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New Life for Stained Workout Shirts

Which product works better?
Do these work?

When you exercise, you sweat. It's one of the results of a good workout program. When that sweat combines with antiperspirant, the end result is yellow stains in the armpits of clothing.

Taking the stained shirts out of rotation and turning them into rags is a bit of a tradition with anyone who works out regularly. Even shirts that you don't exercise in will eventually succumb to the yellow grunge. But now there may be a way to save that clothing. There are companies that claim they can remove the stains and make your shirts look like new again.

It's a challenging task. Shirts don't turn yellow because of the sweat like many people think. The root cause is antiperspirants. They use chemicals like aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly (AZG) which closes pores in the skin and prevents sweat. Then when you do sweat, the sweat interacts with the chemicals in the antiperspirant that stains and stiffens the underarms where everything makes contact. If you wash the shirt and don't get everything off, a clothes dryer will bake it all in. Over time things turn yellow and hard.

Keep in mind that bleaching, pre-washes, spot removers and all those other laundry tricks are useless against the antiperspirant stain. If underarm stain removers work as advertised, I'll be able to rescue a few of my favorite shirts currently sitting on the rag pile and save some money as well. I decided to test the two most popular.

I ordered a 9 fluid ounce spray bottle of Deo-go and a 12 ounce bottle of Raise Armpit Stain Remover. Then I took two identical Banana Republic white cotton/poly blend t-shirts with equal stains under each arm as my test subjects.

At this point let me say that reading the labels can be a little intimidating. Raise Armpit Stain Remover says to wear rubber gloves, DO NOT USE on metal, glass, marble or glazed tile. The Deo-go remover says, "Don't leave on unprotected surfaces (especially stainless steel) for prolonged periods..." It also recommends you wear, "suitable protective clothing and gloves."

Suitable clothing? What were they expecting people to do with this stuff, wear it like cologne? So I put on my full body hazmat suit with rubber gloves and went to work. (Not really, I just used a pair of yellow kitchen dish gloves.)

For removing the stains, the instructions for both products were virtually identical. Spray or pour enough of the product on to ensure that "both sides of the fabric are wet." Rub the cloth together. If you have tough stains, use a small brush on them.

I didn't think the stains on my test shirts were that bad, but to give them both a little boost I used a bristle brush and rubbed both sides of the stains for a minute each. Then I set a timer and let them sit for 20 minutes. (The instructions say to leave for 15 to 20 minutes.)

Once the timer went off, I washed each t-shirt separately. I used the "Normal Casual" setting on my washing machine. When they were finished, I could hardly wait to see my newly reborn shirts.

It didn't work. Both shirts still had yellow stains under both armpits. So I went back to the instructions. Number 4 on the Deo-go bottle said, "Do it again: if any stain remains, repeat treatment." The Raise bottle didn't say, but a company representative gave me the same advice. Don't dry the shirts, simply repeat the treatment and re-wash.

Another round of spraying, bristle brushing, sitting and washing. When they came out of the machine a second time I had a winner! The shirt treated with Deo-go was stain-free under both armpits. The shirt treated with Raise was lighter, but it still had small spots of yellow.

I repeated the experiment with 100% cotton and various types of cotton blends. Every time the Deo-go was able to remove deeper stains, with fewer treatments.

That's when I decided to really put the cleaners to the test. I dug out shirts with the deepest underarm stains and discoloration. I knew the standard treatment wasn't enough, so I put the shirts in a large plastic bowl, poured an 1/8th of a cup of solution over the stains and rubbed them with a brush for a minute on each side. Then I covered the bowl.

I checked on them every two hours over the course of a day, rubbing the stains with a brush each time and making sure they stayed wet. After 8 hours I put them in the washer and waited for the results.

What happened? About half the shirts had a dramatic reduction in yellow staining. Three shirts showed such a huge improvement, I treated them to a second round of 8 hour soaking and when I finished the stains were completely gone.

The Bottom Line

Both products will reduce the yellowing stain in the armpits of shirts; but Deo-go was able to completely eliminate it on the light and moderately stained shirts with fewer treatments. Deo-go also did a better job with the more extreme cases.

In the end you need to decide how valuable that shirt really is. I was able to "de-stain" about 8 shirts per Deo-go bottle treating each shirt twice. The cost was minimal, about $1.44 per shirt and each one took about 20 minutes of my time. Not a bad return if you're treating an expensive shirt.

Just be warned. If the shirt is colored, some whitening may occur where the cleaner is applied. For more serious stains, you may have to treat the shirt over several hours and there's no guarantee it'll work. Also don't bother if the underarm is "burnt" or the deodorant has turned a dark brown or black. No amount of cleaning can repair something that far gone.

Yellow and "dimpled" shirts are beyond repair.Brown or black "burnt" areas are beyond repair.
Shirts with "dimpling" like the first picture are beyond repair. The same is true if they have brown or black "burnt" areas like the second picture.

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6/17/2012