How to Remove Armpit Stains from Your White Shirts

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Hey there, pit stains.

We all know the armpit stain: the ugly yellowish circle beneath the arm holes in our shirts that are a result of a build up of sweat and the chemicals in deodorant. They come as a side with every hot-day-and-white-shirt combo, and they have us holding up our white shirts against the light in the morning, saying resignedly, “Well, as long as I don’t lift my arms.”

But since we’re as sick as you are of replacing our white shirts every summer, we got in touch with Chris Allsbrooks, the director of store operations for local dry cleaning chain ZIPS Dry Cleaners, to weigh in on the best techniques to remove the stubborn stains.

“Removing underarm stains can be very tricky, especially once the yellow perspiration and deodorant residue have built up in the fabric,” says Allsbrooks. “This type of staining usually results from washing garments in loads that have too many garments, which prevents proper soil removal.”

To minimize the staining in the first place, Allsbrooks suggests men wear undershirts and women try dress shields. But in the event that in the muggy heat DC is known for, your perspiration still finds a way to ruin your clothes, Allsbrooks recommends the following plan of attack on white cotton fabrics.

1. Shout it out. “Pre-treat the areas with a consumer spot treatment, such as Shout, and gently rub it into the fabric using a soft-bristle toothbrush. Let that sit for about 15 to 30 minutes,” says Allsbrooks. “I also like the Carbona Stain Devils because they are formulated for specific stains. Follow the directions on the production for method of use.”

2. Don’t overload your washer. As hard as this may be for laundromat users to hear, doing multiple loads instead of trying to cram everything into one washer will be better for your clothes in the long run. “Wash the shirt [in warm or hot water] in an undersized load to allow for sufficient water flow, sudsing and rinsing for the load size,” says Allsbrooks.

3. Embrace enzymes. “Use a detergent with enzymes, which aids in the removal of perspiration,” says Allsbrooks. “Many consumer detergents, such as Tide, have enzymes.”

4. Less is more when it comes to detergent. “[Using excess detergent] will not get your whites any whiter,” says Allsbrooks. “It can also ‘coat’ the fibers and make them dingy or clammy because they will no longer wick moisture from perspiration.”

5. Rinse with cold water, and repeat as necessary. “When removing the shirt from the washer, inspect the underarm area to see if the stain has been removed. If the stain still remains, you may have to repeat the process,” says Allsbrooks.

While some stains may never fade completely, the steps above should help brighten your whites, and they can be applied to other stains set in your white cotton apparel.

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.