Do It Yourself Deodorant Stain & Buildup Remover

December 7, 2014 | By | 50 Replies More

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Pit stains (yellow/brown) and Deodorant buildup. How do you clean it?

Pit stains (yellow/brown) and Deodorant buildup. CLICK TO ENLARGE. Credit

Ah, the inevitable set-in pit stains. A topic I have not written about in a long while.

Before we talk about how to make your own underarm stain remover at home,  let’s clarify what we’re talking about.

Deodorant Marks vs. Pit Stains (Yellow) vs. Deodorant Buildup vs. Pit Stains (Sweat)

Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat, there is a big difference between deodorant marks, pit stains and deodorant buildup.

Deodorant Marks

A deodorant mark - a white streak on your clothing from stick antiperspirants/deodorants

A deodorant mark – white streak

 

Those white streaks you get on the outside of your shirts as you’re sliding the shirt down past your deodorant/antiperspirant-coated armpits.

I’ve personally experienced this mostly when using some form of stick antiperspirant or deodorant, but it’s possible that it’ll also occur if you use spray or roll-on solutions.

Keep in mind that you can get “deodorant marks” (white streaks) on your clothes if you’re using deodorant or antiperspirant.

FACT: Antiperspirant is for sweat prevention and most antiperspirants also have odor prevention. Deodorant has odor prevention only.

Pit Stains (Yellow)

Those set-in stains that occur primarily as a result of using antiperspirant.

The aluminum content in the antiperspirant combined with residual underarm sweat can transfer to the underarm area of the shirt, and over time,  yellowish or brownish stains can begin to appear.

These stains can even harden over time and regular laundering or bleaching will not remove them. In fact, bleaching them can make them worse.

Deodorant Buildup

That thick, caked-on residue that forms on the pit area of your shirts over time.

It’s usually a result of using stick antiperspirant or deodorant. The wax-like substance of these solutions will transfer to the shirt during the day, and won’t fully wash out while laundering.

Repeat this a bunch of times, and eventually you’ll have a gooey, cakey, waxy buildup in the pit-area of your shirts.

Pit Stains (Sweat)

The term “pit stains” is also widely used to refer to the sweat stains that show up on the underarm area of someone’s shirt who is sweating a lot.

There’s really no need to address this particular issue, since it’s really just wetness showing through on the pits of your shirts, that will dry once you cool down.

If you’re looking for ways to prevent sweat-through, you should peruse my Sweat Management category or take a look at this Sweat Management Update article.

Removing Deodorant Marks

Removing deodorant marks is pretty simple actually. In fact, there are easily thousands of articles out on web that provide ideas on how to quickly remove those white streak deodorant marks from your shirt.

The most common recommendations to remove deodorant marks from your shirts are to:

  • Rub another part of your shirt on the mark
  • Take a nylon stocking or cotton sock and rub it on the mark
  • Used fabric softener sheets
  • Find a piece of foam rubber, like that grippy foam on the top of hangers, and rub that on the mark

Here’s a video showing a good example of how to remove white deodorant marks from a black shirt using a used fabric softener sheet and a sock.

Removing Pit Stains (Yellow) & Deodorant Buildup

Although still generally referred to in the public domain as “removing deodorant stains”, there are just as many, if not more articles out there claiming easy at-home solutions for removing pit stains and deodorant build-up.

The most common recommendations are using things like ammonia/water, baking soda/peroxide/dishsoap, lemon juice, meat tenderizer, etc.

While those concoctions may work on some minor stains, they are simply NOT effective most of the time.

In other words, don’t waste your time trying them. See the Pit Stain Problem youtube channel where the folks tested a bunch of these solutions.

I wrote an article about Removing Deodorant Stains back in 2008, keeping it fairly up-to-date over the years.

