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09/27/2019

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How To Get Rid of Pit Stains

It’s a tale as old as time. You’re on a date. Things went great. You got her to a secluded place, and in a heated, passionate moment, she rips your shirt off. Suddenly, everything goes wrong. She instantly loses her lady wood, and you finish the night alone. What went wrong? She saw your massive pit stains. You thought you could hide them with layered clothing, but they still caught up to you.

Ok. Maybe that hasn’t happened to you. More realistically, you’ve probably found discolored, maybe even crusty, stains in the armpits of a shirt you love. What is a man to do? Do you have to abandon the old friend? Is there a remedy that can salvage the situation? Maybe you just need to learn how to prevent the problem to save future shirts. We’re going to cover all of this, and before you let the stress send you into a sweat spiral that claims another precious shirt, you should know that most pit stains can be removed.

What Causes Pit Stains? 

As Sun Tzu so eloquently taught the world many centuries ago, you must know your enemy if you hope to defeat him. In this case, your enemy is science. The biochemistry of sweat stains is unique, and learning about it will help you understand exactly why you’re getting the stains and what you can do about them. So, yes. We’re going to go full nerd on this and teach you all of the science of pit stains. You better have brought your abacus. By the time you’re done, you won’t just feel smarter; you’ll actually be smarter. You’re welcome. 

how to get rid of pit stains

Sweat

Here’s the weird part. Most pit stains aren’t really from your sweat. Generally speaking, sweat is colorless. Sure, there are hormones, proteins and other stuff dissolved in the sweat, but as you have no doubt seen, it’s all colorless. So, if you have colored stains in your pits, it’s probably not specifically from sweat. We’ll get into that in a minute, but first, we should discuss the ways that sweat can stain your clothes all by itself.

For starters, there are skin conditions that change the rules. They come in a lot of variations, but skin conditions can change the content of your sweat, and that can lead to colored stains and all kinds of weirdness. There’s way too much to cover it all here, so we’ll just discuss one of the more interesting variations. There is a skin condition that is so rare and misunderstood that it doesn’t have an official diagnosis. With this skin condition, the oils and sweat you secrete can bleach things. This is distinct from bleaching that commonly occurs after using acne treatments. That’s well-understood. Instead, there’s a small percentage of the population that naturally secretes a bleach concoction from their skin. 

The more common way sweat can stain clothing is through excessive exposure. Like we just said, there’s protein in your sweat. If you let enough of it build up in the fabric of your clothes, it can cause a dark, greasy stain to occur. It’s still not a colored stain, but it’s pretty gross, and it’s not something you want a first date to see. We’ll talk more about remedying this problem in a bit, but the thing to understand is that you have to let abnormal amounts of sweat build up in your clothes between washes to get these kinds of stains. Strange sweat gland conditions aside, this really shouldn’t be a problem.

Deodorant

For most of you, the source of pit stains is actually your deodorant. More specifically, the aluminum in standard antiperspirants is known to react with the chemicals in human sweat. The result is a yellowish stain that is probably visible on any white workout shirt you own. The good news is that this is treatable, and we’ll teach you how in a minute. You don’t have to completely abandon hygiene just to keep your clothes pretty. What you need to understand at this point is that any yellow coloring in your pit stains is probably from aluminum.  

how to get rid of pit stains

At this point, we’re going to take a minute to address you insufferable know-it-alls. Yes, we’re aware of the technical distinction between deodorant and antiperspirant. For those who are curious, deodorant doesn’t prevent sweat; it just tries to keep it from being smelly. Antiperspirant actually reduces the amount that you sweat. But, for those of you ready to argue with us about semantics, the truth is that most things you swipe or spray under your arm are deodorant/antiperspirant combos. Unless you get something that is deliberately devoid of aluminum, you’re getting both. We’re going to be lazy and use the word “deodorant” to refer to anything you put under your arms. 

