Nothing can bring a grown man to tears faster than a massive sweat stain on an otherwise perfectly good shirt. It’s inevitable. The “investment” white dress shirt that always brings you luck on new client meetings is suddenly showing pit stains. The basic T-shirt that you bought specifically for its minimalist appeal gets a grease mark right on the chest. The best chinos you’ve only worn once get a grass stain from one slip in the backyard.
Sure, you could just throw them away and buy new clothes, but these days disposable fashion is getting a bad rap; and dusting off a little thrift ingenuity seems downright trendy. Here’s our guide for making clothes look like new again. We checked in with the American Cleaning Institute, and asked a chemical engineer for a few easy-to-use pointers.
Dr. Daniel H. Jones is a chemical engineer who offers the seemingly simple advice, “Like dissolves like. For instance use vinegar for coffee and other acidic stains.” Since we are not all chemical engineers, we’ve broken than down further, below.
How to Handle Stains
- In general, a fresh stain is always easier to treat than an older one, so get on it as soon as possible.
- Gently blot the soiled area with a clean, white paper towel or cloth, but be careful: don’t drive the stain further into the fabric.
- After applying any of the below fixes, do not put items in the dryer unless the stain is completely removed. The dryer will cause the stain to set, making it extraordinarily difficult to remove. We also recommend washing on cold for the same reason: Hot water can also set some stains.
How to Remove Sweat Stains
Nothing is going to make a shirt look nasty faster than a sweat stain. Most commonly they’re found in the shirt’s underarms; and the culprit is usually aluminum-based chemicals used in antiperspirants that get trapped in the shirt’s fabric when you sweat.
Use a mixture of one part dish soap and two parts hydrogen peroxide to attack the stain. According to Dr. Jones, the soap has both an “oily” (organic) side and a “salty” (ionic) side. “The ionic side dissolves in water, the organic side dissolves the grease. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down the organic complexes so the soap can dissolve them.”
- Apply the soap/hydrogen peroxide mixture to the stain.
- For particularly stubborn stains, sprinkle some baking soda on the soaked area. The grains will provide a bit of abrasion to help dislodge the stain.
- Use a toothbrush (not one you are currently using for dental hygiene) or laundry brush to scrub the mixture into the stain.
- Let the cleaning materials soak in for an hour.
- Wash your shirt as normal.
How to Remove Sweat Stains on Dark Clothing
Hydrogen peroxide may lightly bleach some colored fabrics, so try this method on darker hued shirts.
- Run the stain under warm water for a few minutes to wet the area.
- Combine 4 tbsp of baking soda with 1/4 cup warm water and make a paste.
- Apply a generous amount of the paste to the stained area.
- Gently rub your shirt together to help work the paste into the fabric.
- Let the paste sit for 30 minutes and then rinse the area.
- Wash as normal.
How to Remove Collar Stains
Ring around the collar? Yeah, we get that. Those are caused by a combination of sweat, dead skin cells, oil, and even residue from hair products. Here we can rely on soap’s organic properties to work it all out.
- Lay your shirt flat with the soiled collar facing up.
- Pour undiluted liquid laundry detergent directly onto the soiled area.
- Let the detergent soak into the collar for at least 30 minutes.
- Wash as normal.
How to Remove Oil-based Stains on Polyester
Spilled hamburger grease on your favorite performance golf shirt? Try this:
- Scatter a generous layer of baking soda across the stained portion, and allow it to absorb the excess grease and oil for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Brush the baking soda to remove.
- Pour a generous amount of mild dishwashing soap on the stain. Once again, the soap’s “oily” side dissolves the grease. Wait 5 to 10 minutes.
- Wash the garment.
How to Remove Stains With Vinegar Solutions
Mix white vinegar with an equal portion of water and store it in a spray bottle. Top off with a generous squirt of dish soap. Besides being awesome for cleaning windows, it’s also great for treating the following:
Mustard or Grass Stains: For that moment when the picnic is no picnic for your wardrobe. Gently remove as much mustard as possible with a spoon, then:
- Apply a squirt of alcohol or lighter fluid.
- Soak the stain with our vinegar solution.
- Use the toothbrush to work out the stain.
- Flush it with water.
- Apply a few drops of hydrogen peroxide, followed immediately by a few drops of ammonia.
- Rinse with cool water, apply a few drops of vinegar, and rinse with water again.
- Wash the garment.
Strawberries: Same as above, but skip the lighter fluid/alcohol.
Cherries: Squeeze lemon juice onto the stain, wait a couple of minutes, rinse, and let dry in the sun. Here again, like dissolves like, and the lemon’s acid breaks up the cherry stain. Sunlight, of course, has a bleaching effect.
Blood: use an enzymatic cleaner before it sets in, then hit it with peroxide repeatedly.
How to Prevent Stains
While there’s only so much you can do for explosive hot dogs, “expressive” glasses of wine, and fruit-fingered toddlers; you can at least try to cut back on those sweat-related problems.
- Limit your caffeine and hot beverage intake. Both increase sweating, which can in turn increase the risk of stains.
- Wear a plain white T-shirt under your dress shirt. Your inexpensive tee will bear the brunt of the stain, keeping your pricey dress shirt clean.
- Switch to an antiperspirant with no aluminum compounds or opt for more organic products that will keep you fresh and stain-free while allowing your body to perspire naturally.
- Wear a collar protector. These self-adhesive pads will adhere to your collar, protecting your shirt, while keeping you dry and comfortable.
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