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Why You Get Armpit Stains and What You Can Do to Prevent Them

Step one: Switch to natural deodorant

What if I told you that it’s not just sweat that breeds armpit stains on your precious clothing? Would you start sweating? Because that is not our goal here. 

The real culprit, in fact, is your antiperspirant. Y’know, the stuff that prevents you from being a human fire hydrant. Ironic? Yes. But not as ironic as yellow-tinted pits on an otherwise pristine white tee.

Here’s the deal: Ugly pit stains happen when the oily proteins in your sweat meet the aluminum compounds found in most antiperspirants, mix and mingle, and then cling to the fabric of the shirt. The yellowing actually occurs over time as the spots go untreated and the shirt goes through the dryer.

We explain this not to gross you out (OK, maybe a little), but rather to help you stop pit stains before they even happen. Mind you, that’s not to say you should ditch antiperspirant altogether. Below, a few preventative measures to ensure you never have to deal with stubborn yellow stains again. 

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Try Switching to Natural Deodorant

You know what’s not in a lot of natural deodorants, apart from dozens of unpronounceable chemical names? Aluminum! It’s going to take a bit of trial and error to find an aluminum-free product that works well for your unique microbiome (we have our favorites), but when you do, you’ll be relieved to find a mostly dry underarm. Wait, mostly? Yep. While it may seem like a catch-22, many aluminum substitutes like charcoal significantly help with the absorption of sweat but fall short in stopping perspiration the way aluminum — and only aluminum — can.  

And that’s where it gets a little tricky: Deodorants and antiperspirants are not one in the same. Deodorant isn’t made to stop the waterworks like an antiperspirant, which blocks pores from producing sweat. Instead, deodorants trap toxins and mask the odors associated with sweat. Sweat doesn’t always amount to a stain, though, and one shining (but not wet!) example of this is Kopari’s coconut oil-based deodorant, which our testers gave full marks in the sweat absorption department. 

Pay Mind to Application

I know I’ve already made aluminum out to be the bad guy, but, to reiterate, you are under no obligation to throw away your antiperspirant to achieve a stain-free underarm. If you’re going to go full speed ahead with aluminum-based products, be mindful of your application. A thin, even layer of antiperspirant will go a long way. Excessive amounts will just hang out on the surface of your skin and cling to your clothing. To reap the full benefits, you’re going to want to wait for your antiperspirant to fully dry before throwing a shirt on. One easy solution is by showering and applying your antiperspirant at night (after thoroughly toweling off, that is). “It is more effective to apply it at night because antiperspirant is designed to plug up your sweat glands,” Marisa Garshick, MD, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Cornell University explained. “This is easiest to do at night when your glands are not active or filled with sweat, and ducts are able to absorb more of the aluminum.” 

Dress for (Sweat-Free) Success

Lucky for you, we’re currently living in the heyday of the relaxed fit, and there’s no shortage of trendy brands that promote loose silhouettes. But trends, of course, fade fast, and if you’re looking for a lasting solution, you’ll want to pay close attention to fabric and weave.

For hot summer days, preference should always be given to natural fibers like cotton, linen, merino wool — or rayon and silk varieties, if you don’t mind paying your local dry cleaner a visit and doing some light hand-washing. Steer clear of tight knits and weaves, which will not only constrict your armpits but also likely rub off your deodorant. If you’re not exactly clear on what is considered “tight,” follow this very simple test, courtesy of Queer Eye’s resident stylish person, Tan France: Hold the shirt up to a light source. Can you see the light passing through? Yes? That means it’s a loose weave and, therefore, breathable.

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Every product covered here is independently selected by opinionated humans. But so you know, buying stuff through our links may earn us a small share of the sale or other compensation.

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