Getting Rid of the Stains

Before we get into specific remedies, it’s important to correct a misconception. In general, you should not bleach sweat stains, even on white clothes. The chlorine (which is the active ingredient in standard bleach) reacts with sweat proteins in much the same way as aluminum. If you bleach a yellow sweat stain, you’re likely to deepen the yellow color. Worse, it’s a lot harder to fix yellowing from bleach than yellowing from aluminum. 

Removing Pure Sweat Stains

We just mentioned that some stains can come from sweat alone. So, if you’re combatting stains that don’t have the yellow discoloration, this is where you need to start. For the most part, vigorous wash cycles are all you need. Most detergents are designed to dissolve the proteins and other parts of you that stick to fabric. With enough agitation, you can usually loosen up the dark pit stains and let the detergent do its work. That said, severe stains might take some serious elbow grease to remedy, and you may be washing a shirt a few times to win the war.

Ultimately, prevention is your best friend when it comes to fighting pure sweat stains. We have some more tricks below, but the biggest thing is to make sure you wash your shirts often enough to prevent a major sweat buildup. Your dark pit stains are mostly an indictment of the fact that you’re gross.

Removing Aluminum Stains

For shirts that do suffer the yellow stain, there are tricks to help you recover their original color. Before you get started, note that these tricks are for cotton shirts. If you’re working with someone else, consult the tags and a dry cleaner to make sure you don’t destroy any clothing in the attempt to remove a pit stain.

Ok. They key to eliminating the yellow stain is to use a weak acid. Around the house, you’ll find that in the form of vinegar or lemon juice. Be careful about getting creative with homemade acidic remedies. It’s easy to grab something that has extra chemicals you didn't anticipate and ruin a shirt. Both vinegar and lemon juice are tested, approved remedies for pit stains. The acid reacts with the aluminum compound to release the chemicals. Once exposed to acid, the yellow stain will typically wash away in a normal cycle.

how to get rid of pit stains

Here’s the methodology. Start by rubbing your vinegar or lemon juice into the stain. Let it sit for about half an hour. From there, give it a normal wash. You want to be sure to avoid hot wash cycles, and don’t put the shirt into a dryer until you’re sure the stain is gone. Heavy exposure to heat basically bakes the stain into the shirt and makes it way harder to remove. It’s not a lost cause, but heat is the enemy.

If you already dried the shirt — or it’s an otherwise stubborn stain — then consider soaking the shirt. Fill your sink with water and add some vinegar (lemon juice technically still works but it’s more expensive). The ideal mix is one part vinegar to two parts water. Let the shirt completely soak for about half an hour. If you think it’s necessary, you can also “scrub” the shirt by rubbing the fabric against itself while it remains submerged. Once you’re done, do the normal laundry cycle again. You might have to repeat this a couple of times for the worst stains, but it should get you there.

Now, a lot of people also recommend hydrogen peroxide. Technically, it can work, but it’s harder to use. Peroxide is known to cause stains of its own if it isn’t handled properly. It’s also a lot harsher on your hands if you need to do any scrubbing, so we recommend taking the easy route. 

There’s also talk of baking soda. It isn’t really necessary. It can be used to make a paste with your active ingredient, so perhaps there’s less of a chance of spilling stuff. But, it’s not really adding effectiveness to the concoction, so we tend to view it as more of a waste.

Lastly, there’s an alternative to using household supplies. If you want to pull out some industrial chemicals for your pit stains, then oxygenated bleach is the weapon of choice. Unlike traditional bleach, it doesn’t use chlorine as an active ingredient. That said, check the label. Some oxygen bleaches use hydrogen peroxide, and you just learned about how tricky that is. Regardless, follow the instructions on the bleach. That should be sufficient to remove the yellow stains from your poor shirt.

Preventing Stains 

You know what’s way easier than removing a vicious pit stain? Preventing it, obviously. It turns out that it’s a lot simpler to keep sweat out of contact with a shirt you love than it is to go through the scrubbing process you just learned. As a bonus, reducing the amount of sweat you pour into your shirts is good for them in general. These tips can help you avoid the problem altogether, and they’ll help you take better care of your clothes all around.