It’s had nearly 200,000 views, and there have been ONLY THREE solutions that people will say effectively remove either pit stains, deodorant buildup, or both (aka “deodorant stains”). They are:

Make Your Own Effective Pit Stain & Deodorant Buildup Remover

A reader wrote in recently and shared with me his own DIY underarm stain remover solution, that has a similar ingredients to Deo-Go:

Hello,

Just wanted to share some DIY tips. I love Deo-Go, and it really works, but the small size of the bottle, the price, and the fact that you have to order it online were a bummer for me.

After doing some research (their patent is online) I learned that the key ingredients are a strong mineral acid and surfactant. I tried several combos like CLR and Dawn with no result.

But, I have found a much, much cheaper solution that works 90% as well as Deo-Go:

50% Lime-a-way, 40% water, 10% Tide Free and Clear
[Note from Tug: Tide makes “Free & Gentle” and All makes “Free & Clear”]

at-home-deodorant-stain-remover-feature

The Tide was the best surfactant and seemed to be the most color safe because it does not contain oxy, bleach or brighteners – it also rinses the cleanest.

Saturate both sides of fabric with solution and rub with brush. Let’s sit for 20 minutes and you will see the residue soften (I was actually able to squeeze some out of seam like toothpaste. Yuck!). Spray both sides again and likely scrub, and then wash as usual.

Worked on some pretty serious gunk. Definitely wear gloves and use in a well-ventilated area.

Michel

What a great find and thanks to Michel for sending in his at-home pit stain / deodorant buildup solution!

I have not personally tried this yet, but I have a feeling it’ll work, based on the research Michel did.

If you give it a go, be sure to let me know how the Lime-a-way / Water / Tide mixture works for you — either in the comments section below, or send me note.

Krud Kutter To Remove Deodorant Stains

Got this update from CLS (who commented below) who tried using Krud Kutter to remove deodorant stains from her husband’s shirts:

Hi Tug,

Just wanted to give an update but couldn’t post a picture to go along with it.

My comment stated that I was going to try the Lime-a-way mixture but I’ve been to 3 local stores and none of them have that specific lime a way.

I could only find the spray cleaner that’s not as concentrated.

I have a few more stores to check locally before ordering it online.

However, one of the readers comments on that page stated they used the Krud Kutter.

My hubby happened to have some this Krud Kutter (link) in the garage, so I thought why not give it a shot.

While there is some very very slight residue left on the shirts, I’m very happy with the results.

pit-stain-removal-with-krud-kutter

I did not scrub them together, I did not brush them, simply sprayed them, left sit for about 10 mins before tossing in the washer.

My plans are to keep a spray bottle of this next to my washer and give them all a spray prior to tossing in the machine, hopefully all residue will be gone after a few washes.

Or I may give them all a good scrubbing with a brush and soak them a little longer (but he’s due for new work shirts at the end of the month, so I wasn’t feeling that adventurous or is that energetic?) :-)

I wished Deo-Go wasn’t so expensive, but I may have to give it a shot on my sons favorite old T-shirts.

Thanks for the informative page!

PS. If I do the lime a way I’ll definitely let you know how it goes.

CLS

Great info from CLS!

Be sure to read through all the comments too, because lots of folks have shared their deodorant stain removal attempt results.

So, to summarize, the list of possible REAL solutions to remove deodorant pit stains from shirts are:

  • Lime-a-way mixture
  • Krud Kutter
  • Deo-Go or Raise
  • Oxi-Clean (may not address deep, set-in stains)

Be sure to share your results or questions in the comments section below.

 

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Category: Ask Tug

About the Author ()

Tug is the world's undershirt expert. He is also one of the most knowledgeable individuals on sweat management solutions, men's shapewear, grooming, and new fabric technologies. Got a question? Visit Tug's contact page and hit him up.

