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Ask a Clean Person: ‘Pits, Revisited

It’s almost August, which means I’ve been sweating like my Slavic farmer forebears for months now. All the t-shirts (cotton!) that I bought at the beginning of the summer have gross pit stains! And not just a little discoloration on the lighter ones, but whitish, hardened patches as if the deodorant isn’t washing out all the way! I’ve always used Tide detergent, and usually wash my shirts on cool with jeans and stuff. I’ve tried some Arm & Hammer “wash boost” and washing them on hot, but that didn’t work. Can the damage be undone? If not, what can I do with my next round of shirts so they don’t get ruined after one summer??

The whole problem is that I seriously sweat a lot (A LOT!) and I’m allergic to the active ingredient in most antiperspirants. So I use deodorant and don’t get smelly, but I can barely wear woven button-ups or nice blouses with sleeves because I sweat through them. I’ve heard tell of the dress shields of old but have never seen them for sale. I’ve asked my dermatologist and there’s not really a medical solution, since I happen to be madly allergic to the only effective antiperspirant known to humanity.

I’d like to save my shirts and wash them better, obvs, but do you, Clean Person (or perhaps A Lady?) have any tricks for my sleeves as well? That shit is embarrassing! I can’t believe I’m the only woman with this problem, yet I never see other women with soaked pits! Are they packing like three extra shirts for every day? What is the secret??

One of the great things about writing this particular column for this particular site is that you all are a wickedly smart lot in possession of a major curious streak. Which means that instead of just being all, “Here’s how to clean that thing that you’ve mucked up,” I can back it waaaay up and explain why the muck is happening, the science behind it, etc., etc., and you’ll think it’s interesting. I hope.


So that’s a little of what we’re going to get into today, but then also I’ll veer off into possibly A Lady territory and talk about How We Can Deal With Sweat and then mostly I’m going to toss it out to you all to share your secrets. You have secrets, I just know you do.

But first the science part of things: generally, the primary active ingredient in deodorant is alcohol; in antiperspirant the active ingredient is aluminum. However, some straight-up deodorants also contain aluminum, which may be the case with the product you’re using, given the effect it’s having on your shirts. The aluminum reacts to sweat, which is a protein, and causes yellowing just in the same way that bleach will cause sweat and other protein stains to appear more yellow. Old timers will remember the discussion of protein stains and bleach waaaay back in the second ever installment of AaCP.

There are two really easy ways to combat those yellow stains: (1) mix up a solution made up of 1 tablespoon white vinegar to ½ cup of water; soak the soiled shirt in that solution for about a half hour and then launder as usual or (2) soak the shirt in OxiClean and water and then launder as usual. If the stains are really bad, you’ll want to agitate the shirt while it’s in the cleaning solution by rubbing the stained area against itself.

Another thing you might want to consider, though it may be cumbersome, is rinsing the armpits of your shirts under cold running water after wearing. That will help to push out a lot of the sweat and deodorant residue before it has a chance to set in. Though again, that may be a bear to keep up with and you also run the risk of having your dirties develop a mildew smell if left damp for too long. Caveats.

With the Clean Person part of things out of the way, let’s turn to the Lady side of things.

You asked about dress shields, which do indeed still exist! I love that you went there — sometimes we forget to consider options that have fallen out of style or general favor. If you’re interested in dress shields I have two options for you to check out: Kleinerts, which is, like, the Angkor Wat of the perspiration defense world, and Hollywood Fashion Secrets, which is a touch more modern in terms of their branding but also obnoxiously pink. So.

This isn’t an armpit thing, but since we’re letting it all hang out, so to speak, I have a sort of obsession with wearing slips under my summer dresses because my back tends to get a little sweaty and the slip keeps the sweat from going through my sundresses and actually keeps me feeling cooler — and more confident — even though I know that sounds nuts. Slips are sort of hard to find these days, but (oddly) Gap Body has a line of full and half slips. I have a giant stack of ’em.

A thing our LW didn’t mention was the notion of using Botox to deter underarm perspiration. I say that not as an endorsement, because, you know, botulism eeehhhhhh, but because I’m curious if any of you have gone that route, if you would recommend it, if insurance covers it (it looks like the out-of-pocket cost would run in the $1,000-$1,500 range, but perhaps someone has more accurate information to share?), etc.

What else have I missed? Anything? Because seriously, you guys, it’s so hot out there….

Previously: Help, There’s No Laundry Care Tag!

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you curious to know if she’s answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?


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