Go Commando

Well, sweat stains in your underwear is another problem for another day, but the logic is undeniable. You can’t stain a shirt that you don't’ wear. If you never want to fight a pit stain again, it’s time to embrace the shirtless life. You’re ready to be on Jersey Shore (is that even still a thing?). Whatever you do and wherever you go, shirtless is your new look. Even if you aren’t in peak shape, a little exposed gut is always sexier than yellow pits, right?

If you’re a little gun shy, you can work up to your shirtless lifestyle by investing in tank tops. No pits, no problem. Once you learn to embrace the feeling of open air on your underarms, you’ll be ready for that next step. After all, pit sweat could still conceivably splash around on a tank, or run down your body and get it in an awkward spot. If there’s one thing we all learned from our primary education, it’s that the only true defense in this world is abstinence.  

how to get rid of pit stains

Change Deodorant

Ok, maybe you want something a little more serious and practical. It’ll take some research, but you should be able to find a deodorant that works for you without using aluminum. Charcoal is a common active ingredient that a lot of people like, but you should know that it doesn’t prevent sweating. It’s just super absorbent. Also, use a scrutinizing eye with the reviews. Some all-natural deodorants use some weird stuff that can introduce brand new pit stains to your world. Still, with a little work, you can find something that keeps you hygienic and unstained in the pits. 

Sweat Less

This isn’t as sarcastic as it sounds. There are a lot of things you can do to combat sweat without resorting to aluminum. Improving your wardrobe is the first step. Light, breathy clothing goes a long way. You can also look into undershirts. They don’t make you sweat less, but they absorb the sweat (and the stains) to protect the clothes you care about more. 

You can also designate work and workout clothes. It’s easy to be lazy and work out in the tee you’re already wearing, but if you want to prevent pit stains, then relegate that risk to the clothes that can be ugly without giving you problems. That does mean that you’re expecting some of your clothes to be inundated with your sweat stains, but that be fine for anyone who isn’t trolling for hookups at the gym. Don’t troll for hookups at the gym. It’s desperate. It’s a turnoff. Let everyone work out in peace. 

Learn How to Use Deodorant

Yeah . . .You’re probably using your deodorant wrong. You think you know how this works, but almost everyone on the planet ignores the instructions and does their own thing. Deodorants should be applied to dry skin. Then, even if it’s a dry stick, you should wait a bit before putting on a shirt. Seriously. Any amount of moisture causes the deodorant to be absorbed into the shirt you wear. That includes any aluminum in the product. Now, you’ll still eventually sweat a little, so pit stains can eventually occur, but the most frequent and potent pit stains arise because all of you lazy guys are slapping on some deodorant and immediately putting a shirt over it. A minute of patience goes a long way.

Likewise, you probably use way too much of the stuff. The dirty secret is that applying extra deodorant won’t help you when you get sweaty. The amount of aluminum that can stick into your pores and limit sweating is pretty small, and you hit that limit with a fairly modest application. And, if you’re thinking that you need extra fragrance to battle the impending B.O., you’re going about it the wrong way. Deodorant doesn’t work by mixing with your sweat and overpowering the smell by outnumbering the stink molecules. Mostly, it’s mildly antimicrobial to prevent bacteria from feeding on your juices and creating the smelly byproducts. If odor is really that big of a problem, you’re much better off scheduling a shower into your day to truly wash off the offending sweat. Extra deodorant just helps everything cling to your clothes and create new problems. 

Phew. You made it. You know the science of pit stains. You learned about really obscure skin conditions. Most importantly, you’ve gained the knowledge to defend your shirts from ugly, yellowish attacks. Use this knowledge wisely. You don’t have to stop at just salvaging a single section of the shirts you wear. If you keep at it, you might one day understand how to care for all of your clothes. Wouldn’t that be something?

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