Comments (50)

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  1. Amy

    says:

    Hi Robert:

    Do any of these remedies work for dry-clean only clothes? I live in a small town were a visit to a decent dry cleaner is a rare event. I’ve tried to extend the length of my clothes with steaming and using vodka, but if I’ve noticed that treating underarm sweat and stains has started to discolor the underarm portion of my clothes. I’m looking for a good solution for dry clean only clothes that doesn’t pull the color away.

    Thanks!

    • Tug says:

      heya amy!

      in my experience, many dry-clean only clothes can be washed by hand at home, and laid flat or hung to dry.

      if you feel comfortable doing that, then any of these underarm stain removal solutions would work on your dry-clean garment.

      if you’re not, i’d recommend doing some google research on dry-clean labels and see what people say about hand-washing dry-clean clothing (:

      hope that helps!

  2. CLS

    says:

    I’m wondering if using hot water instead of boiling as L H hanks used would produce faster, more effective results [than just using cold water].

    I’m going to give it a try on hubby’s red work shirts. I’ll post results after washing.

    I’ve tried oxy and the vinegar, dawn, resolve, and many other products over the years, to no avail.

    • CLS

      says:

      …”faster more effective results”… than just using cold water.

    • Tug says:

      thanks so much cls!! please do keep us posted on your results.

      yeah, none of those other solutions (like oxy, vinegar, dawn, resolved, salt, baking soda & peroxide) really work on removing set-in underarm/pit stains.

      those solutions may work on minor stains, but they don’t on tougher stains.

      the only two solutions that have a chance of working on those set in deodorant stains are deo-go and raise.

      • DN

        says:

        Thank you for starting me in the right direction to removing built up deodorant on my kids shirts. I think the substandard college laundry machines is the culprit.

        I thought I had some LimeAway in the house but did not. A bright red shirt with underarms that were stiff was my test subject.

        I had some Greased Lightening cleaner and gave it a go. Sprayed both the inside and outside of both armpits of the shirt, let it sit while the first load went in, did not scrub the areas at all, tossed in with the second load of mostly towels on regular cycle and on eco-warm setting, and IT IS PERFECT!

        I had nothing to lose, everything to gain, and I’m a happy camper! Hope this helps someone!

        • Tug says:

          hey dn — thanks for the note and info on the use of grease lightening!

          glad it worked for you (:

          hoping other people give it a try and see how it works for them as well.

  3. Ash

    says:

    I have horrible pit stains on a lot of my t-shirts, used to use gel stick antiperspirant, looking forward to trying some of these remedies as I was about to throw out some of my favorites. Having said that I switched to native deodorant about 3 weeks ago and have had no issues with either sweating/odor or pit stains.

    Not affiliated with native in any way just sharing.

    Ash

  4. Rocko

    says:

    Hi all. I have some old white tees in a box in the garage for grease and spill rags. Most of them have caked buildup, some even completely solid and brown.

    I use Gillette’s clear antiperspirant gel, which the internet claims is the big culprit for this builup issue.

    Anyway I am trying some of these methods on those old shirts because I’d like to find out what actually works. There are some effected band shirts I refuse to toss out, but don’t want to risk experimenting on them!

    Yesterday I soaked one tee in dishsoap-vinegar and one in krud kutter (as per two of the above posts).

    Neither had any noticable effect. I think the Krud Kutter shirt got more solid. Its like carpet undermesh. It was KK concentrate from a gallon jug mixed with water. Trying again right now with KK in a spray bottle. Scrubbing does nothing so far.

    Too bad, would have liked such an easy solution. Heh. So today I am off to buy Lime Away and soak some tees in Michael’s concoction.

    If that doesnt work it will be time for the more expensive stuff Tug listed. I will let you know how the experiments go. Might try Goo Gone and other disolvers too, if needed.

  5. Sarah

    says:

    HUGE THANKS! Almost had to spend $30+ on new work polos because mine were so gunked up with deodorant. Tried the lime-a-way method and now they are just like new!

