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How to prevent sweat stains

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If you do a web search for preventing sweat stains, you’ll get a lot of results telling you how to reduce your sweating. This is not the right solution unless your sweating is actually a health issue.

Despite the stigma, sweating is good for you, and not sweating enough can be a sign of a health problem. So here are some tips on how to prevent sweat stains without necessarily preventing sweating.

Clean white shirt with no sweat stains on wooden table

Reducing sweat stains

The first thing you need to realize is: it’s not sweat that stains your clothing. Sweat is a clear liquid with some salt in it, so it can’t stain your clothing anymore than saline. What actually stains your clothes is your antiperspirant.

Before we get any further into tips, I want to mention something. Some people who sweat heavily believe antiperspirant causes them to sweat in ever-increasing amounts, and dumping antiperspirant for a mineral deodorant reduced their sweating and kept their clothes cleaner. I found this worked for me. It may not work for you, but I recommend testing it for a few days. Now, onto the other tips.

How you apply antiperspirant matters

The first step in preventing sweat stains on shirts is to make sure you’re using antiperspirants the right way.

  • Apply a thin layer that covers completely and evenly. If you sweat a lot, you’re probably tempted to slather on loads of antiperspirant, but that can make stains worse without being more effective.
  • Allow it to dry. Make sure your antiperspirant is completely dry before putting on clothes. I always put it on before putting on moisturizer so is has that time to dry. Find some other step in your getting-ready routine to put between antiperspirant application and getting dressed to give it that time to dry. This is particularly important with roll-on and gel formulas.
  • Apply it at night. Experts are recommending this, and also only applying it 2-3 times per week. I don’t get this one, because if you wash your armpits daily, you’ll need to reapply, right? If anyone understands this, feel free to explain in comments.

Keeping it off your clothes

While you’re going about your day, there are a few more things you can do to keep sweat off your clothes:

  • Dab sweat off your skin with a dry cloth. Keep a dry cloth with you, and dab off sweat from your neck, face, lower back, etc., whenever you get a chance.
  • Wear underarm shields. Underarm shields are small pieces of cloth you sew or stick into the inside of your shirts. These pieces of cloth catch a lot of sweat and prevent it from getting onto your clothing.
  • Use a stronger antiperspirant and use less of it. Aim for one that says it works for more than 24 hours. Using less of it will put less gunk into your clothes while still keeping sweat under control.

Now, this will sound like the strangest tip, particularly to men, but it’s been my experience that keeping your underarms shaved makes me sweat less. I’ve also talked to women who found they sweated less after laser hair removal in the armpits. Applying whatever deodorant or antiperspirant you use to hairless skin seems to boost its performance. I realize men may feel strange about shaving their underarms, but if you have serious sweat issues, it may be something to think about.

At the laundry stage

There are also a few things you can do after you’ve worn your clothes and gotten antiperspirant/sweat stains on them:

  • Rinse the stained areas with cold water before washing. Far from setting the stain, this actually prevents staining in the case of sweat, or rather antiperspirant, stains. Antiperspirants are acidic, and hot water causes a chemical reaction with them that sets the stain into the clothing. Of course, you can also do your laundry in cold water rather than hot.
  • Do not use a pre-treater. Those stain remover sticks and sprays can also make sweat stains worse (sweat stains are an exception to everything you thought you knew about laundry stains, which explains why they’re so hard to deal with).
  • Try a cold water wash on permanently stained clothes, and you might find out those stains aren’t so permanent after all.
    Some clothing can recover even after the stain has set, because cold water breaks down the bond between antiperspirant gunk and clothing.
  • Baby powder or corn starch. Additionally, when you’re ironing a shirt, sprinkle some baby powder or corn starch on the armpits and collar (where you’re most likely to sweat) and iron it in. The powder forms an invisible barrier between sweat and fabric so the sweat doesn’t stain your clothes.
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