Care and Feeding of White Shirts

It’s the pits…

In comments on Tuesday’s post about my game-changing white shirt, Leah asked about how to get rid of those yellow underarm stains. I had no idea so decided to do some research. Granted, any white garment is going to come with an inherent assumption of higher maintenance. Hell-O, dribble coffee cup! Konichiwa, pent-up packet of exploding soy sauce!

While there are variety of suggested remedies for those pesky yellow pits, the cause is generally agreed upon as being a reaction to the aluminum in many deodorants/antiperspirants. So to begin on a note of prevention, switching to a non-aluminum deodorant may prevent the discoloration in the first place. (There are other health-related reasons to ditch those aluminum-based products, too.) I’ve recently switched to this one and have been happy so far.

Kiss My Face Lavender Deodorant

But suppose you do have some yellow underarm stains…before you toss that shirt here are some suggestions I’ve found for removing the stains:

  • First, DON’T use bleach. It won’t work, and it’s hard on fabrics and the environment.
  • 1:1:1 parts baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and water. Rub mixture into stains (be sure you’ve protected any other surfaces against the peroxide). Let sit 30 minutes then wash.
  • 1:1 parts oxygen-based bleach (like OxiClean), and ammonia. (I’d be careful to do this in an area with plenty of ventilation or else budget for a visit to the emergency room!) Rub into stains for 30 seconds, then wash.
I’ve found several recommendations with variations/formulas based on peroxide and/or OxiClean.
And here’s my favorite:
  • Soak shirt in water with denture cleanser tablet. 
Full disclosure: I haven’t tried any of these.
Ring around the collar…

Remember these obnoxious commercials?  My friend’s mother, G&T in hand, used to yell back at the TV, “tell your husband to wash his neck!”

But I was surprised to learn that “those grimy rings” aren’t from dirt, but rather from dead skin cells and the melanin within. Even the freshly showered neck can generate a collar ring.

  • Many swear by stick or spray treatment prior to washing.
Resolve stick
  • One recommendation that I will try (and would be great to use in a pinch or when traveling) is to spot the ring with shampoo, rub, then wash. 

Nordstrom Delicate Fabric Wash
  • I picked up some of this over the weekend for laundering my lingerie, but the Sales Associate said it also works very well for removing stains. I’ll give it a try and let you know.
It Was All Yellow…

Just about any white cotton garment will yellow over time. Again, skip the chlorine bleach.
Your grandmother probably used this.
  • Laundry Bluing is actually a dye that counterracts the yellow. It’s reputedly hard on fabrics if used repeatedly, and should only be used on natural fibers. (True confession, we used to wash our horses’ white socks with this prior to horse shows.)
  • Some recommend adding a cup of apple cider vinegar to the rinse cycle. This probably works more on greying from hard water buildup than yellowing, but worth a try. Plus, you’ll smell like a salad! (True confession: we used to rinse our horses with this prior to horse shows. Made their hair SO soft and shiny!)
  • OxiClean. It’s like Windex for non-Greeks! (We didn’t use on our horses.)
Do you have any tricks for keeping white shirts pristine?
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  1. June 28, 2012 / 12:28 pm

    Wonderful post, Une Femme. I swear by baking soda with a little dish detergent, or Oxi-Clean, for mild stains. If the stain get serious, I give up and buy a new shirt : > Love that last pic, it’s making me smile.

  2. June 28, 2012 / 1:06 pm

    I agree about switching to deodorant–my husband and I switched years ago from an anti-perspirant to just a deodorant (we use Tom’s of Maine unscented) and his shirts have fresh armpits now, where they used to be really disgusting–stiff, smelly and yellow. We both also shave daily–it took a little convincing, but he likes smelling good more than being natural! 😉

    By the way, bleach is NOT bad for the environment. That is a myth and has no scientific basis. Bleach breaks down very quickly in the environment into salt and water. I wouldn’t use it on my shirts because it will destroy them, but it doesn’t hurt the environment. My husband is an environmental engineer, and a very liberal crunchy environment lover, and he’s the one that told me this. 😀 So no worries!

  3. June 28, 2012 / 1:37 pm

    Air drying in sunshine works great for pit stains. Even with my son’s horrible T-shirts hanging them with the stained portion well exposed to the sun cleaned the problem right up – and it’s FREE! If you have a grassy area that’s safe and clean that works even better, especially for linens. Lay the item flat until dry and bring it back in pristine and beautiful.