    It must depend on the type of shirt you’re using, but I found best results when soaking them for a couple hours and scrubbing with a toothbrush. :) I can’t wait to get my hands on the real deal so I can compare to the DIY version!

    Also, just to add, I had some oxiclean on hand and tried an overnight soak to no avail.

    Thanks again! A life saver!

    • Tug says:

      that’s awesome sarah!

      thanks for coming back and letting us know the diy solution for removing deodorant stains/build-up worked for you!

  6. David

    says:

    Tried the lime-a-way formuula on a merino wool (gasp!) shirt.

    Had some serious waxy/gel-like buildup from using a gel-based deodorant/antiperspirant. Old shirt, so I didn’t have much to lose.

    I mixed up the formula by liquid oz. 16oz lime-a-way, 12.8oz cool tap water, 3.2oz dish soap. I replaced tide free and gentle with simple dishsoap, as it appears to also use a surfactant and I had it on hand.Mixed it up in a 5 gallon bucket, but it only filled the bottom inch or two.

    It smelled awful and seemed very strong.

    My process:

    Took the bucket outside. Put on large gloves, threw my black merino t-shirt in. Massaged it around a bit paying special attention to the pits.

    Came back about 2 hours later, again massaged it and trying to break down the pit build-up. Also turned the shirt inside-out at this point, and rubbed together the other side of the pits.

    I let it sit for another couple hours. I then let it dry overnight (outside) on a milk crate. The build-up was definitely broken down and mostly gone. The shirt was slightly damp in the morning. In a different bucket, I rinsed it and soaked it several times with water, trying to get as much of the solution out of the shirt as possible.

    Washed in the washing machine on warm with woolite as the only detergent. Laid it flat to dry.

    Results:

    It appears all of the underarm deodorant/anti-pers build-up has been softened and removed. There are a couple very tiny holes on the shirt, mostly on the upper shoulder area.

    This is an old shirt that has been worn a ton, and it was very thin to begin with. The holes may have even been there to begin with.

    I have another shirt (navy) that I will inspect and process in a similar way, however I believe I will “spot treat” the underarm area instead of soaking just to be more gentle on the shirt overall.

    Overall, I’d say the lime-a-way recipe worked excellent.

    The build-up I had was a waxy consistency and rendered the shirts totally unwearable. Now the shirt appears clean and has no build-up left. There was no discoloration or running of dye of the shirt, which was my big worry with a dark shirt.

    Thank you to Michel for the initial recipe and undershirtguy for writing this article and passing it along!

    P.S. I now know it’s mostly the “antiperspirant” aspect that really gunks up most shirts.

    I’ve switched to a deodorant-only for now and have had no problems, and will be switching to simply an “alum block” (Potassium Aluminum Sulfate) soon to eliminate the problem entirely.

  7. Leslie

    says:

    I tried the combo of the three ingredients and it didn’t work on getting out the deodorant build up. I even soaked my husband’s shirt for 24 hours. Maybe I didn’t use the correct amounts…does anyone have exact measurements of each liquid? I’d like to try again.

  8. Steve

    says:

    According to the original instructions, from Michel, for the 50/40/10 solution of lime-a-way, water, and tide, after the treatment to “wash as usual.” Does anyone else see this as being more than a little ironic? It seems this extra step would be COMPLETELY unnecessary, and that a good rinsing in the sink would be more than adequate.

    • Tug says:

      heya steve, i don’t think we should fault michel too much (:

      he came up with a good solution, and maybe just thought a full wash was more effective in getting out the lime-a-way than trying to rinse the garment by hand.

  9. Brad

    says:

    I tried this on several t-shirts with significant build-up; so much it had caked into inflexible patches under each arm. I followed the instructions above and it barely made a dent. However, it made the patches much softer. Essentially the patches were so thick the solution could not entirely penetrate the patches.

    I mixed up a batch in a bucket, soaked the shirts, for a couple hours, then manipulated the patches (picture rubbing it together) to soften the patch and allow more solution to soak into the patches. About 90% of the build-up was removed without damage to the shirts or the sleeves.

