By Taylor Davies
Updated Aug 17, 2016 @ 8:00 am
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Sweat Stains - LEAD
Credit: Christian Vierig/Getty

We know it’s not pretty, or sexy, but we’ve all been there: You go to put on your favorite white T-shirt and...ugh. We can all probably agree that the yellowing around the armpits that has sent many a good cotton tee to the donation bin is just the worst. So what’s to be done? Can you stop the stains at the source? Can they actually be removed once they’ve set in? To find out, we tapped our friends at The Laundress and Tide, and did some good old-fashioned Internet sleuthing of our own.

Preventing the Stains

In our research—gleaning information from a variety of sources like Business Insider and The Art of Manliness—we learned that the culprit to blame for the yellowing is not actually the sweat itself, but the aluminum chloride used in most antiperspirants and deodorants. Yep, the very product you’re using to try and prevent said sweat is what causes the problem in the first place. The aluminum reacts to your sweat and causes the discoloration.

If you want to take a step toward preventing sweat stains in the first place, try an aluminum-free deodorant. Some of our team’s favorite natural skin and beauty brands, including L’Occitane, Malin + Goetz and La Roche-Posay, all have deodorants made without aluminum chloride (and often without alcohol as well), which will run you between $17 and $20 each. You can also find a few drugstore brands—like Tom’s of Maine—that make affordable natural deodorants under $5.

The Homemade Remedy

But if the yellowing has already set in, there's the option to DIY it from a few household staples. By first soaking your shirt in a solution of vinegar and warm water then treating the stain with a paste made from baking soda, salt and hydrogen peroxide, you may be able to remove the yellow discoloration without investing in specialty products.

The Laundress Approach

Below, the laundry experts at The Laundress have laid out their six-step process for treating and removing yellow stains from the armpits (and collar, in some cases) of your favorite white shirts.

Apply The Laundress Stain Solution and The Laundress All-Purpose Bleach Alternative directly to the discolored underarm areas.

Pour hot water onto the mixture to dissolve and activate the beads in the bleach alternative.

Work the solution into the fabric with a small brush (or toothbrush!).

Pre-soak the garment in a bath of hot water and The Laundress Bleach Alternative for at least one hour.

If the stain isn’t fully removed once the soaking is completed, don’t sweat it. It often takes two to three tries before complete removal.

Once satisfied, finish by laundering as normal. (We recommend this specialty detergent designed especially for your whites.)

Do note that this process is recommended for treating durable fibers, such as cotton, linen, and some synthetic materials, and The Laundress Bleach Alternative should not be used on silks, woolens, or leathers.

The Tide Approach

According to Tide and Downy's Principle Scientist Mary Begovic, "Cotton and natural fibers are the most prone to underarm stains because body soils get trapped in the core of these fibers, which makes the stain hard to remove." To remove set-in underarm stains, Bergovic recommends following the below steps:

Pretreat the stained area with vinegar. Let sit for 20 minutes.

Rinse the stained area, and pre-treat with Tide Ultra Stain Release for 20 minutes.

Repeat steps one and two until you see the stain fade, then wash the entire garment in Tide Ultra Stain Release.

Do not use bleach, as this may intensify the yellow color of the stain.

The OxiClean Remedy

Both Business Insider and The Art of Manliness recommend OxiClean as the ultimate cure for stains. The infomercial sensation can be used as either a paste or as a pre-treating soak—or for really bad stains, you can try one followed by the other. The product is simple: Use more and soak the garment longer (as long as overnight) the worse the stains are. After soaking, launder as usual.

Next time you’re about to retire yet another white button-down or T-shirt due to yellow armpit stains, consider trying one of these methods first.