  4. Anonymous
    June 28, 2012 / 1:54 pm

    I accidentally washed 3 of my white shirts with my son’s khaki shorts. He had a small piece of red construction paper in his pocket and my shirts came out with pink spots. We soaked them in Oxi-Clean overnight and much to my delight, the slight yellow stains under the arms came out along with all the pink spots.

  5. June 28, 2012 / 2:30 pm

    I’ve also had very good results with an overnight soak in Oxi-Clean solution. (The carpet-cleaning solution of Oxi-Clean — directions are on the package — is also wonderful for stains on carpets.)

  6. June 28, 2012 / 3:05 pm

    If I get a stain on my white shirt I use straight hydrogen peroxide and rub it in with a small brush, a toothbrush works well. and let it sit for a few minutes and rinse…repeat again if the stain still shows. It has worked for me on oil and coffee stains.

    I am very careful when wearing my white shirt because it seems to attract stains!

    I never knew about the true reason for ring around the collar that’s interesting!
    Fun post Deja!

  7. nikki
    June 28, 2012 / 3:08 pm

    let your whites dry in the sun. works wonders (assuming there’s no rain in your forecast)

    and using an acv rinse in your hair (after shampoo, rinse well, conditioner) will gently and effectively clarify and remove product build-up. (great if you’re a curly-girl and/or don’t use shampoo with harsh ingredients…)

  8. June 28, 2012 / 3:18 pm

    Thank you for this informative post. I had no idea about the issue of aluminum in deodorants.

    I like Kathy’s trick of buying white in multiples.

  9. June 28, 2012 / 3:55 pm

    Now I know why I don’t wear white shirts! Not to mention the ironing.

  10. June 28, 2012 / 3:55 pm

    Now I know why I don’t wear white shirts! Not to mention the ironing.

  11. ChristineB
    June 28, 2012 / 4:01 pm

    I swear by OxyClean. A couple times a year, I put all the whites in one huge load, toss in a scoop or two, fill the washer and let it sit overnight. After running a regular wash cycle w/ laundry detergent, I practically have to wear sunglasses to fold it all. 🙂

  12. Anonymous
    June 28, 2012 / 5:11 pm

    Non-iron shirts seem to repel stains better.

  13. Anonymous
    June 28, 2012 / 6:57 pm

    I finally learned to spray the underarms of shirts with oxy-clean stain remover every time I wash them – really helps.

  14. Anonymous
    June 28, 2012 / 7:23 pm

    Thanks for this post!! Lots of great suggestions. I knew about the deodorant issue before and I have tried Tom’s and other brands but I public speak for up to 8 hours a day most days in Southern California so I sweat. I have to use heavy-duty products to avoid underarm sweat circles. If only I could teach in a tube top I might be fine :)!

    I’ll try using oxyclean on a regular basis and see if this helps.


  15. June 28, 2012 / 7:38 pm

    My friend’s mother, G&T in hand, used to yell back at the TV, “tell your husband to wash his neck!”

    My mom used to do the same thing! Sans G&T, though.

  16. kathy peck
    June 28, 2012 / 1:44 pm

    My trick is that I buy white in multiples. Also, if it’s a “good” shirt (as opposed to a Gap white tee shirt) and I have a stain, I take it to a laundry, and have them deal with the stain. Also get it washed and pressed and sometimes a little light starch. It seems they can get just about anything out.

  17. mette
    June 28, 2012 / 1:57 pm

    My trick is that I have very little white. If I notice dirt on my pants ( the only whites ), I try to remove it asap, then wash it the usual way.
    That Grandma stuff on horses- omg, omg.. Luckily Hampel has dark socks, heh.

  18. sisty
    June 28, 2012 / 3:15 pm

    I got some well-established yellow underarm stains out of my husband and son’s shirts by doing the following:

    1. spray stains with enzyme spot remover (like Shout)
    2. soak in bucket of hot water with a good amount of oxyclean (4-6 scoops per two gallons of hot water).
    3. pour bucket containing shirts and soaking solution into washer, and wash as usual.

    this worked beautifully — all the stains came out.

    And yes, I remember that awful commercial, the horrible guilt those women projected because they failed at their wifely duty. Your mother’s friend sounds like my kind of woman!