    I’m going to mix another batch and soak straight away. I’ll also manipulate the patches more frequently throughout the soaking session and expect to see a complete removal of the stains.

    Great information here! Thanks for posting!!

    • Tug says:

      my pleasure brad! that’s what i’m here for (:

    • L h hanks

      says:

      This is genius! I did follow directions on a set of 4 shirts. One barely crunchy all the way to one so stiff it was headed to the trash.

      Followed directions for mix. It obviously moved the gunk but I wanted more speed.

      I put all 4 in a stainless steel pot, poured 4X the basic recipe (1 cup lime away…) on the shirts I had already worked on, covered the shirts -barely- with more water, brought the whole thing to a boil and stirred. Once fully boiling I covered and turned off the heat.

      The stuff sat several hours and now cool, the water was yellow and milky and the yuck mostly gone.

      I threw it all in the washer on hot and the longest cycle I have and…. Wearable shirts -all of them. Thanks so much for this!

      • Tug says:

        you got it my man!! that’s what i’m here for (:

      • Steve

        says:

        The original instructions don’t include boiling. Why do you add this extra step, which will create dangerous fumes and vapors? People should not be in their homes boiling lime-away or other cleaning chemicals.

  10. Liz

    says:

    I have a nice problem with deodorant buildup and have tried many of the at home remedies with little luck so I plan on trying either the deo-go or raise on some of my tough stains.

    I’ve read a few of the comments and like the idea of pre treating regularly to prevent deodorant buildup, but was wondering what you recommend to do that…easy and cheap preferred but I will try anything at this point!

    • Tug says:

      heya liz! thanks for stopping by (:

      let me know how your tests go with deo-go and/or raise.

      i’d say the cheapest and easiest way to pre-treat underarms — soapy water in a spray bottle. treat your underarms after wearing with that, and put in the hamper until it comes time to washing.

      if that doesn’t work, you should try a small spray bottle with a water-diluted resolve, or something similar that you can keep near your hamper.

      simple. cheap. and likely very effective to keep those stains away.

  11. Stacey

    says:

    I’m glad I ran across this particular blog. I have 5 “trial shirts”‘, CLR, and Gain. I’m going to try with hot water to see if that makes it even more effective, or horribly detrimental, lol!

    • Tug says:

      sounds great stacey! keep me posted and let me know how it works.

      i also just heard of another new product, and am going to be digging into learn more about that to see how it performs.

  12. Leslie

    says:

    I tried the lime away solution. It didn’t fade the fabric on the tee shirts or dissolve them. They are cotton poly blends., but only works as well as a 24 hour soak in oxyclean . I got a 50% improvement. I think I should just pre treat the pits on a regular basis, and not let the gunk build up.

    • Tug says:

      thanks for your feedback leslie!

      have you tried using deo-go or raise?

      but, i agree — pretreating the pits on a regular basis is the best way to prevent the underarm staining.

  13. Jeremy Petzold

    says:

    I just used Krud Kutter. I soaked the shirt for 20 minutes, rinsed it with cold water and dryer it. It not only removed the pit residue but it brightened the shirt as well.

  14. Carina

    says:

    I use a mix of about 50% Dawn dish detergent and 50% vinegar (same stuff I use to clean my shower!) and have had pretty good success getting rid of build up.

    • Tug says:

      hey there carina! thanks the tip.

      it’s funny, seems like vinegar is used for about everything around the house, probably because it has some mild acidity.

      i have that tip in the following article, though it doesn’t mention mixing vinegar with dish soap:
      http://www.undershirtguy.com/how-do-you-get-deodorant-stains-out-of-your-undershirts-part-two/

      only problem for me is that i super-hate vinegar, and the smell of it. crazy how much i hate it, and the irony is that my wife absolute loves it.

      in fact, she’ll even mess with me at times where she secretly drinks a shot of vinegar, and then comes up to me and tries to kiss me! ugh.

