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Personal Stains: Deodorant, Perfume and Perspiration

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 21 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Perspiration Stains Perfume Stains

There can be nothing more embarrassing than stains in your armpits, whether it's from perspiration or the deodorants. And even perfume, designed to enhance attractiveness, can leave embarrassing marks. So here are a few tips to help you deal with those humiliating "personal stains":

Perspiration Stains

Sweaty armpits are often an unavoidable occurrence, especially in summer or in airless office spaces. While underarm perspiration mostly troubles women, men also have to contend with sweat between their shoulder blades from the neck down and the groin area, all of which causes unsightly staining. The stains that result are not only ugly but can also weaken the garment's fabric - and harbour unpleasant odours.

Perspiration actually has a very similar composition to urine, although the amount of urea is much more dilute. Fresh perspiration is therefore acidic and can be removed by washing immediately. If they are left, however, they will turn alkaline and form a yellow or green stain with a hard, "crispy" texture. A mixture of 1 tbsp of vinegar in half a cup of water sponged onto the stain will usually restore the colour and also remove any perspiration odours. Fresh lemon juice rubbed into the stain can also be used, or an enzyme pre-soak product before washing as usual - however, do not use this on delicate fabrics like linen, silk and wool.

If the stain is persistent, try using a paste of baking soda and water which is rubbed onto the stain and allowed to sit for 15-20mins, before the garment is washed as normal. Some baking soda added to the wash cycle can also help to remove any persistent odours.

Never use bleach on a perspiration stain, especially on white cotton fabrics. The bleach will react chemically with the proteins in sweat and cause the stain to set even darker! Similarly, never iron or put a stained garment in the dryer - any heat will set the stain permanently. Generally when washing with detergent, do not dry the garment until the stain is gone. (Choose a detergent which is labelled as having oxygenated powers or works on protein-based stains.)

Unfortunately, if the stain is very old and the garment has already been washed and dried several times, then the stain will be "burned" into the fabric and there is very little chance of removing it. In reality, the best solution for perspiration stains is to use preventative measures, such as an effective deodorant (however, this may cause a different kind of staining - see below!) or using good underwear to protect the outer garment. Take extra care when wearing delicate fabrics, such as silks, in a situation where you know you might perspire heavily.

For clothing which needs to be dry-cleaned, it is best to leave it to the experts although make sure you point out any perspiration stains as they can then use special detergents and formulas to tackle the problem. Note that these procedures might cause shrinkage or texture change in some fabrics although you will always be alerted to this and asked for informed consent.

Deodorant/Anti-Perspirant Stains

Unfortunately, the very products used to control and prevent perspiration can sometimes leave an even worse stain themselves! These stains are usually white or clear, with a greasy texture and can be particularly annoying on black or dark clothing.

It is actually the reaction between perspiration and these products that causes the staining, so sometimes changing deodorants can make a difference, as they all have different formulas. Ironically, anti-perspirants, designed to limit perspiration by using aluminum salts to block sweat glands - can actually cause some of the worst stains. One way of preventing such stains is to let your deodorant dry before dressing.

These stains can be treated similarly to perspiration stains:

  • Tackle the stain as soon as possible - the longer a stain sits untreated, the deeper it will sink into a fabric.
  • If the fabric is washable (e.g. cotton), pre-treat the stain by rubbing with lemon juice, a spot remover or even just a bit of detergent and water, then wash at high temperature. (Note: do not rub dark or black fabrics)
  • If the fabric is delicate or expensive, it is best to consult a dry cleaner.
  • If you decide to use bleach, make sure you use a colour-safe bleach and wash in the warmest water that's safe, according to the care label.

Perfume Stains

While not so common, stains from perfumes can also be a headache. The oils and alcohols in perfumes can seriously damage some fabrics. It is best to always use perfume before getting dressed and to never spray it directly onto your clothes.

In many cases, the alcohol in the perfume may have caused the colour in the fabric to fade, resulting in a "reverse-stain". In these instances, it can be helpful to sponge the area lightly with cheesecloth dampened with denatured alcohol, to try and redistribute the remaining colour evenly.

For washable fabrics, rinse the stain immediately in warm water and then wash as normal as soon as possible. If the stain is older, try wetting the area and then applying some glycerine before rinsing thoroughly. This is especially useful for carpets and furnishings. Blot the excess liquid after rinsing then follow with the appropriate furniture shampoo if necessary.

You can also sponge the perfume stain on clothing with a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water (only use this on white clothing). Very old dry stains should be treated with a commercial stain remover before being washed as normal.

For non-washable fabrics, it is best to just sponge with warm water and then take to the dry cleaners as soon as possible.

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