Understanding deodorant staining

This article explains underarm staining situations and provides suggestions for overcoming them. The problem may be noticed as: deodorant staining, perspiration staining, colour change, loss of fabric strength, stiffness or malodour.

The problems & remedies

1)Deodorant or anti-perspirant build-up

Woman applying deoderant after showering
Man smelling sweaty t-shirt

Staining can result from deodorant or antiperspirant build up. The stain will increase each time the garment is worn unless it is treated. Stains appear yellow brown in colour on white or beige fabrics and white or chalky on darker fabrics.

If deodorant or antiperspirant has stained your clothes, try the following: Rub the stained area with white vinegar. If this doesn't remove the stain, move to the next step. Soak the affected area in methylated spirit for about an hour. (Place the rest of the garment in a higher position than the area being soaked to avoid the solution being wholly absorbed by the garment.) Rinse, then wash as normal in Omo or Persil Concentrate.

2)Perspiration stains

Man using deoderant in bathroom

If perspiration has stained your clothes, try the following: Wash the garment in Omo or Persil Concentrate. If perspiration has changed the colour of the fabric, try to restore the colour by rubbing a little ammonia on a fresh stain, or white vinegar on an old stain. Then dissolve one scoop of Omo or Persil Concentrate in a bucket of water and allow the garment to soak for at least two hours or overnight if possible. Wash as normal.

3)Colour change

Woman with arm ups

Colour change can occur for one of two reasons:

  • Acid sensitive dyes. Colour change can result from the presence of acid sensitive dyes in fabrics. Manufacturers should design garments so that they are suitable for everyday use, including the use of antiperspirants. However sometimes a manufacturer may use an acid sensitive dye. As antiperspirants have an acid pH, the use of acid sensitive dyes in clothes may result in colour interference to garments. Blue to pink is the most common colour change and in most cases it is permanent. However the change may be temporarily improved by washing the area with a mild detergent, though the result is unpredictable. (Your dry cleaner may be able to assist.)
  • Dye transfer. White or pale garments can also develop a coloured stain under the arms (eg black, grey, blue) which is likely to be caused by a dye transfer from another coloured garment worn over or under the white garment. Perspiration or antiperspirant cannot add colour to a white garment. The colour has come from another source. To remove dye transfer from a pale garment try a treatment designed to remove colour run. (For example, Dylon Run Away or Dr. Beckmanns in Wash Colour Run Remover. Always follow the instructions on the pack and the clothes care labels.)

4)Loss of fabric strength

Perspiration alone may be harmful to your clothes. When perspiration decomposes it is naturally alkaline. This alkalinity can have a destructive affect on some fabrics. The longer the garment is in contact with the perspiration and the more alkaline the perspiration the greater the damage. The speed of the damage is also related to the strength of the fibre. So, the amount of damage can differ depending on the individual and the garment. Washing the garment as soon as possible after wearing is the only way to minimise the damage.


When moisture from perspiration evaporates, it can leave behind salt rings and deposits in the underarm area. Over time this builds up resulting in stiffness. 

When this happens try the following: Dissolve four tablespoons of citric acid (available at supermarkets or health food stores) in 500ml of hot water in a jug or plastic bowl. Immerse the affected area for one hour (try to place the rest of the garment in a higher position than the area being soaked). Rub the area thoroughly. Sprinkle a little of the citric acid crystals onto the area.

Re-soak for a further half to one hour. Rinse, then soak the garment underarm area in methylated spirit for one hour, again elevating the rest of the garment. Rub the area vigorously until the stiffness has gone. Rinse, and wash as normal.


Fresh perspiration does not have an odour. The warm moist conditions under the arms encourages the growth of bacteria, which causes malodour. If you experience a problem in removing perspiration odour, try the following: Sponge the affected area with colourless mouth wash or soak garment for two hours in a strong salt solution, using one cup of salt to two litres of cold water. Next, wash the underarm section in a warm detergent solution. Rinse well and dry.

Tips to prevent staining

To minimise the risk of staining we recommend you let antiperspirant/deodorant ‘dry’ before putting clothes on. Never apply it after you put on your clothes. For delicate fabrics like silk, you may need to sew underarm shields into your garment to minimise damage from perspiration. To minimise stiffness and reduce build-up it is important to treat the underarm area with a pre-wash treatment before each wash.

Take care when using these remedies

Methylated spirit is a flammable liquid. Take care when handling such products and follow the instructions on the pack. Use products, such as ammonia, in a well ventilated area and follow the instructions on the pack. A number of remedies involve soaking garments. If the fabric is not colour fast it can run. 

If unsure, test for colour fastness before soaking. To test for colour fastness, dampen a piece of the hem or seam with the treatment liquid and iron a piece of white fabric onto it. If colour blots off, the garment is not colour fast. Do not use these methods on silk or wool.

Further information

If you would like additional information please contact the Unilever Australasia Info-Line on free call 1800 227 200 (Australia) or 0800 108 806 (New Zealand).

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