  15. Monique

    says:

    Hi Tug,
    I have been looking for a site like this for years. . Over time I have tried everything you suggested with no success. So TY for taking the time to solve this problem for me. My husbands work shirt is 100% polyester and navy blue. So you can see these deoderant build up stains from 2 miles away.
    My question is, is it safe to use “Lime-A-Way” on colored shirt. Theses shirts are expensive and I could go the “Deo-Go” route if I must, but, I have all the ingredients and not a any of the patience to wait.
    Thank You
    keep up the good work
    Monique

    • Tug says:

      heya monique! thanks for stopping by my site and for posting your question!!

      you know, i have not personally tried the lime-a-way solution, so I couldn’t tell you whether or not it’s safe to use on a colored shirt.

      i know that while deo-go is safe to use on colored garments, there have been some reported cases of discoloration too. i think it has to do with the way the garment is actually dyed during manufacturing.

      i did a little research on lime-a-way, and it uses a sulfamic acid, compared to deo-go that uses a hydrochloric acid. hydrochloric acid is said to be “more volatile and irritating”.

      knowing that, logic would dictate that this home-remedy solution would be less likely to cause damage to a garment, but it also may be less effective. that said, you can make as much as you want for real cheap, so you could repeat the cleaning process many times to dilute the deodorant build-up stains more slowly.

      the only safe way to determine whether or not this lime-a-way concoction (or deo-go) will damage your husband’s 100% polyester navy blue shirt, would be to test it on a hidden part of the shirt. on some shirts, i think that’s easier said than done though — especially if it’s a shirt that is not tucked in.

      while i’d love to recommend doing a test-run on a separate shirt, the problem with that is that it won’t be the same shirt with the same fabric or same dyeing process. so your test shirt could be fine, but your husband’s shirt could get hurt, or vice versa.

      hope all this helps.

      if you do decide to use this at-home stain removal formula on your husband’s shirts, please be sure to let me know how it works (: would love to hear back from you.

    • Mike

      says:

      I attempted to use the limeaway solution on my workout gear and followed the instructions to the “T”.

      Unfortunately, it made the antiperspirant build up MUCH worse.

      It didn’t affect the color though, so I suppose that is a positive.

      It solidified the underarms turning a minor issue that I was trying to nip in the bud a much more significant issue.

      Word of caution: do NOT use on workout gear. Off to do more research…

      • Tug says:

        wow, mike — that’s really wild to hear, but thank you so much for sharing that information about your experience with this at-home deodorant stain remover solution!

        you may have to try deo-go or raise to see if those solutions can dissolve those underarm harden stains.

  16. Robert

    says:

    I’ll never understand why everyone doesn’t use gels for antiperspirants and deodorant. They don’t leave white marks on clothing, or under your arms, and they dry quickly. Why use a solid, when a gel removes most of the problems caused by solids? Yet, there must be a reason, because you find far more solids on the shelves then gels.

    • Tug says:

      heya robert — thanks for your comment!

      i personally have tried gel antiperspirants and prefer using other types over gels. gel antiperspirants don’t seem to dry as fast for me and don’t appear to be any more or less effective than roll-on or stick antiperspirants.

      so i current use either a roll-on antiperspirant or stick. but still looking for an antiperspirant that i really love.

    • Patty

      says:

      Hi, Robert, my husband is an electrician. He is in attics, or weather is 80 outside, then he goes inside with no AC. He uses gel, bad build up. I will try this home remedy for this, thank you Tug….

    • LaGonda Veal

      says:

      My husband uses gel deodorant and gets the same build up.

    • Jake

      says:

      Gels start to give me a rash after a few days of using and aren’t as effective on sweat for me. When I start to sweat it feels like I rubbed a slimy fish under there (but without the stink).

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