The Cause of Yellow Armpit Stains

Updated November 21, 2016

With the advent of summer, more people are shedding the remains of their winter wardrobe in favour of lighter and less bulky clothes. Unlike winter clothes, which tend to be all encompassing, summer clothes often leave little to the imagination. As a result, unsightly occurrences like yellow sweat stains are all the more obvious. Yellow sweat stains are most visible on light coloured shirts, however they are also present on dark shirts, although darker colours mask them quite well.

The Facts

The cause of sweat stains is not the sweat itself as it is colourless. The discolouration in the underarm area of a garment is caused by a chemical reaction that takes place between urea, which is a component of human sweat, and deodorant. Most people apply several layers of deodorant to their armpits prior to dressing in the belief that it will keep them dry and odour free all day. However, deodorant only clogs the sweat pores for a certain period of time. A large amount of sweat can push the deodorant from the pores and right onto clothing. Due to its acidic nature and high aluminium content, the deodorant combined with sweat causes the yellow discolouration on light coloured clothing.


The social implications of sweat stains can make the person with the offending garment the centre of unwanted scrutiny by friends, family and co-workers. Sweat stains denote laziness, lack of proper hygiene and all around dirtiness. It can be embarrassing for the person affected by the stains and cause great emotional distress if brought into the public arena. Clothes that are free from stains and wrinkles are the hallmarks of proper cleanliness.


There are many preventive measures that one can take to avoid sweat stains altogether. Instead of using store-bought aluminium based deodorants, all natural deodorising products can help keep sweat at bay without staining clothes. Talcum powder, a few sprinkles of baking soda or a dampened salt rock rubbed across the armpits can help keep the area dry and fresh all day. Organic deodorants are also viable non-yellowing options for deterring sweat, as they do not contain aluminium.


In addition to the awkwardness of yellow sweat stains on clothing, special consideration must be given to possible health risks from the prolonged use of aluminium-based deodorants. Several studies have been conducted to prove a link between increased breast cancer risk and the use of beauty products containing aluminium. And while a conclusive link has not been proven, aluminium is a toxin and should be used sparingly.

Stain Removal

Clothing that already bears the signs of yellow sweat stains around the armpit area can still be salvaged. Store-bought stain removers work the best. White vinegar is also an excellent stain removing option. It can be applied to a shirt right after it is taken off and then washed directly. Direct sunlight for several hours can also remove the yellowing. Chemical bleaches are not recommended as they can intensify the yellowing instead of removing it.

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