  19. Ellie
    June 28, 2012 / 10:18 pm

    The switch to non-aluminum deodorant (another cheer for Tom’s of Maine–I love the lavender scent) did wonders for me–no more white pit stains, but also no more permanent odors. Every top and dress I has is cleaner, less stinky, and lasts longer. Even with all-day public speaking (teacher), I’ve been amazed by how well the Tom’s stuff works!

  20. Gwenn
    June 28, 2012 / 8:23 pm

    Try Fels Naptha (sp?) yellow laundry soap. Rub it on the stain, let it sit awhile then launder. You will be amazed what stains you can treat with this soap! Never been without it, thanks to my Mom, who can really work on a stain.

  21. June 29, 2012 / 10:49 am

    Excellent tips – I really do need to brighten up my whites,everything looks a bit tired. Thanks!

  22. June 29, 2012 / 12:02 pm

    I use Shout on stains, too. For overall brightening, I hang whites to dry in the sun, or spread a white shirt on a tabletop (on a towel) “pits up”. Whites (in tees, shirts, towels, anything) simply have a shorter shelf life.

  23. June 29, 2012 / 1:35 pm

    What a great article! Love your blog !Thanks a lot for sharing , it is really useful to me!

  24. June 29, 2012 / 8:27 pm

    wow, this is really a great post. I like wearing natural deodorants, but I am way too stinky in the summer. I need stuff that’s full strength.

    Thanks for all the suggestions on how to remove stains. I should print this out! We used to hang things out in the sun when we were kids, but I don’t remember stains coming out. Must try this again!

  25. June 29, 2012 / 11:38 pm

    Curious about that deodorant. I tried so many organic/ natural poducts ..

  26. June 29, 2012 / 11:38 pm

    Curious about that deodorant. I tried so many organic/ natural poducts ..

  27. Anonymous
    June 30, 2012 / 2:31 am

    I don’t have white shirt hints, however I will comment re the apple cider vinegar- I actually use standard white vinegar in my rinse cycle rather than a commercial softener.
    It works by stripping the detergent rather than coating fibers, and is generally cheaper and better for the environment.
    The clothes have no residual fragrance at all.
    Even better, my washing machine stopped the awful squealing it had developed when the water was being pumped out.
    I realized it was from a build up of softener!

  28. June 30, 2012 / 9:11 pm

    I use “Fairy” on the yellow pit stains. And collar rings. And for washing the car, and… Sorry, this is not a “Fairy” commercial. But it works. A bit of water on the stain, some “Fairy”, rub it in, let sit for a bit, then throw in the washer.

    Thank you for this post!

  29. Aunt Kitten
    July 1, 2012 / 7:39 pm

    After wearing a white shirt I spray under the arms with the liquid version of the Oxy cleaner. Every now and then, I will soak all my whites in a bucket overnight in really warm, almost hot water, and the powder form of Oxy Cleaner. With a front-load washer, I can’t fill it up and leave it to soak. The only downside to them that I’ve found.

    Oh, another thing. I do not dry white shirts (or only on low). I think that yellows them. And, sorry, wish I could get away with deodorant only, but live in the deep south and really need anti-perspirant in the summer. In the winter, I use a crystal though.

    I have white shirts that are still pristine after 10 years. Amazing stuff – OxyClean. I call it magic powder.

  30. Beautifuldreamer1066
    July 1, 2012 / 9:06 pm

    Thanks for all the great tips for keeping whites actually white! I had a double problem with the pits stains: they retained odors and the affected area would be loaded with stubborn deodorant residues. About ten years ago I switched to Crystal Body Deodorant Stick which is nothing more than natural mineral salts and ammonium alum and hot diggety, I am in underarm heaven! No more stained, crispy, odiferous clothing! The key is the alum: it shrinks the sweat producing pores so there’s not as much on your skin loitering for that moment to bloom into your “personal aroma”. In fact, I live in the Sacramento valley where it can get freeekin hot (103 isn’t uncommon) and this crystal works like a champ.

    A word of caution on the Oxy: I was putting it in all my laundry regularly and found over using it will cause fabrics to break down much faster. I recommend using it occasionally to refresh your laundry rather than as a weekly wash booster.

  31. July 8, 2012 / 6:59 pm

    We switched to non-aluminum deodorants and I found that the next “batch” of my husbands undershirts never yellowed – hurrrah! (It did take our bodies a little while to adjust but even this summer with the hot heat and my being 7 months pregnant, I wouldn’t switch back.)

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