural one that’s designed to remove all stains and residues, including white deodorant stains,” says Busch. “I recommend spraying a stain remover on the clothing after your day, and that’s it—you shouldn’t even have to rub it in.” Let it sit for 15 minutes, and then throw it into your regular laundry with other clothes. Two effective options to try: Puracy’s Natural Stain Remover and The Laundress’ Stain Solution.
7. Transfer the deodorant stain
The idea here? To lift the stain with another item before washing it. “This works to disperse the density of the buildup,” says Varney. “Simply rub a clean cotton sock, a shirt, or even a nylon stocking over the stain, and then wash the items as you normally would.”
While you should never let a stain sit for an extended period of time, you have a little breathing room with deodorant stains. The same is not true when you’re dealing with grease, which is why you should bookmark this information on how to get oil stains out of clothes. Time is of the essence when dealing with that one!
How to get fresh deodorant marks out of clothing
While it’s certainly important to know how to prevent and remove those built-up deodorant stains, what about those fresh, white marks that can get all over the shirt when you’re getting dressed? The following two-step process will remove the stain on the spot so you don’t have to change your outfit.
1. Steam it
“Do not go overboard by scrubbing the stain with a soaking wet towel, which will only make the color run,” says Onkar Bali of Bally’s Cleaners in Palm Desert, California. “Instead, lightly moisturize the area by steaming it. This will loosen both the fabric and the deodorant, making it easier to then remove.”
For those who don’t own a steamer, remember that many irons have steaming capabilities. Alternatively, you can hang the shirt in your bathroom while you let the shower run.
2. Rub it
Once the stain has been steamed, there are a few ways to go about manually removing it. First, you need to make sure you scrub it with the right material. Believe it or not, a pair of balled-up pantyhose is incredibly effective at rubbing out deodorant stains. If you don’t have pantyhose, you can also opt for a new dryer sheet. Don’t have either of those at home? The stretchy, foam rubber strip that you find on dry cleaner hangers is a great alternative. Or if you wear a lot of black, spring for a Miss Oops Rescue Sponge. It instantly removes deodorant and other powder-based stains, and it’s especially helpful on darker-colored garments.
Once you’ve found the right dry, textured material to work with, it’s time to get to work. Gently rub your tool of choice over the stain in circular motions. The fresher the stain, the faster it will lift, and the older the stain, the longer and harder you’ll need to work at it. Either way, you’ll slowly notice the white stain fading. And FYI, while rubbing is a good technique to remove deodorant stains, you’ll want to avoid this when attempting to remove mustard, turmeric, or chocolate stains from clothing or other items. In those cases, rubbing can cause those stains to become further embedded in the fabric.
What causes deodorant stains on clothing, anyway?
“Deodorant easily transfers from our skin to our clothing, and that is very hard to avoid—especially with tight-fitting clothing,” says Varney. “Deodorant that contains antiperspirant, which is usually an aluminum-based compound, will continue to stain your clothing over time as it reacts with your sweat and creates those yellowish stains we commonly notice.” And while gel and clear stick deodorant stains may not be as visible right away, they leave residue as well.
Is deodorant bad for your clothing?
Deodorant isn’t made to be on clothing—it’s made to be on skin—and it can wreak havoc on your clothing over time. “It’s designed to sit on your skin and slowly evaporate with friction,” says Busch. “This is why deodorant doesn’t work for weeks on weeks but is designed to work for 12 to 24 hours. If you use too much and it gets on your shirt, and if you don’t treat it each time, the deodorant can seep through the fibers of the shirt and can start to break down the fibers.” Over time, some degradation happens, which can both discolor the material and thin it out over time.
Best deodorants that don’t stain clothes
If you’re tired of getting deodorant stains out of shirts daily, it might be worth considering changing products and using a deodorant that leaves less or even no residue. “Anything that is glycol-based or glycerin-based deodorants will be products that are less likely to stain your clothes because they’re clear and translucent,” says Busch.
You should also know there’s a big difference between antiperspirants and deodorants when it comes to these stains. “Antiperspirants usually contain additional elements like aluminum, which can react with our sweat and create those yellow stains we see in the underarm part of shirts,” says Varney. “The aluminum salts also embed themselves in our clothing, and over time can cause irreversible stains that are especially hard to lift from fabric.” If you use a deodorant without antiperspirant, you shouldn’t face this issue.
Some deodorant options that shouldn’t leave stains on shirts: Puracy Natural Deodorant, which is a great unscented option; Kopari Aluminum-Free Coconut Deodorant, which is nontoxic; and Native Deodorant, which is both paraben- and aluminum-free.
However, if you do happen to still wind up with some marks on your clothing, be sure to treat it right away. “The sooner you wash the item, the less likely the stain is to set,” reminds Varney. For more toiletry mishaps, find out how to remove makeup stains and nail polish stains from clothing, as well.